The running game: This, my loyal readers, is the key. Keep the defense honest, keep the other team thinking, keep the defense off the field. Tommy Bowden hit the nail on the head when he said that competition is a good thing here. Duane obviously doesn’t need to be trying to carry the team, but he has his role. Yusef does, too. And as a one-two punch, they’re not bad. While we might never know what really went on between Coach and Yusef, let’s all be glad that they’ve put it all behind them. Here’s to many more days of harmony between Coach and Yusef.
The passing game: Charlie had a great game picking receivers. You know that I’m pleased that he found Tony Elliott several times Saturday. Nevermind his all-world off-the-field story, I think the world of Elliott’s ability to catch the ball. He didn’t have to come back this year and many players would have told this offensive staff to forget about ever seeing him again after the way they ignored him last year, but he’s taught me a lesson about attitude and that old saying about how it’s not what happens to you but it’s all about how you react to what happens to you applies here.
The bottom line: I said after the Georgia Tech that this was a different team, offensively. I’ll have to say it again. This is a different team with Yusef in the game. Let’s all hope Airese gets his ankle well quick. Clemson needs his deep field presence. What we saw, though, was an offense that didn’t need the long ball to survive. Hopefully, what that means is that Chuck Amato is scratching his chest as he watches the film. Clemson’s offense right now presents challenges on several fronts. The B+ is to encourage better pass protection. It’s something that Clemson did well for the most part, but if not for the heads-up alertness by Duane Coleman could have been a real problem.
Against the run: Clemson held the Cavs to 53 yards rushing. Wali Lundy’s injury was a factor in that, but that’s not meant to take anything away from the effort. This was a big-time effort. Leroy Hill made the play of the day on third-and-one in overtime.
Against the pass: Two interceptions and a solid rush all day. When Hill and Jamison had Schaub in the endzone you couldn’t help but think back to the 1987 Georgia game, a similarly overcast day when the Tigers wore all orange (the new orange pants that Danny unveiled the night before. yes, I know that orange pants debuted in 1980, but they had been wearing those same orange pants since 1980 and Danny bought a new set for the team that they wore for the first time in that game.). It was a safety then and it was a safety now (except for the facemask, which was legit). Check out the pictures in the TigerNet gallery from the game and there’s no doubt. Safety.
The bottom line: This is how you play defense – intensity from the start of the game. The defense set the tone Saturday. You could tell when Virginia failed against the Tigers in the first series that the crowd could sense that Clemson was there to play. Nevermind the drive that tied the game, that was a special teams blunder as much as a defensive let down. You wouldn’t normally give a 27-point defensive effort an A-, but on Saturday the defense set the tone. This defense is playing well and I continue my praise of John Lovette.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
Kicking: The one downer from this game is the kicking game. The holder breaks his leg on the way down The Hill and it doesn’t get much better from there. Jad Dean had a kick sail out of bounds, Aaron Hunt missed a chip shot (with a new holder and a bad snap).
Punting, kicking and kick coverage: Cole Chason had a punt partially blocked and nearly had another blocked. The new protection scheme didn’t hold up that well. The punt coverage team did a good job, even with the penalty when they nailed the Virginia return man. That wasn’t a great call there. Letting Virginia return that kickoff late in the fourth quarter sealed a bad day for the special teams, though.
The bottom line: Will Bowden do something different on field goals? Maybe when he has a few minutes to evaluate the situation properly he’ll make a change here.
The coaches on the sideline before the game were smiling and loose. They could sense that the crowd had decided to show up on a day when it would have been just as easy to sit at home and watch the game on TV. Bowden did a good job of mixing up plays. The trick plays seemed appropriate and not forced as they have at times.
Motivation: Clemson was ready to go. The crowd sensed it and both parties fed off each other’s energy. There were times in the third quarter when I could sense the team getting distracted by the officials’ calls that went against the Tigers. And the one thing that Al Groh has been able to do for the previous two years is out-coach Tommy Bowden after halftime. He did that again, but this time it didn’t kill Clemson.