Depending on the level of the opponent, a good team can usually survive a few mistakes and still manage to pull out a victory. I am not so sure any team can survive the number of mistakes Clemson had on Saturday, regardless of the quality of the opponent.
The fact they managed to keep it close against a team like Georgia Tech was shocking.
It was a comedy of errors for the Tigers. Dropped balls, stupid penalties, missed assignments?the list goes on and on.
As bad as the loss surely felt for most fans Saturday night and on into Sunday, it should also serve as a ray of hope as to how good this team can be when they actually play up to their abilities.
What killed them on Saturday was not poor coaching or a lack of motivation. Plain and simple, it was guys not executing.
As a former player, I realize there can sometimes be a very fine line between critiquing a player or unit and taking personal shots. I never have and never will take shot at a kid. However, I will speak truthfully about how they performed on Saturday.
The offensive line performed miserably. Forget everything you have heard the coaches say to the media about how they have played fairly well most of the year. It is all some type of mental game they are playing.
With the season one game away from being halfway over, Barry Richardson has to be the biggest disappointment in a long while. The preseason all-everything with fabulous feet and the size that makes NFL general managers drool has likely played himself out of being a first round pick unless someone rolls the dice based on his imposing frame rather than his production.
He should be the anchor of the line, if not the offense. Instead, he has been the third most consistent performer at best. Chris McDuffie, who started his career on defense and did not receive any significant snaps at guard until the GT game last year, had probably been the best lineman to date. If not McDuffie, then it is Christian Capote, a fifth-year tackle who did not play much at all until this year.
Richardson looks like he is being forced to play instead of being out there because he loves it. That was painfully evident Saturday on a number of occasions when he looked lazy and/or lost.
The other Barry, Barry Humphries, is struggling just as mightily, but for different reasons. It appears he has the desire and he is giving it all he has, but he is still learning and he is not as big as he needs to be.
He has been very good when he gets help or is free to get to the second level. His athleticism is very rare for a center and it allows the offense to do some things they would not otherwise be able to do.
But for all the good that he is doing, it seems to be outweighed by the bad. He spent way too much time in the backfield Saturday. He has yet to consistently hold his ground for more than five or six consecutive plays this year. With Thomas Austin struggling to make snaps in shotgun formations, it looks as if Humphries is going to have to grow up really fast.
The rest of the line had their moments of weakness Saturday. No one really stood out as having a great game, but none looked as bad as Richardson and Humphries.
The line?s performance has been an issue all year and I think they have earned a bulk of the blame, but the receiving corps looked nearly as bad.
Just how many balls they actually dropped depends on who you ask. Tommy Bowden said there were nine drops. I counted 10 that I felt were definite and a buddy counted 11. And I am not talking about balls that they barely got their fingertips on. Whatever the number, I do not think it could have been any worse had concrete blocks been attached to their hands.
Tyler Grisham dropped a very well thrown ball in the end zone. Earlier in the same drive, C.J. Spiller dropped one that some think would have gone for a touchdown.
Those are the two that everyone definitely remembers, but I would argue that there were at least three and maybe as many as six that were just as big because they would have kept drives alive by moving the chains.
Despite the play of the line, the offense had chances to move the ball pretty well Saturday had the receivers done what they did through the first four games.
Cullen Harper?s numbers were not great and he had a few bad throws, but can you really blame him as much as he was getting harassed and the lack of help he got from his targets?
One-fourth of his pass attempts were dropped. One-fourth!
Lost in the offense?s misery were some spectacular throws by Harper and his ability to pop up time and again after taking a hit. Yes, he took some sacks, but you have to take the good with the bad. You would much rather he have -37 yards rushing than four interceptions.
James Davis and Spiller could not get much going because Georgia Tech was determined to stop the run. Davis ran hard but looked a little dinged up at times.
I said last week that Spiller?s style caused some losses of yardage and I stick to that, but he did not look comfortable on Saturday. He never hit the line of scrimmage with that burst he has and he always seemed to be searching for cuts in the wrong places. Granted, the line did not help, but he made it even worse.
The defense kept the Tigers in the game much longer than they probably deserved to be. It was a very gutsy performance that will be overshadowed by the offense?s futility.
They gave up some chunks of yardage along the way and allowed Tashard Choice to finish with 153 yards on 32 carries, but remember that he is a very good back and 45 of those yards came on the last drive of the game as they were attempting to run out the clock against a worn out defense.
I do not think I have ever seen a team lose when the defense gives up 13 points on three drives, the longest of which was 11 yards, but that is exactly what happened.
The Tech offense did everything they could to avoid Phillip Merling and he still had a very good game. He played with a ton of heart and emotion that help motivate those around him.
He has not had as many opportunities this year because Gaines Adams is no longer on the other side. His name has not been called as much, but he is playing very well against the pass and run.
Rashaad Jackson and Dorrell Scott did a good job of stuffing things in the middle and tying up blockers. Jackson has been really consistent this year and he is playing with a lot of energy, be it the first or fourth quarter.
The one weakness up front, at least against the run, was Ricky Sapp. The ability to generate a pass rush has never been questioned, but there has to be some concern about his size and how he can hold up against a running team.
Kevin Alexander appeared to get a little more playing time on first and second downs last week because he is better suited to defend against the run. He may see more time during the year until Sapp proves he can stop both equally as well.
The linebackers had a so-so day. They made some outstanding plays at times, but took bad angles that led to bad fits as well. Their tackling was much the same. Nick Watkins and Courtney Vincent had some very solid open field tackles, but the group as a whole still seems to have a hard time making the sure tackle by bringing their hips through contact and wrapping up.
One player that has begun to elevate his level of play is Scotty Cooper. He is very athletic, runs well, and appears to really like to hit people. He seemed to miss a few assignments Saturday, but he was always wide open and looking to punish someone when he did.
More than anything, that is what the coaches want to see because the mistakes can be corrected with experience. As the old saying goes, if he is going to bite, he will bite you as a pup. Cooper will definitely bite.
The secondary was not challenged much at all. Tech attempted just 16 passes and did not look for many homerun balls. They did a good job of providing run support, but their tackling also remains suspect.
Haydrian Lewis had great coverage on attempted fade in the end zone for which he drew a flag. The only problem is he did not turn to the ball. Had he done that, he may have had an interception. Instead, the Yellow Jackets picked up a first down and scored on the next play.
The bad breaks were not reserved solely for the offense. The special teams had their fair share.
Mark Buchholz made his first field goal attempt of the day from 48 yards, but then missed four in a row. Three of the four were 47 yards or longer, so it is not as if he were missing chip shots.
There has been a lot of talk about his double duty as a soccer player causing him to be too tired. I really do not think that is the case. All of his misses had plenty of leg. He just missed a little to the left or right each time. I think having a tired leg affects distance more than accuracy.
Regardless, he has the ability to be a good kicker and just needs to continue to work on his accuracy. Remember, he had not been kicking a football regularly in nearly three years before giving it a shot last year.
The punt team gave up another block on another blown assignment. It was hard to tell for certain who it was from the angles ABC gave but I do know it was either Michael Hamlin or Kavell Connor. One of the two did not block to the inside, allowing a defender to run untouched to the block point.
That led to Tech?s 8-yard touchdown drive. The way Clemson?s defense played and as well as Jimmy Maners punted, one could argue that Tech would not have scored and field position would have favored Clemson had the block not occurred.
Minus the block, Maners had an outstanding day by averaging 49 yards on five punts with a long of 60 and one downed inside the 10-yard line. His play has been a very nice surprise.
Jacoby Ford fumbled a punt return that led to Tech?s second field goal and made it a two possession game. Two special team miscues directly led to 10 of Tech?s 13 points. The fumbled return is a little easier to overlook because they are going to happen.
The blocking mishap is much harder to forget because you are taught from the first day of practice as a kid that you always block the inside guy. Let the outside guy go because he has a longer path to the block point. Again, poor execution led to a big Tech break.
I realize this article sounds like all doom and gloom, at least the offense and special teams sections do, and rightfully so. Both units shot themselves in the foot all too often on Saturday.
But all hope should not be lost. As bad as things looked at times, the Tigers kept the game very close and had more than its fair of chances to win. Maybe it was the wakeup call a few players needed.
I do not think the performance was indicative of this team. They have barely dropped any balls all year, and all of a sudden get hit with 10 or so. The line has played poorly during stretches, but never for an entire game and looked as poorly as they did against Tech.
Saturday was not about X?s and O?s. It was about Jimmies and Joes and Clemson?s did not perform like they should.
The staff on both sides of the ball had good plans. Vic Koenning?s unit essentially gave up three points and had some big stops. The offense moved the ball well when they could hold on to it. You have to figure that the 10 drops probably cost them 120 yards or more offense, maybe much more had those drives been extended.
The Tigers beat Tech and Wake Forest last year and watched both teams play for the ACC title. A conference loss is never a good thing, but it does not spell disaster just yet, especially with the parity that seems to have taken over the conference.
As always seems to be the case, the bad is not nearly bad as it seems to be.