Saturday?s game was exactly what it was supposed to be.
Clemson had a chance to work on certain aspects while giving Furman a big check and an opportunity to play on a big stage. It was evident the Paladins are a very well coached team that should make some noise in the Southern Conference, but in the end, the difference in talent was too great of an obstacle to overcome.
A lot has been written and said about how Furman was able to out gain the Tigers. Give the Paladins credit; they did a wonderful job of executing and had a good game plan.
However, Clemson had a very vanilla approach defensively. They rarely blitzed and looked content not giving up the big play.
Another factor that should be taken into account is field position. Furman?s average starting field position on 12 drives was their 24-yard line while Clemson?s was their own 43-yard line on 10 drives (39-yard line if you count the final drive of the game when they were simply running out the clock and got the ball at their own 4-yard line). That is the equivalent of 185 fewer yards that Clemson had to work with over 10 drives.
Cullen Harper had another stellar performance. The junior completed 16-of-19 for 266 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to different receivers. He only had one bad throw all day. Both of his attempts to Kelly that fell incomplete, were a result of good defensive plays.
His ability to protect the ball and make sound decisions has been evident through the first three games. His 10:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio is tied for second best in the country and he has completed just fewer than 73% of his passes.
He showed the potential to make the touch and tough throws on his touchdowns to Grisham and Kelly. The pass to Grisham was a beautifully thrown deep ball that hit him in full stride and the strike to Kelly was a frozen rope thrown from about 30 yards out and across his body.
I have heard some criticism concerning how long he holds onto the ball. Well, sacks are not always a bad thing. At least they give you a shot at another down rather than throwing one up for grabs that may be intercepted. You take the good with the bad and move on.
The receivers had a very productive day across the board with no drops that I can remember. They also did a good job of blocking, especially on some of the screens. Kelly is without question the go-to guy at this point, but Tyler Grisham has been a pleasant surprise.
The backs never got much going, but the running game was not an emphasis. I mentioned this after the Florida State game, but it is worth noting again that James Davis looks a step or two quicker and a little faster than he did last year. The one aspect that both Davis and Spiller need to work on is their blitz pickups.
The staff has said in the two days following the game that they were pleased with the play of the offensive line. Part of being a coach is playing the role of a shrink and I think that is exactly what they are doing at this point.
The line did not look good and really has not looked all that great through three games. Barry Richardson executed a run block on one pass play that led to a sack. Mental mistakes happen, even for seniors. The discouraging part about it was how he handled it.
He should have been back there helping his quarterback up off the ground. Instead, he nonchalantly turned to the sideline and tapped his chest as if he was saying ?my fault.?
With his size and footwork, he has the potential to be a top ten, possibly a top five, draft pick. Great left tackles are hard to come by. Unfortunately, he's playing like he's a second day guy at best, and that would be based more on potential rather than his level of play. He lacks the motivation and desire at this point to be half the player he's capable of being. It's time for him to get it together.
Barry Humphries looked better, but he still needs to play lower and be more aggressive instead of catching blocks. He is still undersized at 280 lbs. but he is athletic and strong enough to compensate for it.
It is hard to truly judge how the defense played because Vic Koenning appeared to have run a base defense most of the day. He brought very little pressure in comparison to what he did the first two games.
The Paladins did have a good bit of success through the air, especially early on as they completed 20 of their first 22 passes. Most of the stuff the defense gave up was underneath and over the middle.
A lot of the blame falls on the linebackers. Instead of contacting the tight ends as they released or the wide receivers as they cut across the middle, they allowed them to run free. The linebackers must knock the tight ends off their routes within the first five or so yards in order to throw off the quarterbacks? timing.
The safeties have also been playing a little deeper than normal and it looks like it is by design. Instead of playing at a depth of 10 to 12 yards, they have been positioned about 15 yards off the ball. I am not sure why they have been doing this other than to help protect the Tigers? young corners. Whatever the reason, I think they need to play up a little more to help protect the middle.
Tackling was better this week but still not as good as it should be. Too many guys are trying to make highlight films with kill shots as opposed to making the sure tackle. The teams remaining on the schedule have enough talent to make Clemson pay if they do not practice fundamental tackling technique.
One bright spot for the secondary was the play of Haydrian Lewis. He seems to have worked his way out of Koenning?s doghouse and picked up a good bit of snaps Saturday. He is a very physical corner that did a good job of defeating blocks and making plays. His size is going to be a very big plus if he continues to play with the same level of intensity.
The absence of any sacks was somewhat disheartening for the front four but, again, they did not get much help from blitzes. Furman has always had a very sound offensive line and they are more than capable of providing protecting when outnumber the defense by five or six, even seven in some cases, to four.
The fact is they gave up a lot of yards, but they only gave up 10 points, seven of which came late in the game with a number of reserves in there. They also forced five turnovers, the last of which came on a very good goal line stand with about three minutes left.
Kudos goes to running backs coach Andre Powell for the performance of the kickoff team so far. There is a night and day difference from last year through just three games. Furman did take one back that was negated by a penalty. I could not tell if the penalty sprung the return or not, but I am sure he will have that corrected by Saturday.
And even though Powell deserves credit for the turnaround, Marc Buchholz?s contribution should not go ignored. He has done a magnificent job of placing his kicks and even forced a number of touchbacks, which has been much less common with kickoffs now being from the 30-yard line.
He did have a few kicks that were fielded near the hash mark at or around the five-yard line. I am not sure if that was by design or not, but I feel they need to be directed more towards the sidelines. Kicks to the corner are much easier to cover.
There was not much to take away from the return game because Furman tried to keep it out of the hands of Spiller and Ford. I am sure the staff would love to see those guys get as many shots of creating a big play as possible, but they will gladly take the short punts out of bounds. Furman averaged a measly 21.2 yards on four punts.
The Paladins did recover two onsides kicks, but those were more of a result of great bounces than anything. Chris Wade did an excellent job of going up to get one of them on a high bounce, but the coverage team hit him in midair just as he was bringing it in and forced a fumble. The other occurred when two Tigers ran into each other going after it. The hustle was good and it is a mistake that?s easily corrected.
Jimmy Maners had one punt of 61 yards and another that was downed at the four-yard line. He finished with an average of 49 yards and a net of 43.7 yards. Those are great numbers no matter how you look at it.
Unlike last year when Clemson relied heavily on the running game early in the season, they continued to work on the passing attack in hopes of creating a much more balanced offense. Davis and Spiller will get more touches as the season progresses because Harper has begun to show he can make defenses pay if they load the box.
I thought the one concern for the offense coming into the season would be the offensive line and so far that has proven to be the case. They are not as physical as they need to be and the mental mistakes must be abolished. Because of the abilities of the backs, they only have to be a good line instead of a great one. Unfortunately for those fans wearing orange, they are below average thus far.
The secondary was probably the biggest unknown for the defense entering the season. The corners answered the call and depth at that position may be better than the coaches had hoped.
DeAndre McDaniel has been all everyone thought he would be as a nickel back, but he has not seen the field much as a true safety. Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemmons are two good ones, but the depth at safety is still a cause for concern.
The front seven has played well enough, especially the front four. Jarvis Jenkins continues to see more reps and has added depth at tackle. Kevin Alexander has become a viable option at Bandit and there is enough depth across the board to keep everyone fresh.
All in all, it was a good game for Clemson. They were able to create some opportunities in the passing game and the defense did what needed to be done. Mistakes were made, but nothing that cannot be corrected in practice.
With a conference win and two ?tune-up? games under their belts, they now know what their points of emphasis should be heading into the meat of the schedule.