Friday, 29 October 2010

KP and Passing

I read an excellent post on Shakin that you should all check out and read. So we know that the playcalling is unproductively skewed towards passing, or at least the need for balance trumps all. So Ellington will disappear at times from the game plan and in key situations our offense will suck.

If our defense wasn't so dominant against GT then I really believe that the third quarter playcalling would have put the game in serious jeopardy. Note* that would be a good time for a sustained drive that drains the clock and establishes the run, thus giving your defense a chance to rest. You don't have to wait for the 4th Q. Runs for Harper and the predictable passing attack make me shutter as I feel the ghost of Spence lurking. It's just a matter of time before Napier is called the 'mad scientist'.

So why this insistence on balance? I have three possibilities. First the coaching staff is just plain dumb and stupid, either ignorant or prideful and won't philosophically shift their positions to either play to their strengths or attack weaknesses in the opposition. So BC is #4 in rush defense--logically you want to pass a bit more and run a lot of zone read and getting players in space (good to see some effective draw plays this past week). Maryland was stacking the box and had good LB play so I can see the argument for parity in scheme but GT had a horrible rush defense and we could have ran it down their throats all game. So are they stupid and incapable of making adjustments?

The second possibility is stemming from this and involves Dabo inserting himself into the identity of the offense. This is very likely and scary. Dabo was never an OC and saw a lot of Spence. He also wants to be a gadget man/river boat gambler type coach. So whenever I see a drive ending super reverse, flea flicking play it reinforces my perception that Dabo wants the pass and is injecting himself into the decisions. Perhaps a call for balance is the best Napier can do. Too many times this season we've seen a perfectly scripted opening drive that has a run first, mix in some play action second attitude that inexplicably turns into an empty backfield pass happy disaster. Dabo the motivator is also Dabo the play-calling meddler. Slow developing reverses near the red zone--not a good idea...

The third reason is a commitment to player development and recruiting. So even if its in our best interest right now to run the ball to win games, perhaps the staff is trying to stay with the big picture. I don't agree at all but just trying to think like the staff. We have a ton of big time WR talent that is knocking on the door with Bryant, Peake and potentially Sammy Watkins(#1 receiver in the state of Florida) which could be the most pure receiving talent to ever be at Clemson with Hopkins and McNeal, not to mention Dwayne Allen at TE (or possibly Jay Rome with the demise of Georgia!!). So to keep attracting the talent and to build for the future they want to continue passing.

Here is your bonus thought and probably the most intriguing. The staff is committed to balance because of Kyle Parker. KP comes back to play football with the assurance that the staff will do everything they can to make him a legit NFL prospect. That includes passing stats and a certain commitment to the passing game despite the inexperienced receivers. Out of respect and a kind of obligation to Kyle they keep passing the ball more than one normally would.

Now I'm not saying any formal agreement went down but there has to be some unspoken understanding. CJ comes back--he gets the carries, KP comes back and he needs the opportunities. I would do the same thing if I was the coach to reward the player and the loyalty, just in the form of more play-action out of the I or screens and dump offs--not four wide, empty back sets.

Here is another fun nugget I was thinking about. Lets say KP doesn't return and goes to the Rockies. Now you have Tajh Boyd and really bad WR's. The coaching staff would be forced to at least be a 60/40 run to pass offense. With the emphasis on the run would our record be different? I'm thinking it would be the exact same record with more of a chance to beat NC. I guess thats the sorry state of our first half of the season. Anyway, I'm still ecstatic we have KP back(of course-any chatter about a Tajh controversy is silly) and I trust him to be the difference against NC State and hopefully Fla St.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Where We Stand

So what constitutes a winning football program? I'm going to take a quick stab at it and say its like this:
  • 1/3 Recruiting
  • 1/3 Player Development
  • 1/3 Gameday Planning/Schemes
I'm sure we could add more or flesh out these categories but I think this gives us three frames of reference to measure our team.
Right now we have done a good job in recruiting. Well let me re-phrase that, we currently have more star power and talent than at perhaps any other time in our recent history. This was supposed to be the year when you think about it. Our stellar Junior class is finally of age to compliment a strong senior class of talent. The cracks come from a weak sophomore class and the desire to give too many walk-ons scholarships. We don't over-recruit like most top programs who factor in kids transferring and not panning out. Every year I think we should be taking 3-5 more decent players than we are. If you want to see why we are suffering at WR--look at NC who snatched up players like Boyd, Little, and Jones.
Anyway, the point is that we have the talent to be successful. LB is the only place where we have consistently been out-recruited. This year we are in the running for about 4-5 top LBs and one by one they have put us down further on their lists. Now we have two 2*recruits committed. Steele and the staff need to make it a priority. This years class can still be good but we need to right the ship and have a respectable record to remain competitive. If Bowers and others stick around we will have the talent still but after next year the program will be depleted in this area.

Player Development
When I first heard Jamie Harper say that he and Ellington just decided between each other who should be out there I cringed. I was going to write about it but stupidly rationalized to myself that they could act like interchangeable parts and it would work out. But I also thought--isn't that the whole reason for a position coach?? Sure players can pull themselves out of games but isn't leaving it completely up to players a lack of coaching? No--its the absence of coaching...

Our players have not developed over 4 years like they should. No LB's have stepped up (although we are seeing some baby steps), WR's spend 4 years learning new ways to drop balls, we don't bother to develop enough TE's, and our CB's and secondary take a step back despite a second year in the program. We can't find a decent kicker and we have no return game. This area is a total drag on the program. Unfortunately, I think this is where Dabo is lost on how to manage an entire team. Powell should never have been allowed to 'coach' like that and the buck ultimately stops with Dabo to oversee his coaching staff.

Schemes and Things
Our schemes currently just aren't working out. On offense we have no identity. We can run the ball this year but chose to go away from it. We do throw, we have a QB with a canon but lacks some accuracy and WR's who can't catch. On a fourth down everyone in the stadium knows the play call--its not really a bad one but its to the short side of the field and comes up just short despite a good effort. Thats our offense right now. Napier isn't bad he just is young and often slow to react, predictable, and can't stay ahead. Plus Dabo undoubtedly makes boneheaded 'adjustments' and playcalls.

Defense keeps missing assignments. Those cost you points and its frustrating. I think Steele isn't a bad gameday coach and makes some needed adjustments but getting beat by Yates?? Its just not acceptable.

Right now we are at like 60/40 and propped up by our talent. That equates to a 7-5 season and a wasted season in my opinion. If we have a losing season I would like to see Napier become the QB/RB coach and take back recruiting duties (or play a heavy role there) and hire an experienced OC. Powell gone and both Scott's on the thinnest of ice depending on their units play down the stretch. Defense I'm not ready to make any changes yet but its coming...

Schedule notes: FSU looked real good and we need them to trip up against BC but its looking like we need NC State or NC to beat them and we need to win out. I think a loss to Maryland and we effectively end our ACC season. Can you believe this team was one pass through the fingers away from beating Auburn??

Lets move from All In to All Win...(see I'm qualified to be a coach Terry Don!)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Rationales for the Swinney Hiring, Revisited

I think the blogosphere eventually reached consensus on two central reasons for the Dabo Swinney hire:

1) Dabo Swinney could continue the quality recruiting established in the late years of his predecessor.
2) Swinney was the consummate motivator, the "intangibles man" that could bring fire back to the program.

Its difficult to argue that Swinney hasn't lived up to expectations in #1, at least on paper. 2010 was strong, 2011 is looking decent, and he managed to reasonably salvage a possible catastrophe in 2009. However, I think SportingGnomes raised an interesting point last week: can Swinney translate strong recruiting classes into strong teams built around a pre-defined, central strategy? I think it's really too early to judge, but I couldn't help notice how well UNC played on Saturday in spite of the suspensions. UNC has more or less caught Clemson in strength of recruiting classes the last couple of years, and it sure looked like they had talent to spare in key positions of strategic need.

What about #2? It's now two straight games the team has come out playing flat. Even during the Bowden era I can't remember seeing body language that poor with players openly upset at each other on the field, throwing their arms up in the direction of the coaching staff. Sure, they managed to pull together for stretches at a time in each game, but where's the discipline inspired by the coach as team leader? Where's the attitude of winning that Swinney supposedly brings? Where's the rest of the infectious intangibles Swinney shares with his players?

I'll tell you why you're not seeing it: intangibles are not magical predictors of future success. In contrast, a competent, intelligent gameplan instills confidence in players. Good gameplans, effectively communicated, result in winning games. Winning results in a positive feedback loop which strengthens confidence. There are no slogan-based shortcuts to creating a winning culture for a program.

Ultimately, the inability of Swinney to perform better than Bowden at motivating his troops isn't an indictment of Swinney himself, it's an indictment of the people who hired him based on a perceived ability to do something no one is capable of doing: winning games with words.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Defending Billy Napier

I'm going to swim against the current a bit here and try to explain why I don't think Billy Napier should be thrown to the wolves. That's not a particularly bold defense, I know, but this also isn't a contrarian post for the sake of being contrarian. (As an aside, I can't stand those kinds of posts, don't make a case unless you're being sincere.)

Let me start with the irrational stuff that I can't defend with numbers but more with the experience bought with each soul-crushing Clemson loss I endure. I like having the youngest offensive coordinator in the ACC. I like walking up to a fan from another team and saying, "Our offensive attack just torched your team and, oh by the way, our offensive coordinator is 30 years old." I like that Clemson and Swinney have the guts to hire a 30 year old in a league dominated by experience-laden coordinators. There's something brash and brassy about that, and it contributes just a hint to the swagger in my Clemson fandom. I largely like how Napier carries himself with the media, there's less of the Bowden-esque tendency (too often shared by Swinney) to frame disappointments as resulting from events beyond his control, there's a measure of accountability in his words.

But it doesn't stop here, there are actual areas of his job performance that I like, too. He has demonstrated, not always but reasonably often, the ability to identify weaknesses in an opposing team and develop a concerted plan of attack at the start of the game to exploit those weaknesses. It isn't always spectacularly successful, but it can put points on the board. He also seems capable of stockpiling a pool of plays often consisting of slight tweaks to existing designs that he judiciously and sometimes appropriately sprinkles into his play calling. On occasion, he strings together series of plays in-game that in retrospect seem inspired.

There are of course counter-arguments, good counter-arguments, to the above (for example, given a playbook and an infinite number of offensive series a moderately trained monkey will seem inspired over the course of 6-7 plays at least once or twice) and then there are counters to the counter-arguments (for example, there is still some question over how often Dabo overrides Napier during the course of a game). But these belabor the real point: Napier has shortcomings. In my mind, they are as follows: 1) while he has designed some reasonably effective plays, it doesn't balance the shit variants he also develops and employs in a game. He needs an playcall editor to blow up his more ridiculous notions, preferably this would involve a cannon of some kind. 2) He falls in love with the passing game far too often. 3) Finally, and this is the most problematic, he cannot identify quickly enough, and thus cannot counter the adjustments made by opposing defenses.

The third point above can be overcome with years of experience, but forgiveness for this defect is not granted in BCS-caliber conferences. Therein lies the conundrum, while I think Billy Napier has a future coordinating offenses in the NCAA, he is not a boy-genius that can think circles around men twice his age. He requires what 99% of all coordinators require: experience forged in the leagues at the fringes of the BCS or during dedicated study at the feet of a master playcaller. Laugh at the imagery, but this is still very much a "trade" in the classical sense.

Billy Napier is not a fool and I am not a fool. If this season goes south quickly, and with a looming loss at UNC on Saturday this could happen much sooner than I'd like to entertain, someone will take a fall. Maybe its Swinney, but more probably Swinney is forced into deciding who takes the fall. And Napier is the fall guy Swinney built into his agreement to take the reins, the guy who was set up the second the university "busted the budget" (note the quotations, they didn't really bust the budget) to sign Kevin Steele. Napier will in all likelihood be vanquished to the fringes. In that event I sincerely hope is he finds his experience, and he takes Jeff Scott with him.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Beginning of the Long, Slow End

I've been too busy to even visit the blog lately, much less post but I can't let the Miami game go. Maybe I'll comment on this another time, but suffice it to say through a series of happenstances I now find myself living in Japan and working like the Japanese.

So I stayed up from 1:00am to nearly 5:00am Sunday morning (hey NCAA--here's an idea for shortening college football games: how about strictly limiting the number of media timeouts for noon start times??) hoping to see Death Valley work its magic. Instead, I think I saw the beginning of the end of Dabo era. Given our conservative leanings in matters of personnel change, I don't doubt that Dabo is here for at least three full years, but when the axe comes down I think we'll look back at the Auburn-Miami games as when he passed the point of no return, so to speak. If you're an individual whose job description requires you to objectively make decisions about the future of the program, you just saw two very winnable games that we essentially coached ourselves out of.

In the Auburn game, it was the sporadic poor play call and the inability to recognize the other team's adjustments and counter (quite possibly the most important task for a coach in this modern football world of 3-D replays and Jon Madden-fueled layman football knowledge). Against Miami, it was just about every facet of the game directly affected by the coaches: the play calling, the lack of a concerted attack plan out of the gate, generally poor recognition and adjustment-making skills, the inability to motivate players, the inability to keep players focused, and even decisions about personnel on the field. The only thing keeping us in the game: Miami coaches who weren't a whole lot better.

Let's be clear: I am not hoping Dabo Swinney fails. I hope he turns this around and hey, he did a reasonable job of bouncing back after a rocky start last year. But at the same time, Clemson fans would be wise to wake up out of their Swinney slogan-induced stupor: hearkening back to a post I made last year, the list of coaches of current ACC programs with a mediocre second-year record that went on to illustrious careers is extremely short. And I don't think anyone mistakes Dabo for a Frank Beamer or Mack Brown.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Dennis Dodd's 2009 Fail, Miami a Must Win??

This video was from last year when Miami was the best 1 loss team in the nation and on their way to a BCS bowl game according to a ton of pundits. No one gave Clemson a chance, especially an ill informed Dennis Dodd, and we won. No one gave us a chance against Auburn last week either and we should have won that game, now we are underdogs again--at home. A lot of people have really good previews up, so I won't waste your time with that. All I am going to say right now is that this is the game that will frame our season.

Last year we ended Miami's season with out win. We kept them out of the ACC championship game. A win tomorrow puts us in the drivers seat for a return to the Championship game. Miami is our toughest Coastal game and hopefully most of the suspensions hold up against UNC when we play them. A depleted GT team we get at home. I am convinced that winning the ACC Atlantic will come down to how teams fare against Coastal division foes. So lets take a look.

Florida State is still our main competition. But they are looking weaker after BYU just got spanked by Utah State! FSU beat up on Wake and Samford so have they really been tested yet? Oklahoma is a good team but struggled with Air Force so its hard to get a good read on FSU. They play at Virginia this week and at Miami next week. If we can beat Miami, it will be even harder to beat Miami when they finally return home. Lastly they have UNC in early November which might mean UNC has more players returning. They won't run away with it but might go 6-2 or 5-3.

Wake has been awful and if Maryland is competing for the title then everyone will be 4-4 so I am not afraid of them. NC State is now the darkhorse (I've always thought it was a 2 team race with us and FSU) and an interesting team we need to watch out for. I'm still not convinced but they beat GT at GT and tomorrow play VTech. If they beat Tech and we lose to Miami then I would have to put them as the frontrunner's. Could it be that all O'Brien needed was a healthy Nate Irving(who has looked pretty darn good) and a few healthy players to make a run. They also play at UNC late in the year and we get them at home, although they have a Thursday night game against FSU and the long weekend to prepare for us. Wilson is a good QB but I am not sold yet.

I laughed when I saw some ESPN peeps putting BC as a possible Atlantic division winner. I will cheer for them against Notre Dame but its been obvious to anyone paying attention that the overall talent level has diminished at BC every year since Spaz took over. Great guy I'm sure and not a bad defensive coach but without a QB and any dangerous skill players its a tall order. The defense is still stout but they already lost to VTech. What BC has going for them is the easiest Coastal schedule with Duke and Virginia but I don't see them above .500 in conference play.

The other reason we need to beat Miami is for recruiting. Sammy Watkins is the number one receiver in the state of Florida and is down to us and Miami. That is reason enough. Even Jeff Scott couldn't inadequately develop his talent (sorry, low blow). To jump into that upper echelon of recruiting where we pull in Rome, Shell, one stud LB, even Clowney (who will be there for the game), we need a marquee win like this every year. Going into the Plains was respectable but you need to beat Florida teams to steal the CJ Spiller's and hopefully Mike Bellamy's of the world on a consistent enough basis to win championship's plural.

Also with all the big matchups this week a win against Miami places us firmly in the top 25, if not top 20. Without it, it will be a long road to being ranked this season. Lastly it would be a nice self esteem boost to all Clemson fans who think we can still win the national championship this year to be able to say that we have beat the Canes two times in a row and no one likes to get beat on your Homecoming date.

Come on Tigers--help keep the families and fathers of the upstate functional this weekend.
A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.