Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?

by - Correspondent -
C.J. Spiller needs just 64 all-purpose yards to become the ACC’s all-time leader in that category.

Four games into the 2009 football season for the Clemson Tigers offers about what you would expect from a 2-2 football team. Some things that make you feel pretty good and some things that leave you wondering whether this is going to be a team that can make it to Tampa.

So taking all the data and crunching it into my perception machine, here is how I see things as we head into the 2nd quarter of this football season.

The Good

While it may seem an assumption that C.J. Spiller was going to have a great year, I counted myself in the group of people that wanted to see if C.J. could be a guy that carried the ball a bunch of times while keeping his ability to be a big play threat. Spiller has done nothing to disappoint through the first four games, scoring touchdowns in every way possible (kick return, punt return, rushing, and receiving). Spiller has amassed 857 all purpose yards over the first four games, a staggering 214 yards per game. Those numbers were accumulated by Spiller without playing the better part of the second halves in the MTSU and BC games. Against TCU, Spiller carried the ball 26 times, caught 3 passes, and returned 2 kickoffs for a total of 31 touches. All that with a turf toe injury that will slow him down until the off week when he can get some rest. My questions about his durability have been answered.

Jacoby Ford, Spiller’s big play partner, also is off to a great start. Ford has been excellent in special teams and has caught 20 balls for 270 yards. Ford is on pace for an 80 catch season with over 1,000 yards receiving, something all Tiger fans would have taken at the start of the season if asked.

Special teams, at least in the return game, have also been a very positive bright spot for Clemson. The Tigers have chalked up two punt return touchdowns and one kickoff return touchdown over the first four games. The real positive of the return game, however, lies in the wonderful field position the return game has afforded the offense.

DeAndre McDaniel has 36 tackles on the year and has played the role of “ball hawk” in the secondary, chalking up 4 interceptions in the first four games. Rashard Hall has also been a pleasant surprise, leading the team in tackles vs. TCU on Saturday.

The Bad

To say the Clemson wide receivers are off to a bad start is putting it nicely. A more appropriate adjective would be awful. Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller have been the best receivers that the Tigers have trotted onto the field and neither one of them would be considered “prototypical receivers”. Heck, Spiller isn’t even a receiver. He is a running back. After Ford and Spiller, no wide receiver or tight end has more than seven receptions through four games. Not only are the reception numbers inadequate, the entire wide receiving core has had a severe case of the “dropsies”. Compounding the woes of the receivers is the fact that their downfield blocking has also been terrible. The running backs have made it past the line of scrimmage on multiple occasions with the opportunity for a big run, only to be thwarted by poor downfield blocking by the wide receivers that have prevented 50 yard runs and left us instead with 15 yard runs. What a shame that with all of the great prospects Clemson has signed in the last few years that the Tigers don’t have any wide receivers (minus Ford) that would start at any other ACC school.

Although Clemson finally pounded in a rushing touchdown Saturday, the red zone efficiency has been ugly over the first four games. It was an area of focus this past week, and it was good seeing Spiller rushing it in from one yard out. This week the major blunder was not play calling or bad execution by the offensive line, but a missed field goal by Richard Jackson that, ultimately, lost the football game. If Jackson makes the kick in the 4th quarter, Clemson needs only a field goal to win the game as the clock ticked under two minutes. Considering the Tigers needed a touchdown after Jackson’s miss, a great play call to Dwayne Allen should have scored a touchdown and won the game. But Parker overthrew Allen, and Clemson eventually would lose the ball on downs.

The weather has also been atrocious the first four games of the season. Back to back games when the rain simply became the story of the second half. It is difficult to know for sure if anything would have been different in dry conditions, but the miserable playing conditions certainly has to be considered a factor for all teams and makes evaluating those games even more difficult.

Still Watching

Nobody called into question the manhood of this offensive line at the start of the season more than me. Click back to my previous article for proof if you need to. But the offensive line has actually been better that I expected over the first four games of the season. The Tigers, even after the TCU game, are averaging 149 yards rushing per game. This average has been attained without any long runs by the backs. After a pitiful quarter and a half vs. Georgia Tech, the line has given Kyle Parker time to throw the football on most plays. In fact, the offensive line did not give up a sack versus TCU, even without Chris Hairston logging any snaps. I think we are seeing improvement from the offensive line that leaves hope, although it is still a work in progress.

Kyle Parker has been up and down through the first four games. He did a better job in the TCU game of not forcing the ball into hopeless situations, and the fact that he did not turn the ball over is a step in the right direction. Parker has been above average in getting the ball to his receivers (when they get open). He has played cool and calm, something you need from a quarterback. He also has utilized his legs to avoid pressure and make plays, something that we have not seen at Clemson in a few years. I still would like Kyle to run the ball more if the receivers are not open. At times, he has running lanes that could pick up positive yardage, but he instead continues to look for the receivers to get open and often has to dump the ball off. He’s playing like a redshirt freshman who has a ton of potential. His experience as the year goes along should improve his play.

The offensive play calling is also something that I want to see more of until casting judgment. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier had a pretty solid game plan for TCU, and it is hard to point to play calling as the reason that Clemson lost the GT or TCU games. Napier has done a good job of making sure Spiller and Ford are getting the football. If there is something that I would like to see more it would be more patience in the running game. Many times the Tigers seem to get three or four yards on first down running the ball followed by a second down throw. I think Clemson gives up on the run too quickly, especially when they are outside of the red zone (which is where they seem to run the ball the best).

Defensively, Clemson have given up big plays in the passing game at critical points in s first two losses. Georgia Tech picked up key first downs on their scoring drives in the 4th quarter with passes over the middle in isolation situations. Both of TCU’s touchdown passes Saturday were throws over the middle of the field or in an isolation situation. As good as the defense has played, a couple of stops and big plays would make the Tigers 4-0 right now. There is going to be a game that Clemson needs that stop in order to win. Let’s see if this defense can pull that string.

What Lies Ahead?

Clemson is in first place in the Atlantic Division heading into a critical three week stretch. The Tigers will be favored on the road next week vs. Maryland, will have an opportunity to rest up and get healthy during the off-week, then return home and will be favored against Wake Forest. Certainly, beating Maryland and Wake is far from a given. But if Clemson can find a way to win those two games, the 3-1 record over the first half of the ACC season will put them in a really good position heading into the second half of the ACC schedule. The Atlantic Division has been a roller coaster ride for all of the teams involved, so trying to predict which teams will show up each week is anybody’s guess. But a quick glance at the schedules over the next three weeks clearly shows how far a couple of wins for Clemson would go in the standings.

FSU (@ BC and vs. GT)

BC (FSU, @VT, vs. NCSU)

Wake (vs. NCSU, vs. Maryland, @ Clemson)

Maryland (vs. Clemson, @ Wake, vs. Virginia)

NCSU (@ Wake, vs. Duke, @ BC)

I think we can all agree that 3-1 or 4-0 would have us all in a better frame of mind. But there is nothing that I have seen to this point that leads me to believe that Clemson should not be major contenders this year in the wacky Atlantic Division. And let’s be honest, that is the goal. Tampa has been on the mind of all of Clemson Nation for several years now.

Ultimately, Tampa is the benchmark on how this season will be judged, not the heartbreaking loss to GT or the out of conference loss to a good and well coached TCU team.

The table is still set. Let’s see how this team and these coaches respond.

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Subject (Replies: 45) Author
Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
Optimism is not allowed in this Dojo***
The chicken little's in here won't have it.***
Well the sky was falling on Saturday atleast in the 3rd/4thQ***
shouldnt the quarterly report come out every 3 games?***
Where I come from, 12/4 still = 3***
14/4 = 3.5. Rounded up to 4. :) ******
We must play 16 games this year.***
Judge Keller
2 ACC games, thus a quarterly report on conference play.
Parker didn't turn the ball over because TCU
One point of disagreement......
Re: One point of disagreement......
Re: One point of disagreement......
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
you're right its a third report
We're playing 14 games this year, so it's close to quarterly***
Re: you were too easy on Parker!***
Quarterbacks play differently in real life than on the Xbox.
It's a report card. It shouldn't be weighted by age caveats***
So performance expectations shouldn't be adjusted based
None of the other categories were weighted by experience.***
None of the other categories have a true freshman
RS freshman actually. But not weighted for seniors either.
Sorry - and you are obviously correct that Parker is RS Fres
Agree 100%.***
Should we lower expectations for rookies, Dabo & Napier too?***
Re: Should we lower expectations for rookies, Dabo & Napier too?***
I have a 4th grader that can do calculus, but he doesn't get
Rhymer doesn't ride Parker. His review is quite favorable.
I think it's accurate.
Me too.***
Re: Quarterbacks play differently in real life than on the Xbox.
Hard to point to play calling as the reason for losses? Ha!
Re: Hard to point to play calling as the reason for losses? Ha!
Re: Hard to point to play calling as the reason for losses?
That's not just your opinion. Rewatch the game. Worked well.***
Re: Hard to point to play calling as the reason for losses? Ha!
Re: Hard to point to play calling as the reason for losses? Ha!
Tebow sneak behind somebody else's O-line might have worked.
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?
Re: Clemson Football Quarterly Report: Reason For Optimism?

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