Friday, 30 October 2009

Coastal Carolina "Preview"

Coastal Carolina vs. Clemson, October 31st (hey, that's Halloween!), 1:30pm, Death Valley

Tigermax: "Preview" is probably a bit strong, since I know little about Coastal Carolina and care even less. Truth be told, I've been dreading having to write this preview for several weeks now, 'cause I really don't care that much. Don't get me wrong, should be fun to watch a game without crushing pressure riding on every snap and to look for our marquee players to break big plays. But let's face it, anything short of a route with the second team in by the end of the first half will be a shock.

I will say that I like how this year's schedule has turned out. Scheduling an easy first game against a lowly-regarded Division I team and saving your Division II team for the second half of the season has worked out well this year--seems like the way to go whenever possible. I realize you only have so much control over the schedule, but it would be nice to see this again. Its almost like having a second bye right in the middle of the ACC season--we get to rest banged-up players like Palmer and give other players like Cooper a chance to shake off the rust.


Yeah, Coastal is not especially great this year, I saw them once and we have nothing in the least to fear. So rather than waste everyone's time writing much, let me just say that I think this is like an oasis in the desert. That was a hard hitting game for Clemson against Miami, and we didnt back down so its good to get some rest and since we have played in so many close games we can finally let some players get a lot more reps.

I'm thinking specifically about the CB's for next year and Wr's. We have Maxwell and Gilchrist but I really think he fits and plays well at the FS and if McDaniel jets to the NFL(please no!!!! He is already a projected 2nd rounder), we want Brewer or Sensabaugh to step up. They havent played bad but badly need some more experience. I am not a fan of truefrosh CB's starting, got to adjust to the speed of the game. Plus we need to get some of these receivers a little confidence going forward. They have so much pressure that a few catches could go along way to helping them establish themselves. Other than that--pad CJ's Heisman stats and then get all the starters the break they deserve. Also want to see what some of the young LB's can do--Hawkins, Willard, Rollins, and let Cooper readjust. Should be a fun, colorful game....

Go CJ!! Go Heisman Buzz....

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Some of My Current Heroes

First is Michael Palmer. What a guy, he doesnt even let go of the ball when he is knocked unconscious. After Spiller and maybe Ford he is the best player on the Offense.

David Smith--well lets congratulate the entire offensive line. We have our guys in place for the remainder of the season it seems. Starting Freeman and allowing Cloy to spell Austin, Freeman, and McClain keeps everyone a little fresher. Smith really has come on and played well in his time at RT. Its only been a month or so since he has been put over there but it sure is nice not to see Lambert getting beat all the time. We had a few breakdowns here and there, to be expected against a tenacious, quick Miami D, but they gave KP the time he needed especially in key situations. Its about time someone on the O Line exceeded expectations. Pearman--you earned your paycheck. Brad--finally one of your moves works out, so thanks (its about time something worked). Dalton Freeman has been awesome starting.

DQ Bowers--he had been contained all game but came up huge on the second down in OT that stoned Miami RB Cooper. Thats with a slight concussion...

Richard Jackson--you blew a 41 yarder but didnt lose your cool and you made the one that counted.

Billy Napier--if your are reading this thank you for going to the TE screen, and even throwing to the fullback. Keep the I formation coming, I still dont believe that everything in Dabo and Napier land was a slice of heaven but I'm glad you two came to some agreements in a non Whipple/Shannon fashion.

Marcus Gilchrist-Of course McDaniel is the man too and we need to start talking him out of going to the NFL next season but Gilchrist has just kept getting better each game. Remember that this is his first year starting?? Its hard to remember that we replaced 2 safety positions this year and I hope we can find two CBs next year that can do what our 2 safeties have done filling in this year. Rashard Hall has been probably the biggest contributing surprise, so far for me this season. Not highly recruited (Spencer Adams was the big 4* recruit, hope he and his knee can find it) but just a solid player so far.

Lots of praise to go around right now but lots of things to still fix. I like our chances though with FSU at home but would love it if BC took a stumble against another team. Also if we lose to FSU watch out for them to be the Darkhorse to win out and save Bobby B. Yeah its silly to talk about it since really anything is possible in the Atlantic. But I am encouraged that the team can see the finish line and know that if we win out that we go to the ACC Champs.

Last note, I love how the players call on Spiller to go make a play for them. Just win the game for us CJ. Reminds me of Bowdens coaching (especially his great adjustment in the Alabama debacle), telling players that someone needed to go and make a play. I understand motivation and all but usually coaching is definitionally telling a player how to make X and O play, not just telling them it should be done.

CJ for Heisman!! Believe It!!

FEI Week 8; ACC Outlook Update

In the week 8 edition of the FEI, Clemson moves up from #21 to #13 after bouncing the previous #4, Miami dropped to #6 (Miami was an 18 point favorite last Saturday by FEI's reckoning). You can see the expanded FEI is now available at FootballOutsiders, just follow the link. Now we can see the justification for Clemson's high ranking--FEI has us at the 3rd strongest schedule in the country (thanks TCU, Georgia Tech) and while we grade out #42 on offense, we're all the way up at #8 on defense. By the way, FEI treats Division II (or whatever its called now) teams as a bye, hence no ranking for Coastal Carolina. Also: FEI says Central Michigan will give BC all they can handle on Saturday.

The Ken Massey meta-rankings has Clemson rise from #40 all the way to #25. I have to say, if you plotted the rankings of the two systems week to week, I think we'd see a lot less fluctuation in FEI thus far.

On to the updated ACC chart:
Despite winning in Miami, I don't see any reason to change the rest of the chart. I figured based on matchups that Miami could only be considered the "lean" favorite, which gave us a reasonable chance of pulling it out. In the end, I don't think Saturday's performance justifies giving Clemson better odds the rest of the way. On the other hand, GT confirmed my suspicion about the shallow nature of Virginia's ACC season "revival", and I'm close to putting the Virginia game in the Clemson "lock" column. Maybe next week. Meanwhile, the FSU-NC State game will likely have implications for next week's update.

What last Saturday really did for the Tigers was to improve their odds of taking the ACC. The range of likely outcomes for Clemson went from a 4-6 win spread to a 5-6 win spread. I still have to give BC the slightest of edges to win the division due to their weak conference schedule, but its something close to 5:4 odds while Clemson is at around 4:5. Its essentially a two-team race, with WF and FSU needing the complete implosion of both Clemson and BC to have a chance.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Clemson 2009 Basketball Preview: Team Overview

I mean, I respect Coastal Carolina and everything, and I'm extremely glad Coach Swinney is focusing the week entirely on CC instead of thinking about maybe that other game coming up in two Saturdays, but there's really only so much that springs to mind when it comes to a division II opponent. So let's talk basketball.

Unlike last year, I think the high expectations surrounding the program now are actually warranted. Last year we didn't have a lot of room for growth over the previous season because the players getting the bulk of the playing time, with the exception of Stitt and possibly Oglesby, didn't have a lot of individual developmental upside and the guys we brought in, while solid recruits, weren't going to contribute immediately. As it turned out, Booker improved his game quite a bit, while Oglesby and Rivers took smallish steps backward, which ended up more or less evening out.

This year is different, though. On paper, we now have the talent (and the talented depth) to match up with anyone in the non-UNC ACC--something that Clemson hasn't been able boast since really the Cliff Ellis days. More importantly, the team has a lot of upside in the form of developing individual talent. So basically, unlike the last several years, this Clemson team can be expected to actually get better as the season progresses; not to come out and play as well in game one as they would in the last game.

Influx of talent
Another piece of good news is with the influx of new players, it looks like we will overcome some of the roster construction flaws that were exploited by opposing ACC coaches, leading to the painfully slow finish. Hopefully we now we have the versatile pieces that will allow Clemson to inflict matchup headaches on other teams in the ACC.

The one weakness that jumps out about Clemson right now is the lack of in-game experience with their younger talent. Thanks to the 76 classic, though, we should get an early idea of how long some of the younger players are going to need before we can expect solid, consistent contribution.

Outstanding personnel issues
I count about four major personnel issues that need to be sorted in the "pre-season" (i.e., before the ACC season begins):

1) Barring some remarkable and unexpected off-season development from Stitt, Andre Young will probably displace him as the starting point guard. This is admittedly based on a smaller sample size, but from my vantage point in every phase of the game except one, Young is the better choice. He's a better defender (although Stitt has made strides here), better passer, better manager, commits fewer turnovers, and he's a better perimeter shooter. The one area where Stitt excels is in creating room off the dribble and driving to the hoop, but even his finishing could use some work. I think we could see Stitt reduced to a role where he mainly comes off the bench when we really need someone to slash to the hoop and generate some scoring opportunities around the rim.

2) Tanner Smith is going to get playing time, and it should be with the intent of letting him find the three-point stroke he allegedly had in high school.

3) Related to #2, I imagine Purnell and staff will be looking for someone in the backcourt to emerge as a legitimate 3-point shooting threat alongside Young. Young shot the long ball last season to the tune of 39.0% (surprised? he only took 77 shots but actually had a better percentage than Oglesby's 38.8%) and we know Booker and Potter will take their threes, but it would be nice to have one of either Smith or Johnson develop into a weapon from long-range.

4) Figuring out who amongst the rookies is ready to contribute now, who might be ready to contribute by the time the ACC season starts, and who needs a smaller role until next year.

Coaching strategy
Strategically, Purnell has some issues to address. I went over some of this in last year's recap, but I'll briefly summarize below. First, Purnell has always fielded superior defensive teams at Clemson that have ranked in the top twenty in the nation--until last year. Take a look at the chart below:
When we look at component defensive measures, the problem appears to stem primarily from 3-point defense:
(As always, stats care of kenpom.)
A lot of this related to how teams started attacking the press. Opposing coaches began to realize that Clemson excels not not just in causing turnovers with the press, but also with pursuing plays right to the basket; often getting blocks at the right at the rim on a player who thinks he has broken the press. Towards the end of the season, we saw teams opt for the pull-up open three pointer. An open three is, after all, a pretty high percentage shot (at least a good risk-reward shot) and also there's an increased chance for the long rebound. In short, Clemson appeared to give up a lot of threes in transition over the last 10 games in the season. Adjusting the full-court defense, or at least some aspect of it, has to be a priority for Purnell and his staff going into the season.

Concerns on defense dovetail with a couple of other related issues: 1) with the youth on the team, how much time will they require to adjust into Purnell's exacting and demanding system? And 2) how well do players like Jennings and Johnson, recruited in part as outstanding offensive skill players, accept the importance of defense in the Clemson gameplan? Remember, this is not just the most raw talent on a team to tip-off in Clemson in several years, its also the most talented group of players that Purnell has ever coached.

Lots of questions, but step back a second and realize that these are the kind of questions any program in the nation would be happy to be asking itself right now. Should be a lot of fun to watch for the answers. To be clear, I don't expect Clemson to put up a perfect record before the start of the ACC season (as has become customary) for two reasons: 1) with the 76 Classic, the competition should be a lot tougher than we've seen in years past, and 2) I expect the young players to get a lot of minutes. Young players means mistakes will be made, leading to turnovers, leading to missed scoring opportunities, leading to entries in the loss column. But the flip side is Clemson has the potential to get significantly better as the season rolls along and individual talents develop and learn to mesh their particular skills with the Purnell's system.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Just For The Record

I just wanted to throw it out there that I had Clemson winning by 3, granted it was 24-21, but after looking around at all the 'sports writers' and Bart Wrights of the world, those who are in 'the know', they somehow blew this one.

Fancy that, a blogger knows more than a journalist...just wanted to rub it in(oh and if its just guess work than why do all sports writers do it?).

Miami Recap

First of all, in terms of pure entertainment value, this was the kind of game that hooks people on college football (and football in general) for their entire lives. And because we won, I still have a big stupid smile on my face that probably won't disappear for at least a couple of days. That smile really comes mostly from the effort and investment the players and coaches put into the game (with the rest coming from the many gifts the Miami team imparted to us).

That being said, there's a lot to not like about the game. Way too many miscues and too many rookie coaching calls. Luckily for us, there were just as many, if not more, coming from the other side of the ball and the other sideline.

I'll start with defense, 'cause I know there's going to be a lot of questions about our performance. For me, the biggest difference between this game and most of the others this season was the tackling, particularly in the second level. Miami's rushers were making people miss, shedding tacklers, and then dragging the pile for yards at a time. Some credit, perhaps more than will ultimately be allotted, has to go to Miami. The three backs they featured are outstanding talents, and they are certainly going to make defenders from all over the country miss and they have the lower body strength to keep going long after the first hit. The problem comes with "shedding" part. Clemson looked like the defense of years past in not being able to wrap up. But even some of this can be attributed to the Miami backs, so I'm not going to get too concerned--yet. We'll see how they look in the coming weeks.

The commentators were saying the the D-line was being stifled most of the night, but I didn't see it that way. I thought they did a pretty good job pressuring Harris when they needed to, particularly when everyone in the stands knew it was a passing down. The difference between this and last week was that by establishing the run early, Miami was able to keep the D-line back a little, particularly in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. We also didn't see Harris on any designed rollouts, and I have to think this was due to the speed of our ends. It doesn't show up in the playcalling or in the stats, but it might be another way the D-line affected the game: taking away a couple of pages from the playbook. All in all, I was pretty happy. And how about that push by Bowers on the 2nd and goal in overtime? I thought Miami had the corner of the endzone when the play began.

The coverage went about as well as I thought it would. Clemson was burned once with the long ball, that's gonna happen once in a while in college with a QB like Harris. Other than that, though, they kept pretty much everything in front of them. The LBs could have been a little more aware on some of the crossing routes--I'm specifically thinking of the TD pass on 2nd and goal from the 5 that put Miami up 17-14. But I was much more upset with the run defense in the second level: bad angles and bad tackling form.

Some troubling aspects, to be sure, but I'm willing to pass part of this off as resulting from the excellent Miami talent and a novel and effective coaching scheme that Clemson probably won't have to worry about the rest of the way.

First of all, let's get this out of the way now: no, Kyle Parker did not "grow up right before our very eyes" Saturday afternoon. That's got to be the broadcaster cliche I despise the most when it comes to describing QB performance. I do think Kyle Parker showed improvement in one area Saturday relative to earlier in the season: I think he's gotten better at managing the two-minute drill (up until the last 20 seconds of the game, I suppose). (Also, it helps to have your timeouts that weren't wasted by the coaching staff earlier in the half). Also, a couple of times he did a really good job selling the playaction, something I hadn't noticed earlier in the season. If anything, though, this performance was something of a step back. He made poor decisions throwing the ball. He struggled with pressure in the pocket. He missed the lanes on the QB draws (I thought he left more than a few yard on the field). His downfield passes were rarely accurate; its miraculous no Miami defender caught up with the duck thrown to Spiller, and the Ellington pass...ugh. Finally, he's still telegraphing his throws. Its gotten to the point where it looks like he's being coached to look one way first and even fake a throw before looking at his primary receiver. If that's true, kudos to you Billy Napier, its better than nothing. Its getting to the point where I'm really interested in seeing what Boyd can show the coaches in the spring.

Credit due where credit is due, however: Parker did throw good medium-range passes over the middle of the field including the game-winner to Ford. This is how he likes to reminds us that he's a better option than Korn. He really does have a live arm when he gets the chance to plant and throw.

I thought the O-line play was at least adequate, and perhaps the nicest surprise of the day. Still too many -2 to +2 running plays, but by and large they gave Parker time to throw, looked halfway decent getting downfield for some blocks on screens, and even opened a hole or two for the backs.

From a overall perspective, its clear that Clemson is still practicing offense by big play. But I give credit to Napier, he managed to call enough good plays to string together quite a few first downs and keep drives alive long enough to give us a chance to break the big play. And yeah, he kept going back to the RB and TE screens but hey, if Miami refuses to adjust why not go back to the well? Its actually refreshing to have an offensive coordinator who sticks with something that is working. Yeah, that's yet another not-so-subtle dig at Spence.
  • Michael Palmer. What can you say? Even if his season is done today (I really hope not), I give him the Offensive MVP, non-CJ Spiller category.
  • Jaime Harper finally showed some of that highly-touted strength today. Those were some key carries late in the game with Spiller about to collapse on the sidelines.

Special Teams
Worst game of the season, and we still got a kickoff return for a touchdown. That's what it's like rooting for a team with CJ Spiller. This is running long so I'll go to the bullet points:

  • The poor tackling showed up in kick coverage.
  • I can't understand what happened to Spiller on the Miami kickoff from their own fifteen. Looked like everyone just kind of hesitated there--no way we shouldn't bring it back to at least the 35, but it was a high kick.
  • Credit Bosher, who turned out to be way more of a kicker than I gave credit for in preview.
  • Also, Zimmerman takes a lot of heat from this blog, but I give him a lot of credit for hanging in on that terrible snap and getting off a great punt.
  • The return team has to open its ears and eyes. Third week in a row we nearly touch a punt on the return and give the ball back. I think opposing coaches are telling the teams to punt the ball high and short and let Clemson do the rest
Major coaching decisions
Both sides of the ball had some problems. For Miami, it was more a problem with blowing timeouts at rather inane moments in the game, costing them from a strategic standpoint late in the game. Also, the poor clock management at the end of the first half, which Clemson managed to duplicate in the last twenty seconds of the game. But the worst call of the game was the pass on third & goal from the five. The last thing you want is Kyle Parker locking on a receiver in a fifteen yard short field. You want to put Parker in motion on a rollout, try a swing pass, or even a fade route to Jones and see how high he can really jump? That's fine. But don't let Parker stand there and rifle it into a crowd. On top of everything, this play was called during a timeout. I don't get it.

Two calls I loved, though: 1) fourth and one to Jaime Harper. That's the Harper from the high school highlight clips. 2) the inside hand-off to Harper on what ended up being the last play before the kick that sent the game to overtime. Big eight yards for Jackson, who put a late, knuckling slice on that last kick but because of the run there was more than enough margin for error. Now, the lost 12 seconds after the run were disappointing but hey, can't fault the initial idea.

I'm gonna wrap this up 'cause its gone on way too long, but I'm still pretty excited about the game. I can't imagine what it must have been like in the heat and humidity to play such a long game with so much emotional and physical investment for the players--I know just watching the game left me physically and emotionally drained. Against the odds and for the first time in a long time, though, the players saw their investment pay off. Now they just need to sustain the same level of investment and they could end up with the division title. Luckily, our second bye week is up. I mean the Coastal Carolina game. Should give us some time to rest.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Can You Believe It!!

I can barely type, that was totally awesome, i was expecting another crushing loss. In havent won an ACC game or any game as hard fought as this in a long time. Miami seemed to be a little better than us but we put it together when we needed to. Crazy game, Ford and Parker come up big...I need a drink of water,, Ive been screaming at the screen all day...

Clemson wins!! take that world...

Halftime Ramblings: Micheal Palmer Loving

So I remember when Palmer was a true freshman and I remember thinking he was a decent player but not the talent we needed, but every year he has improved especially his athleticism. He is perhaps my favorite player on offense--he just gets it done. That was easily the best catch of the year. Marquan Jones, take some notes...

Got to be happy with the performance at the half. An interesting chess match. Whipple is running the ball a lot and we are applying sporadic pressure. We have bent a bunch and seemed to be in trouble on the last two drives.

Game is starting already, we have a chance but need to make the defensive adjustments, hopefully the corners can keep it up. Mr. Hanky looks good. Cj is the man...

Loved the Miami coaches getting mad at each other.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Miami Preview

Clemson vs. Miami, Oct. 25, 3:30pm, Land Shark Stadium (formerly Dolphin Stadium)

First of all, "Land Shark Stadium"? Second, weren't they supposed to get a new stadium or something?


This is a game where Clemson has some good matchups, and if they execute well and get a couple of bounces, lucky calls, etc., I have no doubt they could pull off the upset.

For the defense, DrB went over Miami's take on the West Coast offense a couple of days ago at their new site, as always, an excellent read. Traditionally, the best way to slow down a West-Coast style offense is two disrupt the timing between the QB and the receivers. Two ways to do this: 1) jam the receivers hard right at the line and 2) pressure, pressure, pressure the QB. #1 is a bit dicey, because refs tend to throw the flag on offensive holding more often these days and if the receiver comes off more or less clean a good QB can hit him for a big gain. It'll be interesting to see how Steele calls this game, we'll definitely be playing man-to-man so we could see Clemson DBs playing more right up on the line. We've got talent (particularly first-string) in the position; these guys aren't likely to get burned too badly over the course of the game. This could have the added benefit of slowing down the deep routes; the Miami WRs have a height advantage that I want to see Steele try and blunt. On the other hand, he could drop the CBs few yards back and bring the blitzes. Should be fun to watch the back and forth between Whipple and Steele.

Realistically, though, Clemson's best chance to slow down Jacory Harris & crew is probably through generating pressure. I think Clemson's odds of winning will live and die by the amount of consistent pressure we apply to Harris. If Miami is picking up blitzes and we can't generate anything with our front four, we're going to give up more points than we can get back on offense. I'm confident the speed and improved tackling in our LB corps and secondary will help blunt the big play and keep Miami from scoring at will, but they will get 20-28 points without us getting in the Harris' face. Expect to see more roll-outs from Harris than we did last week from Skinner as he tries to escape whatever pressure we generate, but with Clemson's speed on the ends I'm not sure this necessarily helps Miami all that much. Something to keep an eye on.

On offense, yeah...Miami's line play has improved since giving up a bushel of points to FSU. Virginia Tech beat Miami in part by having Tyrod Taylor going deep. Both of these above two points do not bode well for Clemson. Parker has struggled to throw any ball, let alone the deep ball with consistency. I expect we'll throw underneath a lot, but Miami has the speed at LB to partially neutralize the advantage we have over most of the other ACC teams. We're going to need holes up front to get a running game going, or else we could be sitting around relying on the big play from Ford/Spiller again.

Or, we can hope for help from Special Teams. By now, we don't even need to execute much--teams are just kicking it away from our returners. Looks like Matt Bosher's been struggling a bit with the punting duties this year. Here's hoping we pick up some cheap field goals from a short field or two.

This is the kind of game where one of two outcomes will be apparent in the first ten minutes. If we're getting pressure on Harris, its going to be close. If we're not, we'll probably lose by 10-14 points.


Well the Wake game changed the season but with BC beating NC State and NC not looking great against FSU we cant bank on BC losing another game to either Virginia, Mary, or NC. So this Miami game is the pivotal match-up that can bring us not only respect but also the drivers seat for the ACC champs. I am salivating at the chance to beat GT--I think in round 2 against GT we spank them on a neutral field.

First we need to look at 1st Year OC Whipple who has really done wonders with Jacory Harris. Coming into the season I thought they were crazy running off all their competent QBs and putting all their eggs in the proverbial Jacory basket. But he has kept healthy and really blossomed in their system. I am worried most about our LB's getting burned by their plethora of tall speedy wideouts. I think the LB play has been improving and I will be interested if Steele busts out some Dime against Harris.

Let me take this opportunity to just say that the single best hire of the offseason, in my humble opinion, was Dan Brooks. Hats off to the man for teaching some technique and leverage to our talent. He has improved our talent across the board. We are now a solid two or three deep along the line whereas at the beginning of the season we needed DT as an urgent recruiting need. I have loved watching Branch, Moore, Cumbie, Chavis, and others come alive.

Back on subject, I am worried about our LBs covering the slot and RB screens, the dink and dunk stuff they run effectively. Maye still needs to take better angles and not get burned.

Offense--this is a tall order for KP. I have been thinking about the Maryland game and thinking that KP just got rattled playing on the road. He was thrown off of the gameplan and couldnt find himself. I really like the tight end screen, the fullback dive, and the QB draw we saw that kept the defense honest and helped KP settle. Spiller is so fast that the Miami team D still cant catch up--haha, take that Miami.

Enough Bubbles--we win 24-21. Their special teams will blow it and we will eek out a crucial win on the road to the Orange bowl. Spectacles anyone?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

FEI Weeks 6 and 7

In all the bye week laziness I missed the FEI update. Clemson dropped from #22 all the way down to #30 after the bye, somewhat inexplicably. After walloping Wake last week, they're up to #21. The computers still believe in us! The bad news: Miami is ranked #5. I think it's important to remember that "advanced statistics" like this will rank teams according to strength, but don't necessarily capture how well a team might match up with another. I'll elaborate more in the preview, but I think this is a case where the matchup works in Clemson's favor, which should at least keep us from getting blown out on Saturday.

Ken Massey has us at #40 after the Wake game, up a few notches from #44 two weeks ago.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Reassessing Clemson's remaining ACC schedule

Last week, I went through Clemson's remaining schedule and based on their level of play at the time, I concluded Clemson was looking at a 6-6 or 5-7 overall finish. But, to essentially give myself some wiggle room to back out of that prediction, I ended the post with this:
Now, if somehow the coaching staff manages to straighten out some of the play-calling hijinks and we come out and with a strong performance driven by an improved offense to beat Wake, then the [schedule prediction] will need readjustment.
While I'm not naive enough to think we've fixed all the problems on offense, I'm happy to admit I was overly pessimistic in the last assessment. By my reckoning, we have now played 11 competitive quarters against average to below average defenses, and we've played competent offense in 6 of those (2 for GT, 1 for Maryland, and 3 for Wake). I'm sure that's not the level of consistency Napier and Swinney are looking for and while the 3 ridiculous quarters in Maryland are still a giant red flag, it means we should be able to put something resembling a productive offense on the field at least half of the time against middling defenses. The good news: none of our final four ACC opponents are particularly known for solid defenses, and some have been downright bad. The possible exception here is Virginia, but they've carved out some goodwill for Al Groh by beating the following teams: North Carolina (has struggled on offense this year), Indiana, and Maryland. I'm not buying it until I see them hold down Miami or Georgia Tech in the coming weeks.

Here's how I see it now:

Clemson finishes with between 2-4 wins, giving a 4-4 finish on the pessimistic side with a 6-2 finish on the optimistic side. The most likely scenario, however, is a 5-3 finish. Does this give us the division title? Probably not. Boston College has a very soft schedule (at Maryland, at Virginia, and home for North Carolina); I'd give them about 3:2 odds right now of winning out. Anyone else tired of BC and their illegitimate division titles?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Wake Forest Recap

All in all, the game Clemson fans have been wanting for the past year and a half. The USuCk game from last year made for a great story, but even though the score was fairly lopsided, we didn't dominate the way we did today.

Let me just say, I don't think I've ever been glad to have been so wrong. This was probably the main thing I was wrong about from the preview:

Wake Forest is a well-coached team: they know their fundamentals. Which means we probably can't rely on CJ Spiller or Jacoby Ford to make space for themselves.

CJ Spiller made space for himself quite a few times, making the Wake LB corps look pretty silly. On a few occasions, Spiller even got some help from his teammates. It wasn't the cleanest-looking help I've ever seen, but given what we've had so far this season I'll take it.

Story of the game. The D-line was sensational, they were ready for every play and every look Wake threw at them. The pressure at the line was so good the secondary was rarely tested. When Wake finally reverted to max protect and Skinner finally had some time later in the third quarter, the secondary played as well as I've seen them all year (granting that it is easier to cover when the opposing team is running max protect). Without any open targets, Skinner still ended up getting hurried.

Some random thoughts:

  • If it takes two weeks of practice to look this sharp, let's just treat the Coastal game as a scrimmage and concentrate on FSU.
  • Bowers and Sapp are forming the tandem we hoped they'd form last year.
  • Goodman and Bowers is starting to sound really nice for next year.
  • Skinner didn't run much, but Clemson was shading him in the first half which was good to see. Of course, its hard to believe he burned Maye a couple of times (particularly on that first down run (!)) but there was the adjustment we were waiting for.
  • I can't tell you how refreshing the change in defensive philosophy has been. When the team gets a lead, there's recognition by Steele that Wake is going to have to pass so he pins back the ears of the Defense and we get just as much pressure, if not more. Koenning's pseudo-prevent is a thing of the past.
  • WF looked like it had a smallish O-line, but still, the D-line has got to be licking its chops after UCF managed 6 sacks against Jacoby Harris on Saturday.
Not quite as high as I'm sure others are going to be, but let's start with the good: playcalling made more sense. Things were kept relatively simple and I saw less in-drive personnel changes. There were some strange sequences towards the end of the game when they should have been grinding things out, but I give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt here--they may have been trying out a few things with a some of the second-string players to see how they would respond. You can do that kind of thing with a 5 TD lead.

  • Loved the QB draw call. Now maybe a draw later in the game to see what Spiller can do?
  • Ellington looked great on his run. No one is going to replace Spiller, and yes, he can't put it on the ground but we should still have above-average production next year from the RB position.
  • Good to see Parker running again. I'm not sure why he was so hesitant to scramble against Maryland (he was shaded pretty well by TCU if I recall correctly, so I don't hold that against him) but hopefully its over now.
  • Korn, Korn, Korn. If he looks at the bright side, if Parker stupidly sacrifices himself on the goal line again he might have more playing time in the future. (Disclaimer: I loved that play when it happened, but not so much in retrospect. Yes, I know Swinney wanted him to be more aggressive. Its still stupid to intentionally put your QB in harm's way. Particularly when there appears to be a drop-off between your starter and second-stringer...)
  • Still waiting to see if Parker can learn to scan through the first couple of targets before delivering a ball. I would say it would make a world of difference for our offense but then that would assume that we aren't dropping passes, so I won't say it.
  • Speaking of dropping passes, didn't see much of it, yeah? Maybe its easier to catch when you have the big lead.
Special Teams
Story of the game #2: the WF kicking strategy bordered on insane. As we saw in the Maryland game, if you can find a punter who can consistently boot it 50+ with hang time while pinning the ball on the sidelines, then you can neutralize our advantage. Lucky for us, these types don't grow on trees. Maybe Grobe thought he still had Sam Swank? At any rate, I haven't crunched the numbers but to mitigate (well, effectively eliminate) the possibility of a big special teams play Wake Forest was willing to concede an average of what, 25-30 yards of field position? When you're playing a team that has struggled to move the ball with any consistency, it might be wise to come up with a better strategy next time instead of consistently giving them a much shorter field.

  • Note to Andre' Powell: please get someone to sit just inside the goal line during kicks inside the twenty. I can understand being conservative about this in a tight game, but it's just one guy and most of the time the other team is either fair-catching or hoping for the touchback. Not a big deal, but its cost us 20 yards a couple of times in the last two weeks.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Georgia Tech Rematch??

I'm sure this guy is really wanting us to play GT in the ACC Champs game. After such a great win, it feels good to be able to laugh at this but I wouldnt have been laughing the past two weeks. I looked the exact same way, so it feels like I'm laughing at myself. I always knew if we could listen in during the break we would find out those ESPN guys were really jerks. Give the kid a break, no no--its too funny...I'm glad we have the internets and the youtubes...enjoy the victory, we collectively earned it.

I got to say though, if you are making fun of the kid--I want you to show me a better, more passionate fanbase than ours. Long live Tiger Nation!!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Wake Forest Preview

Wake Forest vs. Clemson, Oct. 17, 12:00pm, Death Valley


I don't see this as a make-or-break "playoff" game or whatever. Unless you're talking about making-or-breaking your chances for a bowl birth; I'll buy that one. We've got to win an evenly-matched game somewhere along the line if it's gonna happen.

At any rate, after the miserable loss 2 weeks ago at the hands of Maryland and the intervening bye week with kind of sorta some drama, on paper things actually shape up pretty nicely for Billy Napier & Co. Wake Forest has struggled a bit on defense this year and the extra week has given Clemson lots of time to prep for Jim Grobe's team and work on execution. I'm hoping for some points on scripted drives in the first quarter; then I'll be looking for smoother playcalling and elimination of the personnel confusion that has cropped up now and then this year. I'll also be watching to see what they've done with Parker over the last two weeks. Hopefully we see him tucking the ball and running on occasion to keep the WF defense honest.

On the flip side, Wake Forest is a well-coached team: they know their fundamentals. Which means we probably can't rely on CJ Spiller or Jacoby Ford to make space for themselves. They are going to need to the help of, you know, their teammates. Not just 9 other guys out on the field, mind you, but teammates executing well--opening up holes along the offensive line, not telegraphing passes, and the like.

For Wake, Rilo Kiley Riley Skinner is the story (I haven't been able to keep that straight for four years now). Skinner has always been the consummate Grobe game-manager, but as Paul Strelow already pointed out, he's been throwing downfield more often this year. "Evolving," I guess. Should be an interesting test for our secondary, which has looked shaky at times this year. If Skinner is able to open up the field with his improved passing, the defense could be on the field for quite some time. Grobe has called Skinner's number on the ground in the past vs. Clemson, and you can bet we'll see more of it this year after he sees the tapes from our last two games. We'll see if/how Steele adjusts.

All in all, as I said earlier in the week, I gotta think Wake has the edge. I don't expect to see improvement in the offense, but I'm holding out hope that we don't look worse. Our best shot is to put up a couple of early scores and tack on the occasional field goal while our defense holds on for dear life.


I am slightly more optimistic because the game is at Death Valley. Grobe has a 3-5 record against Clemson but all of those wins have come at Wake. Skinner when given time has looked real good this year but he also has had some poor decision making when pressured. I am afraid of him running more than passing to be honest. Mobile QB's have killed us--even when they are the son of the drummer of RATT they run all over us. How many yards could Turner have gotten if he had any athleticism. Boggles the mind...

So it will be close because we cant score, if we lose again without scoring a fourth quarter TD I call the season close to over. Giving Wake the tiebreaker would be hard to overcome and would force us to win out being 1-3 in conference play. 2-2 is a different beast, I really think the winner of the division is going to be 4-4. Lots of football to be played though, lets just hope our brand involves more touchdowns and I-formations with Diehl blocking.

Go Tigers!!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bart Wright Is Wrong

I dont know where to begin. Bart, you got it all wrong. First I want to inform you that this anonymous blogger has two Masters degrees, one in media/comm from the London School of Economics and Politics, the other in media/journ from the Annenberg school. My partner has a Phd. We dont put those silly educated titles up cause they dont really mean squat. We are first and foremost fans, thats what qualifies us to talk about Clemson.

Bart writes in his info about himself: "He also finds marketing and commercials toxic to his sensibilities and does not believe culture is his friend; he deems it sad when people develop tribal attitudes toward their sports teams and wonders how those warped priorities impact the rest of their lives" (yes, the emphasis is all mine). Well if you start with that biased assumption then you are going to hate blogs, bloggers, and the fans that inhabit them no matter what. Real great objective viewpoint you got there Mr. Wright. You might call it warped but 'newsflash' online sociality is where fans go to deepen their experiences as fans, interacting together--building friendships and group solidarity. This isnt some backward phenomena its WEB 2.0 the natural progression of sports and social networking. So dont complain that your a dinosaur who is afraid of new cultural movements swirling around you, adapt or die but dont critique us fans who just want to talk Clemson sports because we love them. And yes, we wouldnt spend so much time investing in the team if we didnt--we'd like to see a return on those emotional, monetary investments once in awhile as well.

Here is another Newsflash--journalistic integrity ended with Ed Murrow. Yellow journalism controls the corporate nature of your alleged 4th estate. You have to worry about offended your sources and compromise almost every time you write a story. How about more serious gut check questions for Dabo and company? Why dont you nail him on how many plays he changes, if he gets the protections called as well, did Pearman ask him to stop changing calls?? You say that the anonymous blogger got "everything wrong", well lots of blogs wrote about it--which one got it all wrong? You cant even bring yourself to cite this anonymous blog. And wait, protecting sources--anonymity?? I think that was your profession that came up with the entire concept.

The facts are this--an altercation happened between Dabo and Napier, it may happen all the time but its newsworthy because it happened the week after a 2-3 start and amidst a pathetic offensive showing. For the time being we are the 5th estate, trying to make journalists more accountable for there lackadaisical reporting of football. Sports journalists are accountable to the people--the fans. And now we live online, and we arent going away. Get over it or get a new profession.

Did you report on the metrics of the study you cite (oh wait no link??), why the Columbus Dispatch may have a vested interest in paying for a study that derides blogs. Do we need to talk about the lead-up to Iraq (regardless of your politics) and all the fact checking that didnt go on by the top 'professional' journalists in your field? Since when were Op-Eds not purely opinion. We all understand when we read a blog that its the guys opinion about TDP, read it like an Op-Ed and your life will be better. Dont apply your tired paradigm here--we work within the fluidity of a chaotic hypertextual world.

Bart I see you like books. Go read some Henry Jenkins (I recommend Convergence Culture), participatory culture is not to be feared--it has good and bad points but it is the present. I know this all comes from being a Raiders fan, so really I dont blame you...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

So how much time does Dabo Swinney get, anyway?

Outside of a few bloggers that have been against the Swinney hire from the start, there has been little reasoned talk of letting Swinney go at year's end. I think most people will agree that barring a complete implosion (a 3-9 finish would qualify as such in my book), Swinney isn't likely going anywhere between now and next season. But that does beg the question of how much time is reasonable to give him. I argued last week that it's always in the best long-term interest of a program to let a coach go as soon as its clear he's not going to consistently produce winning and hopefully championship-caliber teams. At the same time, you can't go around firing your coach every year. That kind of instability is murder on recruiting and depresses the fanbase, which drives down revenue for the athletics program. So at what point can you start to distinguish good coaches from bad ones?

Luckily, this can be tested pretty easily by comparing the year-by-year distributions of win percentages of head coaches who held long tenures at their schools and the distribution of win percentages for head coaches with short tenures at their schools. Of course, win percentage doesn't tell a coach's whole story, and length of tenure isn't a direct measurement of how "good" or "bad" a coach is/was. But I think it's fair to say that in general, wins ultimately determine tenure length and tenure length is going to correlate with perceived success of a head coach. So, with the help of Wikipedia and, I went back about thirty years for each school in the modern ACC and pulled out records for coaches with "long" tenures (I defined this as 7 or more years, ignoring interim seasons) and "short" tenures (defined as 4 or fewer years). I also added a couple of additional requirements/exceptions to the above: 1) If a coach moved on to the NFL or another school with a stronger football tradition, I included them in the "long" tenure under the assumption that these guys likely would have seen continued success if they had stayed on. This ends up being a pretty small group of coaches consisting of some Miami guys, Steve Spurrier, and Tom Coughlin. 2) I required that the "short" tenure coaches either resigned or were fired. This seems to strike more at the heart of what is trying to be measured, so guys that left because of retirement or health conditions, etc. weren't counted.

With that in mind, here are the lists I compiled. First, the long-tenure coaches:

And the short-tenure coaches:

WARNING, TECHNICAL GARBAGE (skip to the next paragraph if you don't care about this): Now its simply a matter of running a two-tailed Mann-Whitney U test to compare the win-distributions during each year. I went with a non-parametric test because I wasn't certain this would follow a normal distribution given the stratified nature of opponent strength for Division I teams. I went back later and checked and it turns out it pretty much does follow a normal distribution, so there you go.

So now we want to test whether the average record in the two categories of coaches are significantly different in each year. This would essentially tell us whether or not we can distinguish the performance of a short-tenure coach from a long-tenure coach in any particular year. When we apply the test mentioned above to year 1, the p-value, or the probability of observing the differences in the data across the two categories, is 0.18. A p-value below 0.05 is typically considered marginally significant. Apologies to the anti-Swinney crowd, but what this says is that no matter what record Clemson finishes with this year we have no way of determining whether Swinney likely to be short, long, or in-between tenure coach.

However, moving to year 2 the p-value falls to 0.024. I was actually pretty surprised by this, but it appears that the difference between the records of the coaches is marginally significant even after just two full seasons. In year 3, the value drops to 0.00024, a highly significant number. In year 4 the number is still significant but climbs back up to 0.044; I think this can largely be attributed to sample size issues, both within the short-tenure category and the difference in sizes between the two categories.

I think this can basically be interpreted as justification for letting Swinney go after two disappointing seasons. The two most likely scenarios at that point are either 1) he continues to struggle mightily and won't be around after two more years or 2) he manages to eke out 4-6 years of mediocre coaching, maybe managing a decent year or two in the process. As a passionate fanbase, neither of those scenarios are going to be deemed acceptable at Clemson; go ahead and cut the rope. On the other hand, if Swinney turns in a good record in year one or two, then the scenarios are 1) 4+ years of mediocre-to-decent coaching or 2) we're basking in the glory days of the Swinney years, and wondering what we ever so worried about back in year one. Now, scenario #1 is much more probable, but you're probably going to stick with Swinney for a few years in case #2 comes to pass.

The next obvious question concerns what winning percentage should we look for at the end of the year? I'm a little hesitant to point to an exact record, because while the means of the two distributions (.568 record for long-tenure and .370 for short-tenure) are significantly different, there is variance. Certainly, if he posts consecutive sub-.500 records, well, that pretty much cinches his doom. Even if he manages a 6-6 or 7-5 record on year, I think it makes sense to look at other factors like recruiting class strength, fanbase fervor, season ticket sales, etc. to make the final decision on Swinney's fate.

Tigermax: Edited (9:45am) to make the conclusions a bit clearer...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Quick! Throw some water on that optimism fire!

I never cease to be amazed by the optimism permeating the Clemson fanbase. The Atlantic division has an extremely rocky weekend and all of a sudden people are talking division championship. Its as if nothing happened two Saturdays ago. Well, let me remind everyone: this team was pushed around for at least three quarters by the Maryland Terrapins.

As much as it hurts to type this, and believe me it hurts, I believe the more pertinent question focuses on is whether or not this team can reach bowl eligibility. Before scoffing and clicking on to the next blog, read the last sentence of the preceding paragraph again. Then remind yourself of the offensive coaching strife that has suddenly been made manifest in last 10 days. Then remind yourself how our offense has by and large been an exercise in utter futility.

We have seven games, meaning we need to finish 4-3 to snag a bowl birth. Alright, alright...I'll give Swinney the Coastal Carolina game. That leaves us needing a 3-3 record in the remaining 6 games. Problem is, based on the performance of the offense thus far, I can't look at a single game with the possible exception of Virginia where Clemson comes off as the solid favorite. Observe:

Wake Forest: tilt Wake. A fundamentally sound team that isn't likely to beat itself or let our offense move the ball. Its gonna be hard to rely on the big play to bail us out.

Miami: yeah, right. I'll buy that Miami is overrated and our defense should test Jacoby Harris & crew, but it would still take a miracle.

FSU: tilt Clemson, for now. The last, largest, and longest-coming Bowden flameout is blazing away before our very eyes.

NC State: toss-up. They've struggled and performed well below lofty expectations. But its a road game and I don't like how we match up.

Viginia: lean Clemson, for now. we'll see how Groh fares in the coming weeks.

South Carolina: as much as it pains me to say this, Clemson is in for a tough battle in Columbia this year. While USuCk is riding a sparkling 5-1 record that belies the close battles they've been in, the reality is they aren't bad. There's still time for the traditional midseason Spurrier trainwreck to develop, right now all I can say is it ain't gonna be easy.

There you have it, if you include "tilts" I think you are realistically looking at a 2-3 record with one toss-up, pushing the "tilts" into the toss-up category and its 1-2 with 3 toss-ups. You can definitely quibble with some of the designations, but its clear that if we lose a couple of the toss-ups, then we're looking at no bowl game, much less no division title.

Now, if somehow the coaching staff manages to straighten out some of the play-calling hijinks and we come out and with a strong performance driven by an improved offense to beat Wake, then the above will need readjustment. But that's not how the offense is trending and until I see improvement, I'm thinking we might just sneak into the Meineke Car Care bowl.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Perfect Weekend, Almost

Well I was going to write out a post where I highlighted each Atlantic teams record and what games they had left to play but Tigernet beat me to it. So I am just extending off of what I said in my last post.

Clemson had the perfect weekend. Other than South Carolina winning, everything went right. In terms of recruiting Georgia lost and even Vandy lost. DL Corey Crawford went down to FSU but I cant see that performance stealing him away. On the recruiting front kids are getting shaky and we need a marquee win to get everyone "all in" again.

The key to the season is beating Wake. If we beat Wake we hold the tiebreaker against the top teams BC and Wake. BC has the easiest schedule but will likely lose one more. Look bottom line is the Coastal can beat anyone in the Atlantic. Virginia isnt going to be a pushover bc they have the spread starting to evolve and Duke!! VT isnt going to lose and this all works in our favor. Our schedule couldnt be better--we have 2 weeks to prepare for Wake and then go to Miami to try to beat an overrated top ten team that would give us some momentum. FSU and NC State are tanking but at this point would be hard pressed to make a complete comeback, so a win over Wake gives us the tiebreakers. We will need them. I think we can go 4-4 but 5-3 will be tough. I dont see Maryland stringing together four wins either.

These are just bubbles but what I really want to say is that winning the Atlantic has never been easier. Never!! Its time to salvage the season, get on the same page offensively and start fighting...

Well I didnt mean that literally. Lots has been swirling about the altercation between Napier and Swinney at practice. Dabo thinks he knows how to run an offense, thats why Napier was made the OC--so Dabo could control him to a certain degree. We knew that and thought it wouldnt be that bad a thing for a rookie OC. We didnt know that Dabo would do such a poor job of it. All those three and four WR sets can be attributed to Dabo...lots of offensive line protection mishaps, Dabo too...

Dabo you arent an offensive genius, its ok. Let your ego go, and let Napier call some plays. I have really liked the first couple of drives in the past few games--its the end of the half play calling, the end of game play calling that has been awful and as it turns out, that has been largely Dabo. Run more I formation. Let go of that part of Spence thats still in you, its not good stuff...

If Napier gets canned after the season at least we will have to get a real OC that Dabo cant push around. I'm glad Napier is standing up for himself and its time for Dabo to man up and put his ego in check. We are 2-3 bc of you Dabo...accept it and lets please all move on...

Friday, 9 October 2009

FEI Week 5; Bye Week Edition

Best thing about a bye week: well, nothing really. Particularly coming off an embarrassing loss. At least we have time to perfect our nearly-perfect offensive execution. So, any early thoughts on how we look come gametime next Saturday? I'm thinking it could either be much worse on offense or about the same, depending on whether the coaches completely lose the players. My guess is Swinney pulls off his best motivational effort yet: instead of getting much worse, we simply remain mediocre. But I'm the realist side of the blog, see ClemBen's post below if you want a sunnier take on the situation.

Anyways, FEI is out. If you're wondering why I'm interested in this ranking system, see my initial post here. Clemson tumbles yet again, this time from #14 to #22. Maryland rose all of three notches, from #90 to #87. I'm not sure I'm understanding the logic here. The ACC lands two top five teams, VT and Miami at #3 and #4, respectively. Actually, the Coastal Division is actually looking pretty respectable. Unfortunately for us, here's a SAT-style analogy that about sums things up: Coastal Division:American League :: Atlantic Division:National League.

Ken Massey has us dropping all the way down from #29 to #44. I'd say that's about right.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Good Vibrations: For All Those Who Still Want To Believe

I havent been able to shake the utter disappointment from the Maryland game but I have found quiet hope and seen a glimmer of redemption in the simple fact that the Atlantic division is just awful this year. VT, GT, and Miami are superior teams right now--well lets hope GT is, and Virginia and Duke will beat someone in the Atlantic. So the point is that the winner of the Atlantic will assuredly have 2 losses but will more likely have three or four. So its going to be crowded and its going to come down to head to head records. Lets project two games into the future, shall we...

BC is the current front-runner--wait, the same BC we held to 50 yrds of offense and beat?? This is good for us bc BC plays/loses to VT this week and then plays NC State the next which is a toss-up. They will have at least two losses then, one of them to us!! We probably want State to win, bc the BC schedule then becomes the easiest of the remaining teams. NC the only remaining really tough game. So BC may have a 5-3 record in the conference 4-4 not out of the question.

Next threat is NC State--Tom O'Brien what is going on? They are 0-1 but a better team than they showed against Wake, probably the most dangerous team in terms of talent and coaching but lucky for us they have a tough schedule remaining--the play Duke this week and then BC the next but also have VT and NC. It would really help us if NC steps it up and can beat the majority of the Atlantic teams they play. I can easily see them being 5-3 or 4-4. Clemson needs to hold the tie breaker though.

Wake is very unpredictable. It seems to depend on the mood of Riley Skinner so I'm having a tough time placing them. They are 1-1 in conference and will play Maryland before playing us. If they beat Maryland we have to beat them but they do play Miami and GT which seem like two losses and an FSU team playing for Bowdens life so I think the losses will be there 5-3, 4-4.

Maryland is scary to me. They suck and we shouldnt have lost to them, but they have the weakest schedule in the division playing Duke and Virginia and then VT. Most teams are going to go 1-2 OOC but Maryland could go 2-1. We dont have the tie breaker so it feels more comfortable if they go 4-4, 5-3 spells doom. They play Wake and then Virginia so they could be 2-1 or 3-0 after next week.

Who would have thought we would be talking about FSU as the gutter dwellers of the pathetic Atlantic division. Things look even worse playing GT and at NC in the next two weeks. I dont think the 0-2 Noles are that bad a team but that loss to BC is mindbottling (thank you Will Ferrell), and I cant see them recovering to finish on top.

So there you have it. It looks like everyone is headed for 4-4 seasons. If Clemson can beat Wake, State, and FSU it can stand to lose to Miami and still come out on top. Unless Maryland gets crazy...

There is still hope Tiger fans and at least the defense is good. Can anyone imagine the absolute catastrophe this season would have been without CJ?? I mean its ugly enough already...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Taking Dabo Swinney's Temperature as We Enter this Fine Bye Week

Let me preface this by saying I'm not advocating for Dabo Swinney's removal. Its too early to start that kind of talk. Why? For starters, the offense still has time to get better, and even make substantial improvements in-season. DrB and Ryan Bartow's revelations about the Swinney overriding Napier 1-2 times a series suggests there's room for improvement by simply avoiding unnecessary confusion. (By the way, I think I speak for ClemBen when I say that if this pans out, we'll be more than happy to shift the majority of the blame to whoever is most responsible for the baffling playcalling.) A lot of the other issues with this offense are also fixable, but will likely require the offseason and at least some personnel changes.

Moreover, it's too early because in the name of program stability most coaches gets a decent amount of time to turn things around as long as they aren't finishing 2-10 or 3-9. This is probably particularly true with an inexperienced guy like Dabo Swinney, after all, we knew there would be growing pains when he was hired. I generally think stability is overrated--as soon as you realize your coach is an anchor, its best to cut ties as soon as possible and get the rebuilding process started. The real problem comes when trying to ascertain when the coach has officially become the proverbial "anchor" on the program. That's something I'll try and look into over the bye weekend, but for now I think that while he weirdly has the "inexperienced" label actually working in his favor at this point, there are two points that work against Swinney in determining how long he will last at Clemson.

First, contract. While the man's not being paid peanuts (~$800,000 in guaranteed money), he's not as expensive to cut ties with as other coaches would be around the country. I'm sure this was part of Phillips' plan from the outset--if things blow up in the program's face we can just cut ties without breaking the bank.

Second, and probably more importantly, one of the most widely-cited reasons for retaining Swinney as head coach was his ability to keep the recruiting pipeline going, arguably the brightest spot of the Bowden years. But as the program continues to struggle, the strength of recruiting classes will inevitably dive and Swinney will end up losing possibly his best selling point.

There are still quite a few things in Swinney's favor at this point. And ultimately what will play the biggest role in deciding the length of his tenure is the number of wins versus the number of losses. But the two reasons I mentioned can only make it easier for Phillips (or whoever) to pull the trigger when the time comes.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

"Buying into the System"

I mentioned last Saturday featured one of the least-prepared broadcasting duos I have ever heard. I know its hard to fill that much air time and if it was me lord knows I'd be spouting off all sorts of non-sensical things within a few minutes. From what I could tell though, they had essentially prepared two anecdotes to discuss on air (which they returned to again and again): 1) Ralph Friedgen's new diet and 2) Dabo Swinney's abilities as a motivator. As little an effort to prepare for a game that this represents, what they mentioned about Swinney is unintentionally revealing about the state of Clemson football.

Essentially the anecdote went something like this: one of the announcers was talking recently to Swinney and he said the most important thing the Clemson staff had tried to emphasize with the players was "getting them to buy into the system." Now, I understand that this is pretty standard fare for a head coach. You don't want to talk specifics because if you say, "we really need to improve on the offensive line", and things don't get better...well, you might as well draft and proofread the blogposts and opinion columns and call-in radio diatribes yourself.

But this kind of talk really irritates me for two reasons. First, this is classic Bowden-esque mediaspeak the Clemson fanbase has come to despise. The comment is designed to insulate yourself from becoming the scapegoat by placing the blame for failure squarely on those lazy and selfish and attention-craving players out on the field (who "just don't play the game the way its supposed to be played"). In the end all Swinney has to say if the season falls apart is that if the players had just embraced his system, the results would have been different.

The second reason is personally more stomach-churning. Why, exactly, should any player on the offense feel compelled to "buy into the system"? What reason has the staff given them? Its become painfully clear that there is no defined offensive system. The fans are just coming to this realization, but the players have been talking to the coaches since Spring. What if they have been just as confused all along as we are now? How can you expect someone to buy into something if they have no idea what it is? If this was Jim Grobe at Wake Forest and we had a track record of a few years of incremental improvement, then yes, you can and should ask players to buy into your system. But this offensive staff is made up of a lot of the same people that were involved in the trainwrecks of the Bowden years. I'm sure the players want to believe, but these are intelligent kids. I'm sure they can see out on the field that Clemson has an overall advantage in athletic ability relative to other teams. Yet despite this, they find themselves in close games against teams they should crush, and end up inexplicably losing games to boot. What conclusions about the coaching would you end up drawing if you were in the same situation?

Swinney is still inexperienced at this head-coaching thing, and worse, his primary mentor is the guy the fanbase drove out of town. Hopefully these kind of comments are unintentional and harmless. Maybe he was only saying this to the team in the pre-season. But if he's still saying it now, this deep into a season of absolute offensive futility, he's risking a complete disconnection with the players. There's no way the players can be expected to buy into this system now, unless Swinney expects them to take it on faith. But this ain't a church, and Swinney ain't a preacher.

My completely unsolicited advice: take responsibility for the situation, and take it quickly. In the future, give honest assessments of what needs to be improved, and admit when the improvement hasn't happened. That's the kind of straight-talking that's appreciated in regions around Clemson, and it's also the kind that's been sorely lacking in the last decade.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Maryland Recap

Time to comment on the debacle that was last Saturday. In some ways, I'm reminded of Tommy Bowden's 2006 VT debacle. Both games on the road that reminded us that even with excellent talent at skill positions, without adequate coaching it doesn't matter. And those friggin' all-white jerseys. The comparison falls apart after anything more than a cursory inspection, mainly because VT was a good team, and Maryland, not so much.

Let's lay this out right now: the season is over. We can now officially start looking forward to destroying USuCk in Columbia and maybe, just maybe, losing to another perennially-underperforming program in some middling bowl game that's too embarrassing to mention to your non-Clemson rooting friends. But, but, you say everyone else lost last week, too. Everything is still up for grabs, you say. To which I respond: we still need to finish 5-0 in ACC play to ensure capturing the ACC championship. 4-1 gets you in the conversation, if you're lucky and the only loss is to Miami. After last Wednesday, though, does anyone honestly think we can finish 4-1? ...3-2, even? Before you answer, remind yourself that we just got pushed around by Maryland. I'd say 2-3 is the more realistic scenario, with wins against Virginia and one of either Wake, NC State, of FSU.

On the plus side, what this loss does is to divorce me from the all-consuming fan-based passion that comes when I watch the games. I can now sit back and view them with a more rational mind, almost like I was watching any other old team on a Saturday afternoon. I suspect this is because its become too painful to watch as a real fan.

The redeeming value of watching this team. I was a little bit upset that Steele hadn't adjusted for the slant routes (although in fairness, Clemson did manage to at least try and jump the routes a couple of times) or the QB keeper. Because Maryland sure scouted the TCU game and decided to alter its playbook to take advantage of weaknesses. I know people are singing Ralph Friedgen's praises up in College Park this last weekend, but really, its nothing special. Its called watching the tapes and making adjustments. Its also called "coaching" in some regions. What's the exact opposite of singing praises? "Screaming damnations", maybe? (Hey, good name for an indie metal band!) That's what should be going on because we weren't ready for Maryland to do the same thing TCU pulled on us. Yeah, we looked better in the second half, but I think that had more to do with Friedgen going super-conservative on offense after the midpoint of the third quarter (ridiculous 4th-down call notwithstanding). Sure, we managed to shut them down but its not hard for our defense when the playcalling is as follows: run up the middle, run up the middle, swing pass or run up the middle.

Special Teams
Coverage was strong, except for that one that Zimmerman managed to crush 20 yards or whatever. I put that one on the punter, the ball has to at least go in the vicinity of where the coverage is going. As for the returns, what can you say about CJ Spiller? That was a jaw-dropping run that's currently making the rounds on pro team blogs already planning for a top ten pick in next years draft. Jackson missed the field goals when it counted, staving off the Treadwell comparisons, perhaps for good. But as has been hashed out here and elsewhere, if you're going to run a set of plays that basically concedes any chance at positive yardage to the other team, the least you can do is gradually move the ball to the middle of the field.(**Unless, of course, Jackson tells the coaches he prefers it on the right hash, then this is a stupid and under-informed criticism).

Finally, hats off to Friedgen for finding a punter at the back of the bench who could kick the ball away from Spiller. This is what all coaches should be doing, but luckily these kind of punters aren't that frequent at the college level.

Here's a snap-shot of Napier's general playcalling decision tree:

1st: Run ---> 2nd: Pass (WR screen unless you want to do one on third down) ----> 3rd: Pass (WR screen unless it was done in 2nd down. Can't be too predictable here.)

Notice how the decision tree doesn't branch at all. That's a problem.

Anyways: Ugh. Why should I put in any effort here when the coaches apparently aren't bothering either? Instead, let me quote from a post last week:

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 CJ Spiller or Jacoby Ford getting the ball in space and using their superior athletic abilities to gobble up large chunks of yardage.

This was meant as something of a hyperbole, but after last Saturday, can this be questioned? Okay, it does short-shrift Michael Palmer, god bless his TE-receiving ways, but what does it say that our TE is the only other viable option on offense after Spiller and Ford? I think it says we've had terrible coaching on the line, the WR position, the playcalling, and even now we can start worrying about the QB position as Kyle Parker continues to struggle with telegraphed passes and throwing off his back foot. The most troubling aspect of it all, as DrB has been stressing since Saturday, is that there is no improvement week-to-week. Zero. There may really be something to this ridiculously drummed up Spiller-for-Heisman thing. Without Spiller, we'd probably be 1-4 or maybe 0-5, looking at a 2-9 or 3-8 season. When one player is worth 2-4 wins all on his own, that's insanely valuable.

Major Coaching Decisions
Where did that timeout on the two-minute conversion come from? Sure, it ended up working out for the Tigers, but that's a terrible call in my book every time. Take the five yard penalty and kick the extra point. Unless of course, Swinney has about as much faith in the offense as I do.

Final bullet-point thoughts that didn't fit anywhere above:

  • Terrible call on the Maryland TD before the half, but yeah...who cares?
  • 2-minute drill killed us, both Maryland's execution and our complete lack of one. Sure, we looked okay for at least a couple of plays at the end of the game, but that struck me as some improvised good fortune for the most part.
  • it looks like they are in some kind of maximum protect on offense, which stifled our D-line. That puts a lot of pressure on our secondary and LBs since we key off the line play so much. Could be a template for coaches in the weeks to come. Lord knows they won't have to worry about us adjusting.
  • Tall, athletic receivers are seeing some success against our CBs
  • Willy Korn finally showed a flash of what people must have liked so much about him. Nice ~10 yard run. It's a small sample size, but one knock on him coming out of high school was a lack of pocket presence. He's no Will Proctor back there, but this looks like one area where Parker has a small edge.
  • Not-so-daring prediction: now we really will start seeing more of Korn with the season effectively over.
  • I've liked some of the last few Clemson "come to our school" ads, but I don't get the new one. Why is Clemson one of the best public universities? I guess the answer is essentially old guys at graduation ceremonies and athletics.
  • Don't think I've ever heard a more unprepared announcing duo than the guys on ESPNU last Saturday. The only background they brought into the game was Friedgen's new diet.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Napier's head should roll

That was absolutely pathetic. I'm sure Billy Napier is a great guy and he has a bright future, I just dont think its now...

Parker was just awful, that was like a watching Procter again. It was painful. I dont know whats going on, seems to me a combination of things--when they werent blitzing though Parker had all day...I mean ten seconds--as much time as he needed. But he didnt run for positive yards, he either threw it out of bounds every play or he started to move and then lost all of his mechanics. When he moves the passes become ugly. I know the WR's dont do a good job getting separation but Parker must be having trouble simply reading defenses...

Napier is in over his head with a freshman QB. Steele and the D had a pathetic second quarter but they made the adjustments and shut down the terps--plus they had the added bonus of a couple of terps going down. How many chances to move the ball were we given. How do you have an oline giving you time for once--and the acc all purpose yards leader in your backfield and you cant get it into field goal range when you start at the thirty?? Dabo is going to fail if he doesnt do something--all his believe slogans and mantras dont equate into cant put it on your kicker like that...he should have made one of them but get it in the middle of the field for him.

Actually I think we still have a chance in the atlantic division just because everyone else is so pathetic. Maryland wont be a team in contention at the end so if we found a way to win out then we could still do it but this is pathetic. This is mediocre at best. We should have hired Bud Foster. I want TDP to go down first before Dabo though, it was his hire and he has a bad track record as far as I am concerned. This is depressing, so much wasted talent...

On the Red Zone Offense, Again

Great news!!! We went 1 for 1 in the red zone today! Problems solved. Right?


ACC Refs?? Are you Kidding Me? Halftime Contempt

What good is instant replay if it cant overturn a ball sitting on the ground. Thats the worst call I have ever seen, it was so obvious that the ball hit the ground before he moved the ball and had possession. What the heck is our vaunted defense doing?? Our CB's are playing awful getting beat left and right...Two of the best in the country allow Turner to absolutely shred them in the second quarter and then the slowest guy on the field, who isnt a runner is the new secret weapon?? What is going on...I want to see some serious adjustments at half.

On offense, WR's suck...Parker is getting rattled...he threw a great deep ball at the end of the half that the WR just watched get intercepted. Make a play on the ball...Our Oline is the one that cant keep from going offsides on two straight plays?? This is a classic lame game against Maryland--they have some weapons and they are putting it together against us, beautiful...

Dabo will have some serious questions to answer if they lose this game...mainly why he was hired and not Bud Foster DC at VT.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Maryland Preview

Clemson vs. Maryland, 10/03, 12:00pm, Byrd Stadium


The home team hasn't won in this series since Clemson nipped a pretty bad Maryland team 10-7 back in 2004. The trend should absolutely continue this year. Maryland is looking like a truly horrible team with a chance at going winless in the ACC (the terps do have the advantage of hosting Virginia later in a couple of weeks, so all hope is not yet lost). On the other hand, the good news for the Terps is Friedgen and company have set the expectations so low that as long as they don't come out and set fire to the field, as in literally burning some old driftwood in the endzone, they can probably claim the game was a step in the right direction. As frustrating as the Bowden years were, at least things never got that low.

As long as Clemson doesn't come out stupidly overconfident and end up turning the ball over on their first, I don't know, 10 possessions, it should be a cakewalk. So what's in this for the average Clemson fan who can't make it to the game but is usually still sleeping at noon on a Saturday? I would go with the following: look for push from the offensive line to get a better idea of the level of crappy line play we have to play to establish a running game, improvements from the WRs, and look to see what Kyle Parker can do with some time and better conditions. Also, see if the offense can outscore the defense & special teams--this could actually be closer than the final margin separating Clemson and Maryland. And how could I nearly forget, bring on Willy Korn for the fourth quarter!!

In summary: don't screw this up Clemson.


Yeah the inexperienced O-Line for Maryland should spell their doom but this game makes me nervous because Ralph's job is on the line and he will be coaching like there is no tomorrow and that gives him a desperate tenacity you dont want to mess with in a close game. I would be saying blowout like I did against BC but Clemson has to right the ship offensively. I like going to Jaron Brown and shafting Dye and Clear. We used the TE's more last week but Ellington got no carries, and Harper is the weakest 'big back' I have ever seen. Diehl needs to get some handoffs...

So about Maryland--they have been turnover happy this year. Scott is a talented back but has like 5 fumbles and the QB Ponder has been making some bad decisions because of being rushed all day. Reminds me of the Cullen Harper syndrome, your as good as the oline in front of you. He has been forced to play too quickly and that has resulted in poor decision making with the ball. Most of the dangerous skill players are gone, but Maryland has always given Clemson fits. They are usually stronger in the second half of the season, but I cant shake the memory of needing big fourth quarter runs by Reggie Merriweather and last seasons collapse to feel secure about a blowout win.

Clemson by 10 in a game that feels tighter than it should be as our offense struggles again to score points....

Thursday, 1 October 2009

FEI Week 4

Another pitiful week for the ACC. Clemson, arguably acquitting itself the best in out-of-conference excitement, only drops four slots to #15. We're now ranked as the second best team in the country with two losses! Only Florida State comes out better, ranked #11. Why, you ask? Their losses have come at the hands of #9 Miami and #14 South Florida. Why are Miami and South Florida ranked so high? I have absolutely no idea...Florida bias, maybe? TCU moves all the way up to #10.

These rankings are still looking strange, but it's not like the Very Serious Polls (AP/Coaches) are performing any better. I still hold out hope FEI stabilizes in a few weeks to something a little more believable. Something we can all agree on, though: Maryland ranked #90. It's time for a rout.

Ken Massey's aggregate rankings have Clemson falling from #26 to #29, with Maryland at #97. It's time for a rout.

A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.