Forget for a moment that I picked Texas A&M to beat Clemson on the air by three points Saturday. Picking college football games, especially Clemson football games is always a tough chore since the heart can sometimes cloud the mind.
No, I was not embarrassed that I incorrectly picked the winner Saturday night. But I was a bit humbled at how wrong I was in trying to look through the crystal ball in a few areas.
To begin with, I had my doubts as to whether freshman running back James Davis should play in week 1. There were several reasons for me believing it was a bad idea, the biggest of which was that I simply did not think he was that much better than Reggie Merriweather and, therefore, should be saved from having to blow his red shirt away for minimal playing time.
Well, as much as I love Merriweather, James Davis has a completely different gear. Davis looked smooth and in control, something rarely seen from a freshman and not seen from any running back at Clemson in the Tommy Bowden era. My hunch was, obviously, dead wrong. Davis has only played in one game and anointing him as a super special player would be premature. But chalk me up as one of his doubters that had much of that doubt erased Saturday night. I see a nice two headed monster between Davis and Merriweather gaining the bulk of the carries as the season progresses.
Speaking of the running game, I also was wrong in doubting that Clemson would truly commit to the running game this year. We have heard from the coaches the past few years how Clemson is going to commit to the run, but that commitment would quickly be thrown out the window at the first 2nd and 8 once the season started.
Rob Spence committed his team to run the football regardless of the results, and the outcome from that was something to really get excited about. While the yards per carry were below average, the fact that Spence trusted his offensive line enough to call eight consecutive running plays on the final drive proves to me that he is not just saying he wants to run the ball. Spence is committing to it.
I also questioned the benefit of playing a fragile guy like Chansi Stuckey on the special teams for fear of injury. All Chansi did was score the only touchdown of the night on a dazzling punt return. I never doubted that Chansi could do what he did Saturday night. I questioned whether the benefit outweighed the risk of injuring your only field stretching wide receiver. Well, that benefit produced to the tune of a 1-0 start to the season instead of a 0-1 start.
Everyone will focus on the struggles in the red zone Saturday night, but that kind of stuff will sort itself out. Charlie missed a wide open Downer on one trip and the clock ran out on another. If the problem persists into the next few weeks it will become a point of concern, but not now.
The running back by committee caused me to scratch my head a bit at times. While Kyle Browning was used in some good situations (the screen pass was a great play call at a perfect time), having Duane Coleman in the game in the red zone is a mystery to me. Coleman not only was in the game during one red zone trip, he carried the ball on a 3rd and goal from the 5 yard line straight up the middle. Coleman is good at several things and is certainly an asset to the offense, but he is not an up the middle runner that can move the pile.
Speaking of Coleman, he and C.J. Gaddis looked average at best in the kick return game. Neither seems to have field vision, or at least the kind of field vision a kick returner needs. Gaddis ran straight into a tackle on one return when a decent size hole had been opened for him. It will be interesting to see how long those two remain in that position if the production does not improve a bit. Gaddis also struggled to make plays on defense, something that hopefully will improve dramatically.
Speaking of defense, it is hard to fault much of what we saw Saturday night. While many will point to several big plays by the Aggie offense as an area of concern, I see it from a different perspective. Clemson defensively played the option about as well as you can minus a few missed assignments, but McNeal simply made some great reads most of the night. It was obvious that Vic Koening did not want McNeal to run wild, and Courtney Lewis benefited from that game plan several times as Clemson defenders swarmed McNeal on the option. That strategy generally worked, as Clemson popped McNeal pretty good a couple of times and possibly impacted his effectiveness throwing the ball as the game went on.
What else can be said about Jad Dean that has not already been said? That was possibly the greatest kicking performance I have ever seen for a Clemson kicker. The guy gets simply blasted by opposing team’s message boards for his boyish looks. But he has the potential to be one of the best kickers in the conference, and maybe the nation. That’s fine by me.
I’m not a bookie, but the fact that Maryland is favored Saturday surprises me. But that can only be a positive for the players and coaches.
Bryd Stadium has been a death trap for Clemson the past two years, so it will be interesting to see how the Tigers play Saturday. I said before the beginning of the season that a Maryland win would be more important than an A&M win and I still believe that. While the win this week was great, a loss to Maryland would be devastating in terms of the long-term conference race. Remember, losing to a conference opponent that is in your division is like losing two games to them because that team now holds the tie-breaker over you.
The new scoreboard was spectacular and the strip screens were a nice feature. The new scoreboard even exceeded my expectations as far as clarity. I also love the player intros at the beginning of the game that were displayed on the big screen instead of by Dale Gilbert on the P.A. system.
Speaking of the new scoreboard, the only thing missing was Tiger Time. Having no actual clock in the stadium is a major oversight, in my opinion.
If there was an area of technology that failed miserably, it was the animation of the Tiger that was played on the video screen early Saturday night. It was bad enough that the animation was introduced (setting up an air of excitement about it), but the length of it was downright quick. Not to mention it is cheesy, reminding me of that Cavalier video that UVA plays before the team runs out at the start of the game. I know Clemson students did it and I’m sure they worked their rear ends off to get it done, but it just does not fit into what a normal game day atmosphere at Clemson is all about. Chunk it…or send the programming code to UVA so they can use it.
Clemson made an effort in Lot 2 to limit the depth in which the tents stuck out by painting white lines at the point where the tent should rest if it were the appropriate size as deemed by the Athletic Department. Good idea. But if you are going to make a rule, you better be able to enforce it. I never saw anyone walk by telling folks that were sticking out too far. And there were plenty of violators of this rule. Again, if you believe in reforming the way parking is being abused you better get off your rear end and enforce it. Otherwise, you look silly.
What a wonderful crowd Saturday night in Death Valley. There is a reason that Clemson has won 12 of the last 13 games at home. That reason is simply because Death Valley is intimidating. And that bodes eerily well for a team that has a bunch of big games at home as the season goes by.
And finally, I have received many emails since Saturday from Aggie fans as they trickled back into Texas after the loss to Clemson. All have been very positive of the experience of attending a game at Clemson. But more importantly, they spoke highly of the treatment they received from Clemson fans. Those of you that treated Aggie fans well deserve a big pat on the back. Your impact will go much further than you can ever imagine.
Scott Rhymer covers Clemson as the Co-Host of the Tiger Pre Game Show on WCCP 104.9 FM. The show airs live before the Tiger Tailgate Show on 104.9 FM in the upstate or via the web at www.wccpfm.com.
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