At The End Of The First Quarter?
In a twelve game season, it is easy to look too far forward and reminisce too much about what has passed. The schedule makers in the Atlantic Coast Conference chunked the Tigers? schedule in 2007 into four very different ?quarters?.
Quarter number one is in the books and many Clemson fans seem left with unanswered questions about this team and how good it can really be. Let me ease your anxiety. You were not going to get answers to your questions in those first three games no matter what happened. There is little, if anything, which could have happened in week one through week three that would have allowed you to solve the riddle of whether or not this is a special team. Instead of laboring over your unanswered questions, rest assured that 3-0 is a perfect start and those answers were destined to be answered at a later date no matter how hard you wanted them answered early.
As I scan the list of undefeated teams in college football?s top 25, I see a field littered with teams that have as many, if not more, questions than do our Clemson Tigers. Heck, except for Southern Cal, I would venture every team in the nation is asking itself similar questions that you all are asking in regards to their team and their team?s immediate future.
The obvious bottom line is that Clemson is 3-0 heading into the 2nd quarter of the season. The way in which Clemson has beaten its first three opponents is almost completely opposite of the way in which Clemson won games at the start of 2006. Clemson beat inferior teams down last year, running the ball and then running the ball and then running the ball some more. There were times when Clemson spent entire drives running the ball without one single pass. The point was to use the strengths of the offensive line and the running backs. That point, quite dramatically, backfired later in the season when Clemson?s passing game struggled down the stretch to the point where earning first downs became laborious.
So a different and new strategy is employed this year with the Clemson coaches throwing the ball at will. Whether the goal is to scare teams from crowding the line or whether the goal is to simply work on the part of the game that is the biggest question mark on the team is only known for sure by Tommy Bowden. I guess the rest of us will find out shortly whether that strategy proves to keep the offense with better balance down the stretch of the season or if we are playing a game of smoke and mirrors against inferior opponents.
2nd Quarter Opponents
So we head into the three game stretch that we?ll call the 2nd quarter. Games on the road against N.C. State, Georgia Tech, and a home tilt with Virginia Tech. All three of these teams have suffered through a roller-coaster start to their season.
N.C. State lost a heartbreaker at home to start the season to a Central Florida team that darn near beat Texas last Saturday. The Wolfpack then turned the ball over multiple times in Chesnut Hill to fall to Boston College in week two before earning their first win of the season last week against Wofford. I have all the respect in the world for Tom O?Brien, and the Wolfpack are going to be a good football team before the season is over. I hope that improvement does not manifest itself until after this Saturday, but winning in Raleigh will not be easy this weekend.
Georgia Tech beat up on a bad Notre Dame team in South Bend that bolstered the reputation of the Yellow Jackets. But after whipping Samford, Tech was brought quickly back to earth last Saturday night when they were drubbed by Boston College and Matt Ryan. Tech will travel to a 2-0 Virginia team this Saturday before hosting Clemson in Atlanta in two weeks.
Virginia Tech withstood the emotional first game by squeezing past East Carolina in week one. The Hokies were then popped in the mouth by LSU in Baton Rouge before returning home and defeating Ohio last week. The Hokies host William and Mary this week and North Carolina in two weeks before coming to Clemson. The Hokies have not been as good as advertised, and their quarterback situation turned messy over the past 10 days. But Virginia Tech is as well coached as any team in the league, and I would be surprised if they are not playing well by the time they come to Clemson in three weeks.
At the start of the season I thought we would have a hard time in this stretch of games, losing to both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in back to back weeks. Based on what we have seen in the passing game for Clemson and the relative struggles of NCSU, GT and VT, I think we have a legitimate shot at doing better than 1 win in 3 games in this 2nd quarter.
Stinking It Up
I still don?t really know why so many Clemson fans worry about how well or poorly the ACC does in out-of-conference games. I?ve heard so many talking about the disappointing losses the ACC incurred in out-of-conference games earlier this season. The national media is saying the ACC is down, and that very well may be the case. I?m not sure you can rush to that judgment in week two or three of a season, but then again the media are known for rushing to judgment.
But let us assume the ACC is down this year in football. So what? I pull for Clemson. It is in Clemson?s best interest for other teams in the conference to be down. Clemson feasted off a below average ACC in the mid 1980?s and I don?t hear anyone ever complain that we won conference titles in a weak conference. Clemson almost never played more than one ranked team from the ACC in a given year during the 1980?s. Clemson?s out of conference opponents (UGA, FSU and the annual game with South Carolina) were always the most difficult games on the schedule?not the conference games.
The bottom line is simple and clear. We want to win a conference championship. A weak ACC would make that goal easier to attain. The only way a weak ACC would hamper Clemson in any way would be if Clemson were to go undefeated and be left out of the BCS Championship game. But that?s like worrying about how to compete in a triathlon before you have learned how to walk. We have gone undefeated one time in our modern history of playing football. One single time. Worrying about what negative consequences would occur by the ACC being down IF we go undefeated is a complete and total waste of energy. So keep stinking it up ACC. That makes Clemson smell much better.
On The Road?Finally
There is no greater setting than watching a football game in Clemson, South Carolina. Death Valley is my favorite place in the world, and a weekend in Clemson is at the top of my list of things to do with my family.
That being said, I am ready to hit the road. Clemson?s three game home stand is thankfully over and the Tigers will hit the road the next two weeks. There is a passion and camaraderie to playing on the road that you just don?t get playing in Clemson. Fans have an immediate bond when on the road, and there is no question that winning a game on the road is more satisfying that winning in Clemson.
Raleigh and Atlanta are two great trips to travel and to watch a football game. Anytime you can go to these cities and come away with a win is satisfying. So those of you that bought up all of the tickets allotted to Clemson in Raleigh and Atlanta?I salute you! Wear your orange and we?ll see you on the road.
I don?t mean to let the cat out of the bag, but our wide receivers have been exceptional in the first three weeks of the season. They are, as a group, getting open. They are making catches. And they are gaining big chunks of yards after the catch.
While all the public praise has gone to Cullen Harper for his play at quarterback, the fact of the matter is that the wide receivers are making Harper look really good. Both of Brian Lithicum?s touchdowns and two of Aaron Kelly?s touchdowns were the direct result of great catches. Those four touchdown grabs, coupled with the fact that the receivers are not dropping passes thrown their way, compile the difference in Cullen Harper having decent statistics and Cullen Harper having great statistics.
I was a very vocal critic of the wide receivers heading into the season, wondering who would step up and who could be counted on to make big catches and make plays after the catch. The answer, at least after three weeks, is all of them. It?s not the first time, or the last time, I?ll be proven wrong.
Now on to the 2nd quarter.