Wednesday, 30 September 2009

CJ Top Projected RB In NFL Draft

Looks like Spiller is not losing any ground as he is the top projected RB in the draft. Take these Scout rankings with a grain of salt but #7 isnt bad. Also note Sapp is turning some heads with a #25 rank and OL Austin #44 with CB Butler as #146 and CB Chancellor #176.

Not a bad haul when it all plays out, also ESPN has us at number 15 in the nation with this years recruiting class. We need a run in the ACC to solidify some of the soft commits we have so hopefully the rest of the ACC not named VT will continue to suck. If Ralph beats us again...(I'm not even going to finish that)

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

TCU Recap

Well, I've calmed down sufficiently to write something. But now I'm mired in the depression that always follows a loss, so we'll see how far I get. Who am I kidding? I've always got a reserve of deep-seated frustration to tap for these kind of posts.

Strong outing. Lost in all the post-game commentary is that TCU actually has a decent offense. Yes, TCU's passing game was hindered by the bad weather, lots of balls that probably should have been caught by TCU receivers (TCU more than made up for this with the lucky TD reception off the tipped ball and the once-in-a-lifetime catch made by Hicks on the second TD reception.) But the secondary looked good for the most part, I wish someone would have stepped up and and jumped a slant at some point, but for the most part they seemed content to play a little more conservatively, probably not a bad decision with the poor conditions. There's been lots of grumbling over the inability of the defense to adjust to the QB keeper, but looked to me like Clemson was focused on coverage and also wanted to keep the ball out of the running back's hands. The result was Dalton being left free on a few occasions to chew up some yardage, but TCU has a lot of weapons and if you're going to give them one, letting the slow QB carry the ball now and then isn't a bad idea.

Tackling watch: Not bad. I thought the defense looked a little tired at the end of the third quarter/beginning of the fourth quarter and it showed up in some lax tackling, the second level was getting dragged along for several extra yards at a time. Hard to blame them, though, since they were out on the field fo so long with our offense unable to muster a first down.

I'm gonna differ from most of the blogosphere here, and also ClemBen--I thought the playcalling was baffling at best. The scripted first drive was fine, but after that we were putting ourselves into too many third and longs. This resulted from: 1) too many pass plays and 2) too much running east to west and not north to south. Given the skill player strengths and experience in the offense, we should be calling at least a 55/45 run/pass ratio, particularly if we have the lead or its tied. After conditions worsened I wouldn't mind running this up to 65/35. Instead we were probably running the opposite (35/65 run to pass) to start the second half. Bizarre.

The good news is TCU has a good defense. Boston College has a good defense. The question becomes, what level of defensive crappiness is necessary for us to score regularly? If the answer is Middle Tennessee State, well, we should be able to score against Maryland, Virginia, and Coastal Carolina. If the answer is somewhere in between, we'll have a fighting chance against Miami, FSU, and NC State, as well. I should say the USuCk scares me at this point, but hey, Chicken Curse. I remain as confident as I am every year that we will stomp them into the ground. Mercilessly.

I already covered the red zone offense in the post below. As long as our offense struggles to move the ball anywhere on the field, I can't honestly think of why we should be expecting the offense to score once they get inside the magical twenty yard line. Its a fundamental problem with execution and inconsistent playcalling, not some failure to be "mentally tough enough" or some other garbage to score inside some arbitrarily-defined region of the field.

Special Teams
Good outing. I think we came back to earth a little after the last few great weeks, but we still got some solid returns and looked phenomenal in coverage. Can't ask for much more. Zimmerman's bad boot cost us at the end, but TCU's offense was able to move the ball enough at the end to put our backs against the end zone. And while Zimmerman had a great game up to that point, I think everyone in the stadium knew we were playing with house money on that last punt.

Major Coaching Decisions
Would have kicked the field goal. With the current state of our offense, we had a better chance at getting close enough to score two field goals then to suddenly gain the ability to catch a lob in the endzone. I'm not sure what makes Napier/Swinney think we had a chance to score a touchdown all of a sudden. I hope, hope, hope that Napier isn't on the sideline thinking, "Well, we've had so many chances up 'til now...somebody's gotta step up and make a big play sometime. Might as well be on 4th and 13 at the 16 yard line". Unfortunately, I haven't seen much of anything to indicate otherwise. Kick the field goal, take your three timeouts and entrust them to your better units, special teams and defense.

Can't wait to vicariously take out some frustration on Maryland this weekend.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

On the Red Zone Offense

I usually take a couple of days to collect myself before posting after a loss--keeps me from writing things I might regret. But I'm noticing a really disturbing mantra starting to take root in the Clemson community that needs to be addressed. Something along the lines of, "Well, if only the offense played better in the red zone we'd be 4-0". I've heard various message board posters, pundits, analysts repeating a similar refrain.

This is flat-out wrong. In all meaningful games we've played to date, our offense (and I mean that in terms of offensive output, not offensive design) has consisted almost entirely of C.J. Spiller or Jacoby Ford getting the ball in space and using their superior athletic abilities to gobble up large chunks of yardage. When we get to the red zone, though, the field shortens and there's no open space left. Our red zone offense is essentially the same as our normal offense without Spiller or Ford--it's non-existent. To put it another way, we struggle in the red zone like we struggle anywhere else on the field, the only difference is Spiller and Ford can't bail us out with big gains.

We can debate the reasons for the offensive struggles (inconsistent line play, soft wide receiver routes, baffling playcalls, dropped passes; to name a few) but let's not let delude ourselves into thinking this offense is adequate except when it gets in the red zone. We need drastic, fundamental improvement in a lot of areas before we even approach a league average offense. I sincerely hope the coaching staff sees this, but from what I gather so far they've been more or less content to prop up this phantom red zone issue as the central problem. The fanbase/media needs to hold their feet to fire over the real issue, or anytime we play a top defense we should expect to come away as losers.

For now, if anyone tells you the key to Clemson's struggles is to "figure out" the red zone, feel free to ignore everything else they say.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Deep Thought

The Napier hiring is looking worse and worse each game.

Natl Championship Possibilities

So I have been wanting to write this post for some time but I realize that if we dont win today we cant win the natl championship so I better write this now, especially since Hairston is doubtful to play.

Indulge me if you will as we collectively don a pair of bright orange sunglasses. We have a shot at a natl championship still. Its like less than one percent of one percent but hey, its still possible. Here is how...

We need Miami to be a legit contender--if they beat VT and Ok then they will be in the top four maybe top two or three since everyone wants Miami back so badly. If that happens we will play them at Miami and will be able to make a statement. If we beat TCU and the other teams handily we should be ranked at that point. That puts us in the top 15. We want FSU to stay with its one loss when we play them and that win puts us near the top ten. Then we beat a South Carolina team that is ranked--maybe they have a crazy year and then we are beating a top SEC team. But I hate them and hate if they do well so whatever. Then we want to play Miami again in the ACC Champs bc we will be their only loss. They should still be top ten by then, maybe even top five depending and we will then be a legit one loss team looking for the natl champs game.

Well for this to happen we need Big Ten pansies to lose two games and the real USC to fall again, probably Cal too. We need either Florida or Texas to win out and beat the other teams up or everyone lose one game and then we can sneak in as the second team. It wouldnt hurt if GT didnt suck the rest of the way too. Oh yeah and Boise State needs to bite it too. But other than that is looks like smooth sailing...(and you know what I half believe it could actually happen)

Friday, 25 September 2009

TCU Preview

TCU vs. Clemson, 9/26, 3:30pm, Death Valley

Always feels good to type "Death Valley".


I find the circumstances surrounding this game intriguing for several reasons:

1) It's a battle between a top three Mountain West team and, well...I think its pretty fair to say Clemson is top five in the ACC right now. But just how good is a top three Mountain West team relative to a top five ACC team? Sure, TCU crushed Virginia. But this is the same Virginia that lost to William & Mary the week before. I can't believe I just wrote that. (As an aside, I had a relative that attended William & Mary law school a while back. I happened to be living in the area at the time and paid a couple of visits. I was shown the campus and I immediately mistook the football "stadium" for a practice field. I even caught a couple of their games on a local channel that would broadcast Colonial League Football. It was a lot like high school football. What if Clemson lost in week one to that William & Mary team I saw on those Saturday afternoons not so long ago? I think my head would explode.) Anyways, TCU went on to struggle against Texas State the next week before pulling away in the fourth quarter. In the process, they gave up 21 points to a Division II team while playing their starters. All this is to say, while TCU has a reputation for a dominant defense, it hasn't exactly shown up yet this year.

2) Related to #1. FSU is coming off a trouncing of a different top three Mountain West team, on the road. A strong showing at home against TCU is necessary to show the Clemson program is moving in the right direction, too.

3) USuCk just beat the #4 team in the country in Columbia. We have the #15 team tomorrow.

4) Depending on how many "I can't believe they just lost" games FSU has between now and November 7th, this could be the highest ranked team to visit Death Valley this year.

5) Swine flu. How many players have it? How many will be affected by it? Don't give me that "its been contained to five players and no new names have been added to the list crap." You don't "contain" swine flu. And you don't let the other team (or even your own players) know how badly you are hurting going into the game.

Lots of factors coning together before the game, combining to make this the biggest question mark on the schedule. As for the game itself, despite not being totally convinced of TCU's defensive abilities, I'm expecting a low-scoring struggle. Clemson's best strategy to win the game might be to emulate last week and turn the game into a field goal shootout, using special teams to exert control on field position. If TCU shows up and starts driving the ball on possession #1 though, we're in for an ugly afternoon. I don't think its gonna happen, though. Call me crazy and full of this unexpected confidence, but Kevin Steele has made a believer out of me. At least for one week.


I have a slightly different take on TCU than TigerMax for this reason. I think Gary Patterson is a good coach and his entire season is riding on beating Clemson. His BCS chances hinge on this game. He didnt have to show much offensively or defensively these past two weeks so we may see TCU light years ahead of there last two performances show. That being said I think our D is as stout as theirs and we have Mr. Spiller. I think its going to be a tough match-up and a lot depends on if and how much Chris Hairston plays. If he is unable to go I think we win by one point 17-16 and if he is in and plays well then 4 points 17-13. Hows that? We need Parker to be on his A game for sure.

Look for TCU to give us all they got but its time to get fired up--we get another chance at a top 15 team and hopefully Miami can beat VT and Oklahoma so we can go and beat them at home on route to our second national championship. Oh did I mention the ALL IN, ALL ORANGE food fast has begun. Oh yeah, I'm drinking the orange kool-aid already....

Go Tigers!! Beat those horned frogs!!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Skareliner with the upset of Ole Missie

Alright, give credit where credit is due. The coots won against the most overrated team in the SEC and perhaps the country. Good job Steve! You won at home for once dressed in your own shade of ugly purple (the state of South Carolina has a secret infatuation with the color apparently), yes, yes garnet pants are in fashion once again in Columbia. How about the play calling on the last drive? Cant even get the right personnel on the field after the fourth down on fourth down?

Sure this might keep a couple recruits at home for awhile but Justin Parker wasnt there so thats good and USuCk will fold down the stretch...glad to see everyone stayed till the end of the game this week in Columbia. I think that may be another first for the coots...

But seriously, good job and all--You know, like, whatever...

FEI Week 3; More OL Venting

Clemson up three spots to #11, likely the result of beating the #26 team BC. If BC keeps playing like it did last Saturday, I expect we won't be benefiting from that victory too much longer. For those of you interested, TCU is at #27, so this Saturday should be just another repeat of the BC game, right?

Clemson took a big jump in the Ken Massey aggregate rankings, up at #23 after being #36 last week. TCU tumbled from #10 to #15. It was a rough week for Mountain West schools, and a relatively good week for the ACC. Hey, maybe FEI wasn't terribly wrong after all? Clemson-TCU will give us another data point in the analysis.

Also wanted to draw attention to this excellent post on the offensive line a few days back by DrB. The ClemPson guys are prolific writers, so it might have slipped through unnoticed. Somehow I also missed the post from last year, which is much the same effect. Just to highlight a couple of passages, but really, it should be read in its entirety. Here, when talking about where to spread the blame for the O-line failures:
Whose fault is this? Brad Scott's. He has been OL coach since Spence came on staff. He is regarded as one of the best? By who? Show me who comes calling for him? Brad can recruit in this state, and has built many contacts, but what good does it do us to recruit and not develop? Was that lesson not learned over the last 9 years? If you bring them in and they do nothing, its on the coach. Its either bad evaluation in the beginning, or bad development; either way its on Scott.
In my eyes, in the last 2-3 years Clemson has been plagued by two problems that have absolutely infuriated the fanbase because they shouldn't happen with proper coaching: 1) poor tackling technique on defense and 2) inability to get any kind of push from the offensive line in the run game (we can debate the line play in 2007, there were obviously multiple factors going on there--but I think everyone agrees the level of play on the O-line was well below expectation). Its still early and there have been some relapses (first quarter of the GT game) but problem #1 looks like it is coming under control after one offseason under Kevin Steele. Thank God. Problem #2, however, looks about as bad as ever. There are flashes of ability mixed into every game (even in the BC game), but nothing resembling consistency has materialized.

But to tell the truth, we are not missing assignments altogether...We are BLOCKING the guy we're supposed to hit, but we arent PUSHING him anywhere, that comes down to technique. Its one thing to hit your man, but its another to knock him on his ass...Our technique is what needs work, thats what a coach is there for.
I can't pretend to know the politics in the Clemson athletic department or the football team. But what I can say, and what I tried to point out in my last post below, is that it seems that Swinney has at least some grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of the team and has tried to make changes appropriately (unlike his baffling predecessor). I refuse to believe that he doesn't see the O-line struggles; he's seen the deterioration along the O-line first-hand. Maybe Pearman was brought in as a way to "push" Brad Scott, give him some motivation. But that begs the question as to why he just wasn't removed in the first place, its not like he's got a stable of hand-picked 5-star recruits for 2010. There has to be something going on here that hopefully resolves itself before the start of the next offseason. Or maybe, just maybe, we see some real improvement one of these weeks?

However if Thomas Austin is so good, and Hairston is the "Spiller of the OL" as Dabo says, why do we not have HUGE holes open on the left side and more run plays designed to go there?...This tells me that either Austin and Hairston arent the all-star types they've been made out to be, or Napier is dumb. Its one or the other.
One minor quibble here--it could easily be both.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Swinney and Special Teams

Time to give credit to the coaching staff where credit is due. The season's only three games old so I might regret writing this in a few weeks, but there's one area of the team that has clearly improved in performance relative to the last few years: special teams. Its not just Spiller and Ford and a bunch of guys throwing bodies around in front of them this year, the execution looks a lot better on both returns and coverage. Special teams has been so good that it has turned into both an offensive and defensive weapon for Clemson this season by giving us a large measure of control over field position (even with Zimmerman shanking a thirty yard punt every three times or so). Not that the defense particularly needs any help, but without the fine special teams play and the accompanying excellent starting field position on Saturday, the score would have been a lot closer. As it was, though, Clemson typically only needed to grab a first down or two to get into Richard Jackson's range.

Andre' Powell gets a lot of credit. 2009 builds on his 2008 campaign (the year he was officially designated "special teams coordinator"), which was a marked improvement over the special teams disaster that was 2007 (keeping in mind it had to be difficult not to improve over a unit that doomed the entire team on multiple occasions). But Dabo Swinney deserves credit, as well. They couldn't have improved this much without practicing more, and at some level practice time is ultimately allotted with Swinney's approval.

I think the real interesting angle here is the reasoning behind improving the play of special teams. When Swinney looked over the past year's performance way back in January, he must have seen a waste of two outstanding talents in the return game. It's also an area that isn't emphasized by a lot of other programs in the ACC (excepting, of course, VT), witness BC's perfectly adequate but uninspiring performance on Saturday. So here we have the coaching staff targeting a part of the game undervalued by other teams which they know will result in outperforming the competition with relatively little cost (in this case, the cost of practice time). This is the kind of decision that smart coaches and programs make, it results in maximizing the odds for any game with a minimal amount of effort--think of special teams at VT, the discipline instilled by the coaching staff at Wake Forest, or, to jump sports for a moment, the emphasis Coach Purnell puts on defense.

Its just one facet of the game, its just one break from their predecessors, but its encouraging to think Coach Swinney & Co. are thinking through the strengths and weaknesses of the team. I don't expect this level of play to continue--there are too many factors in a given special teams play outside of the control of the team and too few plays thus far to accept this as the true level of talent for Clemson. It's also likely this is a short-term advantage for the Tigers, it's unclear where special teams will go without Spiller or Ford. But so far special teams play has at least partially masked some of our offensive deficiencies, and paid noticeable dividends on the field. If it wasn't responsible for the victory last week, it sure made things more comfortable.

The real question for me is whether this is the kind of thinking that will become a hallmark of the Swinney years, or if it's just an anomaly. The answer to that question could very well determine the length of the Swinney tenure as we struggle with a less-than-fully formed offensive philosophy and a possible emerging talent-gap with some of the rapidly-improving teams in the ACC.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Quick Boston College Recap

Got company in from out of town, so got to throw up some thoughts quick or wait several more days. It's pretty clear that I overestimated BC in my preview, so my enthusiasm is a bit more tempered than one might otherwise expect coming off a 25-7 thrashing. BC's offense is still a work in progress (hey, I know another team that has that same problem, and they were playing on the same field last Saturday!), and they just didn't look like a contender on Saturday. But hey, you gotta thrash the non-contenders on your way to a championship. To the bullet points!

  • 2 straight dominant starts against ACC opponents. Absolutely controlled the line, and the secondary looked good in coverage all day (how about that McDaniel, huh?)
  • Did I just watch an entire Clemson football game featuring solid individual and team tackling on defense? A sight for sore eyes. (How about that McDaniel, huh?)
  • As bad as BC's offense looked, its good to keep in mind they still feature a large and talented (if raw) offensive line. We weren't overwhelming some Division II line.
  • Welcome to the land of "living up to your much-hyped potential", Mr. Sapp. Stick around a while, please.

Special Teams

  • What can I say? I scoffed at our performance against MTSU, waiting to pass judgement until we faced some quality opponents. Well, the verdict is in: We are freakin' awesome.
  • I'll try to expand on this with another post later in the week, but special teams has really been an offensive and defensive weapon for us this season by allowing us to control field position relative to the other team. Sure, Zimmerman is a bit of a weak link but it hasn't mattered much thanks to excellent coverage and excellent returns.
  • Let's not forget Richard Jackson. All we need is a game-winning kick for the David Treadwell comparisons to start.


  • Yeah, what do you say? Parker is telegraphing his passes and making some poor decisions, never a good combination. The O-line got very little push, enough for us to occasionally pick up a first down but not enough to establish any consistency. Struggled to execute downfield blocking, resulting in quite a few plays that were blown up before getting started.
  • Bad bubble-screen flashbacks (even though I actually like the bubble screen when called on occasion, like once every couple of games in the right situation)
  • One thing to keep in mind, though: this lackluster performance came at the hands of a good defense. I was wrong about the state of BC's offense but I will still argue that BC's defense could end up being one of the better we see all season. I thought they had excellent play in the secondary, and they were a disciplined, strong team that was able to consistently push through our blocks. The O-line is never going to dominate a team for four quarters, but that was a tough assignment.
  • Unfortunately for us, though, it doesn't look as though things will get too much better until after next week, as TCU has an allegedly good defense.
  • Good news on Hairston's injury, though.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Lightning Delay

So we have a lightning delay. Word is Hairston is injured, bad knee I dont like this delay--we were beating BC with our depth more than anything but I dont think we can really lose at this point. Hopefully we can just outlast it and not suffer anymore injuries.

Raycom...your picture sucks--its time to upgrade your cameras, HD cameras arent that expensive these days...

Halftime Ramblings

Watching on Espn 360, hey, I need a pair of Nike air Marauder? D's. They are light weight and crucial, aahahahaaah...So annoying every five seconds.

So the D looks good but BC is just pathetic on offense--even worse than I thought, but there D looks pretty good considering. CJ looks good but Parker has had some ugly throws. Coach Spaz sounded like he was going to yield after that inspiring interview. That guy is classic, Magnum PI.

The good things are that the O-line is looking decent today and some D Lineman--Sapp, Branch, Thompson, Goodman, look good rotating a lot of players. Hall, Gilchrist, and McDaniel look good too. We have had such good field position--we need to shed the Red zone woes of Spence and develop a killer instinct to get TD's not field goals--thank you Richard Jackson. Just hit a 52-yarder. Lovely.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Boston College Preview

Boston College vs. Clemson, 9/19, 12:00pm, Death Valley


Clemben's on the shelf right now without a functional computer or means to purchase a new one, but maybe he trudges down to the local library to post a few thoughts before the game starts. Since he has a natural aversion to reading, I'm not holding my breath.
Clemben edit: yes I'm not going to the public library but apparently I can tediously use my phone. I'm not convinced bc can do it this year-without Herzlich and breaking in three new linebackers plus two NFL D lineman gone..that's a tall order for a new coach. But I am less encouraged seeing miami smack georgia tech around. I hope we can run on them but I am worried about the BC oline even though the qb position is a mess. I think they can keep it close and play a field position game with their good special teams but if it comes down to it I like our rookie qbover theirs.

I've already mentioned how important this game is to Clemson. A loss and you're 0-2 in the conference, and to have a shot at winning the division (not a guarantee mind you, just a chance) you need to finish 5-1 in conference play. Granted, you can make a convincing argument that GT and BC make up two-thirds of our more difficult ACC games (with FSU rounding out the list), but asking the team to win three road games at NC State, Coral Gables, and Maryland as well as beat either WF or FSU is still an extremely tall order. In other words, lose tomorrow and the season's effectively over, at least as far as BCS hopes go. There's still the biennial beatdown to administer in Columbia and a Florida-based bowl to play for, but it would be quite the downer to shift focus in that direction with the season just getting underway.

On the other hand, a win puts us at 1-1 and gives us some space to breath--a 4-2 record still leaves you right in contention. With this much on the line, shouldn't be any problems motivating the team, particularly with our motivator extraordinaire at the helm.

So what about Boston College? I've watched a bit of them this year, and it looks like they are moving farther and farther away from the Tom O'Brien grind-it-out years and into a West Coast-style offensive scheme. The good news: this plays to one of the supposed strengths of our defense, the CB position. The bad news: BC features yet another heavy OL, and could very well push us around at the point of attack, as we have seen for several years. It also means I'm not expecting much pressure on the pass. A west coast offense with lots of time is going to carve you to pieces, excellent CBs or not. I'll be looking to see if we can at least keep the running game from developing in the early going, building off of what we saw last week. That would leave us a little more free to drop an extra man back in coverage.

On offense, Clemson's running game last week looked the best I've seen in a while against a decent defense. The question is, can we look anywhere near as impressive against arguably the best defense in the league? I know a lot of people were down on the Eagles coming into the season: they lost some names on defense and they had the whole bizarre Jagodzinski situation. Also, shutting down Kent State and Northeastern doesn't mean an awful lot in gauging a team's talent. But overlooking all this, BC is still big and still disciplined on both sides of the ball. That's spelled trouble in the past for us and I expect it will be trouble again on Saturday. I'm afraid we'll be relying on the big play, hoping some of our superior skill players can break off a few large gains to set up scores.

I was going to "boldly" predict a close Tigers win at the end here, but after reading what I just wrote I'm more convinced than ever that this game is essentially a push, possibly tilting towards the the home-field Tigers. I think we clearly have the edge on overall talent, but I'm afraid its concentrated in areas that play towards BC's strengths. Should be a great game and constantly reminding myself how much is on the line will keep me on the edge of my seat.

GO TIGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (yes, extra exclamation points to help the team. just tryin' to do my part)

FEI Week 2

Clemson rises two notches from #16 to #14. Taking the #10 team to the final minute on their home turf helps the cause, I guess. The problem comes when the system over-rates an entire conference. Three ACC teams in the top 15? Doesn't seem likely given the early results.

Ken Massey's meta-rankings, which aggregates 46 rankings into a single score, pegs Clemson at 36 with no ACC teams in the top 15--VT grades out the highest at 19. Sounds a little more reasonable, but on the other hand, it has TCU at 10.

From what I can see most of the Ken Massey ranking systems are Sagarin-type ratings, basing their rankings on margin of victory and strength of opponent. These are fairly crude measures of team strength, but I'd have to give them the upper hand on FEI, for now. We'll see how the rest of the season plays out.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Georgia Tech Recap

As I mentioned before, I have to force myself to take a couple of days off after tough losses before posting anything on the blog. Mostly to calm down, but it also allows a little perspective to seep in.

Anyways, the hilariously display of inept coaching and poor play for all units in the first quarter just about left me in a blind rage. That's why it was so unusual, even in crushing, last-minute defeat, to feel so calm and even cautiously optimistic after it was over. There were lots of things to like in the last three quarters.

I halfway expected to give up a big play or two early in the game. When you play Paul Johnson's offense, I think it takes a few series to really get into flow of the defensive attack. No matter how much you practice, come game time there's going to be an adjustment period. Its a shame that led to the long TD run, but there you have it. After the first quarter though, watching the defense was just a thing of beauty. The DEs where pressuring the outside, the secondary was covering, and even the linebackers were doing a decent job of wrapping up (still too many "hits" instead of tackles, particularly in that first quarter, but its still an improvement). And what can you say about the guard play in the middle of the D-line. It seems the last 2-4 years that if we didn't get penetration into the backfield on a run, the opposing team was picking up an automatic 5-6 yards. We just couldn't stuff power runs. What I saw in those last three quarters brought back memories of defenses long past. Not that I had much doubt, but this year's defense is going to be just fine.

Terrible, terrible first half--MTSU redux, with the Spiller reception filling in for the long Ford reception. I was all but typing my screeds pointed at Napier and Swinney, but then two things happened that I haven't seen in some time: 1) we actually started pushing around another ACC team's D-line with regularity, and 2) we started executing plays on every down of the drive. The second point is relieving because we have so much youth at the skill positions, but its the first point that separates this 2-quarter run of success from the Rob Spence era. We were running the ball with authority, and the offense was keyed off the run game. I loved it. Add in the explosive Spiller and Ford and you have a recipe for putting some points on the board.

Unfortunately, its time to throw some water on the optimism. GT isn't exactly known for its defense (probably around ACC average) and the D-line is undersized, albeit athletic and quick. Before I get excited, I want to see if they can replicate point #1 against a better defense. Coincidentally enough, the criminally underrated Boston College is coming to town this week, sporting a preseason projected third-best defense in Division I (or FBS or whatever they're calling it) according to FEI.

Also, we have no two-minute drill. In the three drives that were operating under the guise of two-minute drill (2 at the end of the first half and the final drive of the game), we managed to net 5 yards. And we didn't look like we had any idea of what we were doing.

Special Teams
53 yard FG!!!!!!! I think this amped me up as much as any play in the game.

I mentioned last week that this game didn't mean all that much, provided we beat an underrated Boston College this week. I also said that if we play a close game against GT, win or lose, we would be in contention for the Division title. I'd like to punt that last prediction down the road one more week, because no matter how good we look if we lost to BC the season is effectively over. Unless you plan on Clemson going 5-1 the rest of the ACC season.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The morning (mourning) after

With the 30-27 loss last night we are now 0-1 in the ACC division race but you know who else is 0-1--FSU. You know who else has won any game in our division--only BC. If we had pulled it out we would be in the drivers seat to win the atlantic. I think GT and VT will beat almost every team in our division they play and Miami will be no pushover so we just need to take care of our own business and beat FSU.

If we do that we are in the ACC Champs and a chance to play for a BCS Bowl. I like our chances in a re-match on a neutral field against GT. So dont panic just yet. Who would have thought at halftime that this was even going to be a game or that we would be leading. We knew that Dabo and Napier would take their lumps as new coaches but didnt think that would equate to 14 points. Paul Johnson just out coached us at the beginning of the game, we werent ready for the first play, and then we made those dumb decisions. Everyone knew we werent going to kick the field goal--why do that with Tarrant sitting back there?? Sure he is supposed to kick it out of bounds but still...

Lots of lamenting to be had all around but I think we can take away a couple of things. KP throws lasers and will continue to get better--he is good enough to take us to the ACC Championship. We need to hope that the OL stays healthy and improves. Lambert was killing us in the first half--I liked that KP hung in the pocket but if you keep getting killed its got to be hard to constantly take the punishment. That holding call on Austin killed us, thanks bogus ACC refs. Our D will be solid and the 53 yarder says a lot about the potential Richard Jackson has as a kicker. Zimmerman?? Write less blogs and spend more time practicing--I can punt 30 yard kicks...

We can still get to a BCS game so hopefully the focus will stay--I like the purple unis much better with the orange trim. Oh and my hard drive crashed so if anyone has a laptop they arent using, feel free to send it to me...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Georgia Tech Preview

Clemson vs. Georgia Tech, 9/10, 7:30pm, Bobby Dodd Stadium


Battle of top 20 teams!! In FEI ratings, of course. I think every Clemson fan has had this day circled on the calendar for quite a few months now. Its easy to see why--this is a yardstick game for the season, based on the results I think we'll have a pretty good idea of how the season could play out barring a devastating injury or three down the road. Here are three general game outcomes followed by what I anticipate will be my visceral reaction: 1) We get blown out--"Well, that was crap. When's basketball season start again?" 2) Win or lose, we keep it close--"Wow, maybe I'm underselling this whole leadership thing. We should be right in it this year". 3) We blow them out--"WOOOOOOOOoooooooooo...wait. That was a fluke. I can't wait for the crash".

Yes, the Bowden years have conditioned me well.

I'm really looking forward to this game, though. It matches up two teams that play to each others strengths. GT relies on its offense while we counter with our defense. I give GT the slight edge here, and Clemson will have to make things up by outplaying the GT defense. In general I thought week one was encouraging, if they finish plays a little better I think we can score some on GT (in contrast to past years at Bobby Dodd.) But even then, we still have to overcome homefield advantage. I give the edge to GT, but with a big play or two from special teams or defense we'll be right there at the end of the game.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

FEI Ratings and Clemson

Haven't talked to much about advanced statistics and college football, because I generally feel they are worth talking about. There are two major problems: 1) Each play in football relies on so many small, individual contributions adding up to a result that its extremely difficult to model and 2) the sample size of plays and possessions is small relative to other sports. This is particularly problematic in college football when trying to compare two teams in different conferences, because there simply aren't enough of these games.

That being said, I find Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) over at BCF Toys pretty interesting, at least as accurate as the different weekly top 25 polls engineered by different packs of "Smooth" Jimmy Apollos. Not to mention the bastard offspring of those polls, the BCS. They get around the first problem, more or less, by calculating drive-based efficiencies, and not worrying about individual contributions. (Basically assuming that these things will level out over time at a drive-by-drive level). They get around the second problem by, well, they really don't. There's not much you can do but to go with the sample size you've got, not the one you wish you had. I wouldn't start gambling my life savings with FEI, but its certainly useful to get a overall feel of how strong a team's defense and offense is.

At any rate, how did Clemson fare in the preseason? We were #10 in the country (like I said, its far from perfect...hahaha). This ranking was entirely rooted in the strength of our defense, ranked #1. Again, I think you'd have a hard time convincing even the stoutest Clemson fan we have the best defense in the country, although I think you could argue we're in the top twenty pretty easily. But I digress. Our offense was rated 47 out of 116, a below average offense when viewed in the context of the ACC. If anything, I thought that was probably a bit generous, too.

How do we look after week #1? Dropped 6 slots to #16. As the weeks roll on, I'll be expecting a freefall lot of fluctuation, which will stabilize at least after a while. If not, well, advanced stats in football are still a work in progress.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Quick MTSU thoughts, a look ahead

While I feel its my job to inject some pessimism into the blog, I'll save it for the GT preview. But I do want to post a couple of quick thoughts:
  • After the MTSU game, I felt like a high schooler suddenly reassured that the varsity team can beat the J.V. team. I guess its all the Stockstill & Co. talk getting to me.
  • As such, the end results don't mean much but there were some positives to take away from the game. On balance, I liked the play-calling on offense (yay power formations!) and I liked what I saw from Parker, raw but displayed some pocket awareness and also should move around enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
  • While its not predictive of future performance (because we were playing MTSU), was that the best single-game special teams performance in, I don't know, the last five years?
  • Despite looking horrible Saturday, I'm thinking it ain't a bad thing having a player like Willy Korn around as the backup QB.
  • The real season starts this week. I agree with Clemben's post below, but I would extend the "make or break us" sentiment to the next two weeks. We have one game that tilts against us and another that tilts towards us (I'm not nearly as down on BC as some others are, it seems). Lose both and its a long climb back into division contention.
  • Miami did us a real favor last night. I don't expect them to lose any "how did that happen?" kind of game this year, so every close loss for FSU is a big plus for Clemson. Its still way too early, but with NC State's (and to a lesser extent, Wake's) disappointing start, it looks like Clemson could really contend. We'll see come Thursday.

Monday, 7 September 2009

GT will make or break season

So it seems that after the first week its official--the ACC sucks again this year. I still say we are better than the Big Ten and rank third on the pecking order top to bottom but we are still in a down period for sure. This means that the two biggest games of the season are this Thursday and when we take on FSU.

If we can somehow get by Tech, which is not completely outside the realm of possibility, then the season looks not only doable but possibly magical. Yes my orange spectacles are on but just indulge me if you will. Our division looks bad--NC State wasnt special, Maryland got manhandled, Wake is down, and BC still doesnt have a QB. We will see how good FSU is tonight--it would be big if Miami gets the win. So really it comes down to who you play in the other division. GT will be good but I would rather play them than VT, and Virginia looked awful. We dont get to play another pathetic Duke team but we should get a pretty beat up Miami team.

My point is that with teams under-performing there will be parity and middling records. A win against GT puts us in the drivers seat and would create the buzz and momentum needed to build to a big enough let down (a Bowdenesque loss to an inferior team) to call it a true Clemson season. Yeah a loss wont break the season but it will send everyone back down to earth, a place we know all too well...

All I'm saying is that the crummy ACC could be all Dabo and company need this year, hopefully GT's young line isnt up to the task.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Halftime Ramblings: The Goldenboy Fails, yet again

So last night I started my solid orange fast--only orange food and drink on gameday...and it was good to see CJ take it to the house and give this team a cushion early on. So we are going to win but the offense still looks weak. Just what we thought--the WR's dropping passes, the OL looking shaky against MTSU, KP has a rocket arm. KP looked a lot quicker than I thought, some heads up runs--finally a QB who can feel the pocket. Some nice passes towards the end of the half but it was telling that we got stoned at the goal line once again. Rendrick Taylor--aka the hulk, seems to always get tackled by little guys taking out his legs--never seen him really lay the wood, so to speak.

Willy, willy, willy...I dont know what to say...part of me wants to say-well there you go, that was your chance, so take a seat cause its going to be awhile.

D looks good, the pressure is what we need and we are hitting harder but would like to see even more pressure from the front four. I think the D will be ready to play against GT. Special teams look as good as ever--nice coverage, nice blocking schemes. Jackson is getting some confidence and thats all he needs, he has the leg. Dabo looks the part--getting upset where he should, I like that he is demanding. Not a bad half, but nothing great. The offense is still soft and lost but there are signs of life. We need the OLine and WR to step it up but that will be the story of this season...its telling that the majority of our points came on special teams...

At least we are going to win!! Go Tigers!!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Middle Tennessee State Preview

MTSU vs. Clemson, 9/5, 6:00pm, Death Valley

The plan is for me and Clemben to both chime in before each game and give some brief thoughts on the games. We'll see how this goes...


STOCKSTILL!!! (In case you haven't heard his name enough this week). Whatever. If this game is played 100 times, we win 99. The talent gap is just to large. I don't care about MTSU's secondary, or whatever former Tiger coach they have on staff. No excuses.

I had an epiphany the other night. You know who has the most to lose and who is probably up late, late at night in the run-up to these games? Dabo Swinney. You see, he kind of sold his head coaching candidacy in large part on his ability to motivate the players. So if they come out and play lose, or even play flat against a team like MTSU, that kind of undercuts the big "leadership qualities" paragraph on his resume.

We won't be losing, but I'll be watching to see how sharp and energetic the team looks. Because it's such an important, repeatable, head coach-influenced team trait.


Alright, alight enough with the pessimistic pansy attitude. I am really quite scared that Middle Tennessee State, which is not a state for any confused kids reading, will give us problems but with a day to go until the season starts its time to allow ourselves to put on the orange tinted glasses complete with neon flashing "ALL IN" written along the rims. We match-up well, solid secondary, ability to pressure and the team speed to match-up with just about anyone. The offense has Spiller as the safety valve--even in Spence's rubbish Spiller was always worth some points. We will struggle but they shouldnt have the D to shut us out. We win but dont blow them out-come on now, GT is all that matters.

So repeat after me--I'm all in...(u dont even need to know what it means), repeat again--I'm all in...(no one knows what it means), one more time--I'm all in (starting to feel a little better!), now stand up and say it out loud--I'm all in (preferably alone, it might get weird if people are around, give in to the DABO magic just dont go UT wildboys on me and keep your shirt on.

Its going to be a glorious season, thats it I'm saying it--we are going undefeated--believe it, its the only time in the season that you really can...

State/South Carolina Reactions, Ramblings

Wanted to get a few initial reactions up after that 7-3 snoozer. USuCk won 7-3. Good news is both teams looked bad on offense, really bad. NC State couldnt move the ball at all, Wilson looked really slow and could barely throw it ten yards and then when he did it went through or off the hands of his receivers. So no passing game and Baker didnt seem all that dynamic. One lineman down with a calf injury, so if you cover the TE then the offense is done. Obviously they will get better as O'Brien's well coached teams always do--so its bad that we get them later in the season but this is not a darkhorse team to take the Atlantic--if they are then any team could take it. Glennon was the best looking player on the offense...

South Carolina had moments where they looked impressive, the D was good, especially when they were fresh. The secondary will make mistakes but they have the athleticism. They would be an above average ACC team--better than I expected but their main problem as I see it is Stephen Garcia. There is no way he stays healthy all year round with his hurdling and the like. He is much improved, however, and they also have that mammouth TE. Anyone dogging on the TE need look no further than tonights game. Easy pass up the middle seam of the d for twenty yards.

Favorite moment of the night--number 25 Ben Axon appears on the ESPN screen(instead of a penalty by #4)--haha, even when the coots try to keep a drug dealer of the team, they somehow show-up. And what about the missed face mask?? Overall both of these teams will be beatable. I dont think much momentum in recruiting comes of this however. Spurrier just couldnt let his team run the ball--had to get them pass happy. The rest of his staff look good though. Too bad half of the schedule is in the top ten, haha suckers--got to love the ACC!!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Putting Down the Orange-Tinted Glasses (this year, anyway)

Around this time of year I've always managed to convince myself, no matter the circumstances surrounding the team, that this is the year Clemson once again captures the national title. Not just the ACC title or a BCS birth, but the national title. I've been pondering over the last couple of weeks why this year is different.

I think its the combination of several factors creating a perfect storm-type of situation. First, while Clemson football has always been my first rooting interest in any sport at any level of competition, Clemson basketball is a close second. The success of the basketball team and the promise of the season ahead has definitely occupied some of the time I would normally spend gauging the football teams chances.

Second, the uncertainty of having Swinney at the head. I haven't commented on this much before but when he was hired, I wouldn't say I was upset but I wasn't particularly excited, either. My reasoning: I wasn't sure the Clemson AD could/would have made a better hire in Swinney's stead, and I was attracted to the argument that he represented a smooth transition for our scouting, arguably the best part of the Bowden years (feels good to say "the Bowden years", doesn't it?). But then he hired Billy Napier as the offensive coordinator, which absolutely shocked me--our offense is currently led by two guys with little experience ever leading one. Experience is generally overrated, but you know whats not overrated in an offensive coach? Having previously implemented an offensive scheme of your own design. Now, every step Swinney has made since then has been reassuring, including turning a potentially mediocre recruiting class into an average one, the emphasis on aggressiveness, and most recently the revelation that the offensive playbook has been pared down significantly. But still, I can't shake the feeling that we have a head coach that got his job by selling himself on unquantifiable coaching tropes like "natural leader", "knows how to connect with players", "knows how to rally the troops", "inspires by example", etc. etc. While his predecessor certainly seemed to lack these qualities, I still maintain that the better perceived team play after Bowden's departure had more to do with a healthy and more synergistic offensive line than Swinney's magical hold on the team and, in fact, if Bowden stays on the results probably wouldn't have been that different. (As an aside, let me be clear that I'm glad Bowden is finally gone. What a whiner.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while the overall talent on the field isn't appreciably worse than last year, it certainly isn't better. I don't see a fix to the major problems that have plagued us most of the last few years--linebackers that are athletic and can hit but can't tackle (I don't care how bad TCU's defense is, if Clemson hasn't improved its tackling they'll run up 30 points on our defense--Mountain West teams know how to get into the second level) and the offensive line is a question mark (maybe not as much as last year, I'll grant you). Add to this a starting redshirt freshman at QB and the baffling problems our talented defensive line had last year getting upfield, I see us as a 6-8 win team on talent.

All of that being said, there's reason for hope: parity in the Atlantic division. Win a couple of close games over the right teams and we could be in the ACC title game with a 5-3 or even 4-4 conference record.

One last point--while I haven't managed to convince myself this is "the year", that doesn't mean I'm not ready to watch some football. GO TIGERS!!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Steve's Done

While we need to be previewing Clemson this week, with the Coot game versus NC State this Thursday, thought we might spend a bit of time looking at the Cluckers. Then I saw this video and I knew there was no reason to do it. Steve Spurrier is done, if he doesnt hang it up at the end of the season I will be very surprised. Wow, how lukewarm can you be--he inspires zero confidence in this team. I thought things were bad based on a tough schedule but SC has some young talent and some nice d lineman. Garcia hasnt been much, but I didnt know it was this bad. Seems to me Steve wanted to take one last shot at it based on the recruiting class and how well they were doing at one point in the season but he seems about as motivated right now as he did at the end of the Clemson game.

Steve, I'm going to miss you--and for all you recruits out there (Quarles looking at you), dont go to USuCk, they just dont win. Spurrier wont be there by the time you graduate believe me, he just doesnt want it. On the other end, Dabo has to keep himself from wanting it too much--the choice is clear. Garnet is for pansies. Bring on the Burnt Orange!!
A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.