Self Scouting: Tigers have to put open date to good use


by - Senior Writer -
Two Clemson defenders go in for a tackle Saturday (Photo courtesy ACC)
Two Clemson defenders go in for a tackle Saturday (Photo courtesy ACC)

The open date is good for everyone associated with the Clemson football program, from the coaches to the players to the support staff, a group that has had to deal with the restrictions of COVID while trying to play a college football season that is difficult even under normal circumstances.

We’ve seen that several programs are starting to figuratively drop the ball as players realize their season is going nowhere and leave their respective bubbles and then test positive (see LSU’s players and the super spreader Halloween party). Games are being canceled or postponed at an alarming rate, but other than the occasional case here and there, the Tigers are staying disciplined in hopes of bringing home another championship.

Clemson took a hit in the loss at Notre Dame last weekend, but I’ve told anyone that will listen that my biggest takeaway from that game is this – Clemson was down seven defensive starters at one point in the fourth quarter, with two more on the two-deep out of action. There were five offensive starters missing in action, and the wide receiver group looked like a M*A*S*H unit. The Tigers had committed two terrible turnovers, had a true freshman quarterback making his first road start, the officiating crew was of no help (even on reviews, and I never fuss about officials), and Notre Dame was playing perhaps its most important game in 20 years and playing perhaps its best game in 20 years, and it took them two overtimes to finally win.

As Dabo Swinney said after the game, the team showed a lot of heart and grits and guts, and all of that will be needed as we head down the home stretch. However, there is a lot to work on during the open date, and Swinney said the coaches will do a ton of self-scouting to see where they stand. Mistakes have occurred and not cost the Tigers in previous games, but those mistakes were magnified in South Bend.

Here are a few things we will be asking about as we move into next week (next interview session is next Monday).

Injuries

Let’s face it, this is a banged up team. We still have no idea if Bryan Bresee or Matt Bockhorst will be available against Florida St., it looks like wide receiver Frank Ladson is out, and wide receiver Joseph Ngata looked like he injured himself against the Irish. I am not sure if it’s the fact that Clemson has gone several years without battling the injury bug and it’s finally catching up, or if it is the lack of offseason conditioning with Joey Batson (let’s face it, picking up buckets of cement at your house can’t replicate running up and down the dam and 6 AM mat drills). Maybe it’s both.

The snap totals this season tell you all you need to know. Defensive tackle Tyler Davis is an integral part of the Clemson defense, but he’s played just 59 snaps in 2020. Davis played 18 snaps against Wake in the opener, did not play in the next two, played 21 against Georgia Tech and 21 against Miami and has missed the last three games. Freshman Bryan Bresee has played 302. Linebacker James Skalski has played just 168 snaps, while his replacement (Jake Venables) has 311.

From an injury standpoint, the open date came at the perfect time.

Get the running game going

The stats are shocking. Clemson ran the ball 566 times last season for 3606 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Travis Etienne averaged 7.80 yards per attempt last season, while Lyn-J Dixon averaged 6.11 yards per attempt. Etienne averaged 8.13 yards per rush in 2018, while Dixon averaged 8.82 yards per attempt. This season? Etienne is averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt, and that’s only because he breaks tackle better than almost anyone in the country. How many times have you seen him get hit behind the line of scrimmage and then spin out and break two more and gain just a few yards? Dixon is just over three yards per rush, and as a team the Tigers are averaging just 4.08 yards per attempt. That’s not good, and it’s almost two yards PER CARRY worse than last season. It’s amazing that this team is better in third-down this season than last season, better on fourth down, and better in the red zone than last season, and all without a running game. Which brings us to:

Offensive line

Swinney has hailed this offensive line as one of his best, but they haven’t lived up to the billing. The interior of the line is constantly being pushed into the backfield, and the absence of Bockhorst for the majority of the Notre Dame didn’t help. I am not sure what you can do here, other than hope they get better. There are a few moves you can make, but it might mean letting the freshmen play during the championship phase of the season. Maybe Mason Trotter moves to center, Walker Parks to right tackle, and Jordan McFadden to right guard? We don’t know, and likely won’t know until the offense trots our for the first snap against Florida St.

Part of the numbers that are concerning about the offense – and lack of time – is that Tony Elliott is calling 34% of the passes behind the line of scrimmage, up from 27.7 percent last season. Passes over ten yards are down 10 percent and passes over 20 yards are down four percent. A lot of that has to do with no Justyn Ross and no Tee Higgins and the struggles of Frank Ladson and the injuries to Ngata. Some of that is on the OL not allowing a ton of time for long pass plays to develop.

There are a few other pieces and some stats I want to bring to your attention, but the open date seems to last two months, and we will have more as we go this week.

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