MTSU - Clemson Postgame Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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Kyle Browning got the nod as the starting tailback for the Tigers.

What a difference a week makes.

The Clemson Tigers that showed up on Saturday looked nothing like the same squad that took the field against Furman. It was a relatively good showing by a team looking for a confidence boost on its way to conference play. Not only did the team display intensity that has been missing, it showed a killer instinct not seen in long time.

The intensity and ability to finally deliver a knock out punch was something that had to delight fans. However, what should have been the most promising sign, was the execution. The penalties were minimal - 4 for 20 yards - and the Tigers did not have any turnovers while forcing one. There is not a coach in the country that would not love to see those numbers each game.

More importantly, the players came through in terms of reducing the number of mental and physical mistakes. Do not misunderstand this statement; by no means did the team play a perfect game. The Tigers have a long ways to go before they are a very good team. Saturday was a step in the right direction.


OFFENSE


Finally, the offense opened things up a bit. Or did they?

It sure seemed like they returned to the days of the wide-open offense. They effectively used the no-huddle with a mix of the sugar huddle. It seemed like Whitehurst was dropping back to pass on nearly every play. Well, looks can sometimes be deceiving.


Clemson actually ran the ball just over 60% of the time. The focus on the running game was still there. And even though the Tigers never broke a long run and were not as successful on the ground as some would like, they did improve. For the first time in recent memory the Tigers were effective at times.

Kyle Browning was a surprise at running back. When comparing him to former Clemson running backs, Stacy Driver is the first name that comes to mind. Browning has a long ways to go before actually being that good, but the physical similarities are there. He is not going to run over tacklers, but he hits the hole extremely quick and runs hard. His size allows him to "hide" as he makes his way through the line. He also seemed to do a good job of blocking.

Airese Currie's record setting performance overshadowed a good showing by the entire wide receiver corps. The blocking and route running were much better, but there is always room for improvement. They finally put together a game in which no drops were painfully obvious. Youngblood had some very tough catches on the quick slants they resulted in first downs. It is beginning to look as if Dabo has taught these guys how to catch.

Whitehurst had a great game. It was not so much his numbers as it was how he accumulated them. He threw the ball exceptionally well and continued to make sound decisions. Any time you look back on the game and have to try to remember which balls resulted in incompletions, you know the quarterback had a good game. He also did a good job of running the ball on some designed plays.


The line was better, but still has a long road ahead. They provided good pass protection for the majority of the game. Even though the running game was more productive, the run blocking still leaves a lot to be desired.


In a twist that goes against basic football principles, the Tigers actually used the pass to set up the run. This kept the MTSU defense on their heels most of the day. Clemson also threw something at the Blue Raiders that had not been on film - the quarterback draw. The yards gained by Whitehurst and the tentativeness of the defense actually made the offensive line look better than they really played. Still, they did improve and that is all that can be asked of them at this point.

DEFENSE


The good is that they only gave up 14 points. The bad is that MTSU had success moving the ball.


As mentioned last week, the front four needed to sustain a good pass rush if Clemson was going to be successful. They came through in that respect. The problem was they forgot how to stop the run in the process. MTSU averaged 5.1 yards per carry. That is a number that will result in a loss more times than not.

The linebackers played better. They have to continue to improve on getting off blocks and taking better angles. Leroy Hill continues to play extremely hard. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with effort. Anthony Waters saw more playing time and continues to impress with his physical ability. The biggest hurdles for him are learning some of the mental aspects and adjusting to playing against much bigger and quicker linemen.


The defensive backs did not have their names called much, which is almost always a good thing. They did not do anything particularly good or bad to make themselves stand out. Travis Pugh did get his first pick and there were a couple balls batted away by others. Francis got his first start and had a pretty solid game.


The Raiders averaged 6.1 yards per completion. As always, coaches would like to see that number be lower, but it is one with which they can live.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Aaron Hunt has to be relieved to finally have the monkey off his back. The 42-yarder he made was not a pressure kick, but was long enough to serve as a good confidence booster. And although kickers are supposed to always take the blame on missed or blocked attempts, the failed extra point looked to be the result of a high snap and good penetration.


Cole Chason only had 3 attempts. His average was not very good. Just like the previous weeks, that number was misleading. An angled punt that went out inside the 20 hurt his average somewhat. His other two kicks were pretty good. They gave the coverage unit plenty of time to get downfield and into their lanes. One resulted in a fair catch and the other in a return of four yards.

Jad Dean had seven kickoffs and none resulted in touchbacks. He has the leg to reach the end zone so one would have to believe the shorter kicks were by design. They had very good hang time and he did a good job of placing them between the goal line and the five yard line. A couple of them were nearly straight down the middle, which is something kickers usually try to avoid. Otherwise, he did a great job as did the coverage team. MTSU averaged less than 20 yards per return.

SUMMARY


It was a good all around performance by the Tigers. Everyone from the fans to the coaches seemed to walk away with a much better feeling than they did after the first two games.


The offense appeared to be more wide open than they actually were. Their game plan was still very much a controlled passing attack with a focus on the run. The shunning of the huddle for most of the game was the only thing that really changed, other than the concept of setting up the run with the pass. The difference was the players finally executed with a good effort.

The defense seemed to implement the “bend, but don't break” strategy. As long as it works, fans can live with it. When all is said and done, no one looks at the nearly 400 yards of offense given up. They look at the points that came as a result of all that moving up and down the field. Yielding only 14 points will win a lot of games.

Special teams looked better. Nothing big came of the return game, but the opportunities just were not there. The coverage units did a fine job with a lot of help from the kickers. Hunt got back on track. Hopefully, he will build upon that performance, as he will be called on many more times.


The performance witnessed on Saturday is what the team needed. They showed signs of being a good team at times. Unfortunately, good teams do more than just show signs. Each group seemed to improve and that is the most important thing that can be taken from this victory. There is a lot of work to be done, but the Tigers showed on Saturday that they are capable of doing some very good things.

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