With a better than expected crowd on hand Clemson notched its largest margin of victory since defeating South Carolina 63-17 in 2003.
That Clemson were able to do it while remaining very vanilla on offense and getting a lot of new faces experience on both sides of the ball were positives. Twenty freshmen – eight of which were true freshmen – saw action.
Unfortunately, the loss of Anthony Waters for the season took away a little of the excitement surrounding the victory. Not only did the team lose the top returning tackler in the ACC, it lost its heart and soul.
Replacing his leadership will be next to impossible for the staff. Others will undoubtedly step up but none will have the respect of his teammates and overall presence exhibited by Waters. Many have compared his role with this team to that of Jeff Davis’ role with the national championship team.
As mentioned, the staff revealed nothing on Saturday. They did employ a number of formations in an effort to give Boston College more to prepare for as well as set up a few things for this week.
Quarterback Will Proctor couldn’t have asked for a better situation for his first start as the true leader of the offense. FAU is not a very good defensive unit. He looked a little anxious in the beginning after having a couple of balls batted down at the line but he settled in nicely over the course of the game.
He attempted a couple of passes underneath that could’ve had a little more touch on them and there were a few instances in which I thought he waited on his primary target too long. On the flip side, he looked extremely comfortable both in the pocket and on the run, either by design or after being forced out.
The backs had a nice performance that was highlighted by Reggie Merriweather’s effort. Sure, James Davis was the leading rusher with 92 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, but it was Merriweather’s hard running and energy level that surprised many of those expecting a steady dose of Davis and C.J. Spiller.
The other aspect that made his performance a nice surprise was his blocking. He had at least two pickups that gave Proctor extra time to operate.
Davis was Davis. No surprises there other than he looked a little stronger.
It was hard to get a real feel for all of the hype surrounding Spiller because of the lack of carries and the fact he didn’t have a lot of help. Still, it was obvious he has the capability to bring that extra element the staff has been hoping to find.
The receivers ran good routes and limited the number of drops. The most impressive aspect of their performance was how well they blocked. It has been a forgotten attribute over the last few seasons but one that is extremely important considering Clemson’s increased emphasis on the running game.
The offensive line had an average day. I expected more from the starting unit because of their experience. Maybe it was just a matter of having a hard time getting up for the Owls, but I thought they could’ve been a tad more aggressive, especially on some of the interior runs. The FAU linebackers seemed to run free too often.
It was good to see so many guys in the rotation. Guys like Christian Capote and O.J. McDuffie need to develop into solid backups as the season progresses because the depth they provide will be needed. Saturday was a good first step.
Is the defense that good or is their offense that bad?
That’s the question fans of many schools are asking this week after opening with inferior opponents. There’s no doubt the Clemson defense is good but last week was not an efficient measuring stick.
The front four put up a wall against the run by allowing an average of just 1.4 yards per carry. Donnell Clark had a nice return from his knee injury, especially considering he’s probably not 100 percent, and Dorrell Scott looked a step quicker.
Gaines Adams and Phillip Merling didn’t have their names called very much but turned in solid efforts. The one thing all of the ends need some work on this weekend is not allowing the QB to break contain. It seemed as if they were either in the QB’s face or totally out of the play. More consistency is needed.
Ricky Sapp was as impressive as advertised. He is extremely quick off the ball and around the corner. He’s not going to overpower anyone this year, but he can cause problems for folks in passing situations. I was surprised by how strong he looked in his lower body.
The young linebackers filling in for Waters showed some really good things but their inexperience was evident. Kavell Conner, the former high school running back, displayed a lot of speed and athletic ability but he didn’t seem sure of his instincts.
When he made up his mind what he wanted to do, he took off like a rocket. The problem is the hesitation he displayed at various times will not cut it as the level of competition increases.
Courtney Vincent seemed more comfortable in his move back to the middle after spending his first year at the Bandit position. He’s not as fast and maybe not as athletic as Conner, but his instincts are better. At the very least, the battle between those two will be fun to watch.
The surprise at linebacker came from true freshmen Kevin Alexander and Jeremy Campbell. Both made several plays and seem to have a good nose for the ball. Alexander is the most physically imposing of the two while Campbell flashed a couple of bursts reminiscent of Keith Adams.
The secondary went virtually the entire game without really being tested because the front seven did such a good job. Duane Coleman and Michael Hamlin looked solid, which was expected. Hamlin had a nice effort on his interception return. Unfortunately, he was robbed by the official with the block in the back call.
It was evident Haydrian Lewis and Sergio Gillam saw action last year, as they never really looked confused and lost like some of the younger guys. Lewis is the guy with the tools to step up as Coleman’s backup. He just needs to prove himself when the bullets are really flying.
Chris Chancellor has impressed the staff with play during the preseason and that seemed to carry over to the field. He looked unsure of his assignments from time to time but that’s to be expected of a guy seeing his first action. The same was true for Crezdon Butler.
Clemson didn’t attempt a punt and it was somewhat of a letdown. Some probably wanted to see a few punts just to view the new formation and see who looked better in the battle to lock up the position.
As hard as this may be for some fans to swallow, Cole Chason actually looked the best of the three during pregame and halftime warm-ups. Of course, it’s easy to look good with no rush, but he was better than Maners and far ahead of Jackson under the same circumstances.
Jad Dean had good placement on his kickoffs with the lone exception of one that was a few yards short of the goal line right down the middle. He also had a nice field goal from 45 yards out and a chip shot from 25, but he missed what should’ve been a gimmie from 32 yards as well as an extra point.
The kickoff coverage unit was a little ahead of the return unit. Spiller and Ford are still feeling their way around on the kickoffs but will improve with time.
Both made a couple of good decisions on punts that possibly could have been fielded but were better left alone. Ford had the highlight of the day with his 92-yard punt return, the longest in school history. If anyone questions his speed, just look at the separation his gained in the last 40 yards of his run.
It was a solid performance in all phases of the game. The staff played everything close to the vest while working on the fundamentals and establishing depth.
The turnovers were a bit of a concern and need to be fixed. The penalties were limited and never really played a factor. Akeem Robinson did draw a false start on the 3-yard line. That type of mistake has to be cut out because there is so little field to work with in the red zone that a third-and-eight there is much tougher than a third-and-eight at the 50.
The young guys looked extremely athletic and the veterans all appeared to be in the best shape of their careers. There were far more surprises than letdowns, so the first game has to be considered a success.