Saturday’s performance was about what I expected. Clemson won easily and the game was never in question. By no means was it a spectacular performance by the offense or defense, but I do not think anyone that was being realistic expected anything different.
Clemson’s goal was to work on the basics and they did just that.
The offense did not show too much from a play calling perspective and the defense ran a lot of vanilla looks out of their base and nickel packages. It is the type of game fans hate and coaches love, especially early in the season.
After watching a recording of the Alabama game for a second time and seeing the performance against The Citadel, my view of the line as a whole is not as pessimistic as it once was. I am not saying this is a great unit that will be a machine by midseason, but there is more potential there than I originally thought.
The one thing everyone needs to remember is this is a pretty young group and playing offensive line may be the hardest adjustment to make from high school to college. That is not to say the transition at other positions is easy, but at most positions players can make up for mistakes with speed, aggressiveness, and/or raw talent.
Offensive linemen can no longer rely on being physically better than everyone. Technique is as important as size and quickness.
They also have to work in unison with four or more guys on every play. A lot of the reads and adjustments they have to make can be a lot to process on the fly. If offensive linemen blows an assignment, it is usually seen by everyone in the stadium. If a defensive lineman or linebacker screws up, there is a chance someone is there to clean up the mess.
Physically, Clemson’s linemen have a lot of the tools they need. Their size and strength as well as their foot speed is there. The problem is they are playing too high.
Offensive linemen need to have a good knee bend so they can generate strength and explosiveness through their hips. It is nearly impossible to generate the necessary explosiveness when playing high unless you are just a freak of nature from a strength standpoint.
The good thing is you can coach guys to play lower. It is not a change that will occur overnight, but it can change. You cannot change an undersized guy with slow feet.
From a mental perspective, there seems to be a lot of plays where just one guy makes a mistake. A perfect example would be Landon Walker on C.J. Spiller’s one-yard touchdown. Walker fired off nicely and doubled the defensive tackle with the guard. He should have then chipped up to the linebacker.
Instead, he did not appear to trust the system because he did not immediately see the linebacker. He stuck with the double team and the linebacker scraped untouched to meet Spiller in the hole. Had it not been for Spiller’s speed to the line of scrimmage, he would not have scored.
And before anyone sends emails about the two-point stances, that is not the problem. With the exception of a wishbone style of offense, linemen are taught to keep their feet flat in their stances to maintain an even weight distribution. Having their hands on the ground would mean nothing because they would not have any weight on them.
Again, those plays will become routine as they get more reps in practice and games. It just takes time to develop that trust in the system and the guys around you.
As for the skill players, C.J. Spiller has come to play this year. He is reading his blocks better and hitting the hole rather than dancing around trying to force a big play like he did for much of last year. His burst on the misdirection toss on which he scored was amazing. It looked like he may get three yards. Instead, he cut up the field and blew by everyone for a touchdown.
The tight ends had a productive day in terms of receiving. Michael Palmer had two catches for 41 yards and a touchdown while Durrell Barry hauled in one pass for 36 yards. Barry also missed a long pass over the middle that would have been a touchdown.
The tight ends probably will not play a huge role as receivers this year because they will be needed in pass protection but having them catch some balls from time to time, especially some deep balls, will help open things up for the other receivers because it is going to put pressure on opposing linebackers and safeties.
Marquan Jones saw his first significant playing time and finished with three catches. He is very quick out of his cuts and does a good job of turning up the field once he has the ball. I look for him to develop into a solid fourth receiver as the season progresses.
The Citadel managed 427 yards of total offense and was only forced into two three-and-outs. On paper, that does not look very good.
As I have already mentioned, Clemson went with a very basic defense much of the day. The Bulldogs also piled up 141 of those yards in the fourth quarter after the Tigers had begun substituting heavily and backed off.
Six of the eight guys on the defensive line depth chart for Saturday’s game were sophomores or freshmen and only one, senior Dorrell Scott, had started a game prior to this season. Needless to say, the defensive line is very young and it showed at times. They are still playing too high and seem a little reluctant to just cut it loose on every play.
The staff was forced to pull the redshirt off of Brandon Thompson after the injuries to Rashaad Jackson and Jamie Cumbie. Thompson’s performance was probably just what the coaches expected. He showed flashes of being a solid performer, but also looked like a guy who had just been thrown into the fire.
Miguel Chavis had a very athletic play on his interception return for a touchdown that was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty. He has really developed his lower body since arriving and is becoming a much better player. He just needs to play with more consistency.
The linebackers are still the one unit that is keeping the defense from being a force. In particular, the Will position has been very disappointing. Kavell Connor is more than athletic enough to play the position, but he just does not seem comfortable.
The linebackers as a whole are a step slow in reacting. A step does not seem like much but it is the difference in making a play and giving up a nine yard gain.
They also need to be more physical in pass coverage. They are allowing too many receivers to get free releases instead of bumping them with a shoulder or forearm within the first five yards. That is all it takes to get a receiver off of his route and disrupt the timing for the quarterback. That extra second is sometimes all the line needs to notch a sack or force a bad throw.
Michael Hamlin led the secondary with a good performance in which he intercepted three passes. I would not say he made an exceptional play on any of the three passes, but he was in the proper position. A lot of interceptions by safeties are more of a result of them sticking to the basics rather than exceptional effort.
Hamlin has also done a good job of playing a hybrid linebacker in the nickel situations. If he continues to handle that responsibility well and the linebackers struggle, look for Vic Koenning to run more nickel looks even when it is not an obvious passing situation.
Jimmy Maners regained the starting position at punter and had a good kick in his only attempt.
Mark Buchholz was solid on his lone field goal attempt and had good hang time on each of his kickoffs. The one thing he could have done a better job of was the placement of his kickoffs. Some of them were closer to the middle of the field. If you cannot get it deep into the end zone, you should be putting them between the numbers and the sideline.
That was the good.
The bad was the coverage units, especially the kickoff team. With Nelson Faerber being the lone exception that I noticed, everyone on the unit appeared to be getting down the field without a sense of urgency. Instead of sprinting down there looking to punish someone, they appeared to be in a fast jog hoping one of the other guys would make a play.
Too many times it looked like guys had tunnel vision instead of seeing the field and possible blockers. Coverage guys cannot run around or away from blocks, but they do need to see them coming and adjust accordingly.
The same was true for the punting unit. Chris Chancellor overran the return man for what would have been a tackle for little to no gain. Instead, Andre Roberts took off on a 33-yard return. The effort just was not there.
Clemson cruised and was able to get a lot of younger guys some valuable playing time.
Though it may not have seemed like it, the offense was pretty productive considering they put up 45 points and 525 yards and only punted once. Two other likely scoring drives were halted by fumbles.
The defense worked on their base looks while trying to improve their technique and assignments. The Bulldogs had some success moving the ball, but the key is they did not put a lot of points on the board against the starters.
After coming off an embarrassing loss to start the season, this is exactly what this team needed before opening conference play this week against N.C. State.