Miami vs Clemson Postgame Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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There will always be non-believers. That was evident Saturday as a very small number of fans decided to leave with just over seven minutes left in the game. Those same people will probably argue that the earth is actually flat.


The never-say-die Tigers proved once again that they do not give in regardless of the circumstances. Facing a ten-point deficit with all the momentum in Miami’s favor, Clemson found a way to nearly win it as they forced Miami into extra periods.

It has to be one of the top five games every played in Death Valley. It also has to be the loudest the stadium has ever been. Anyone that says otherwise either was not at the game or they are one of the few that chose to beat the traffic.

I firmly believe there are no moral victories in major college football. A loss will always be a loss no matter how you try to spin it. I do believe, however, that a team can come away from a defeat with a lot of positives on which to build upon. Such was the case Saturday.

I do not say that in an effort to give a pep talk. The simple truth is there were more pros than cons; the most promising of which is the Tigers have finally started match teams like Miami in terms of talent. There is no doubt Miami is the more talented of the two, but the gap is not as vast as it was just a few years ago.



It is not often that a loss can serve as a springboard, yet this is one of those rare occurrences. It is time to focus on the positives, learn from the negatives, and move on to the rest of the schedule. Doing just that could possibly have the Tigers in a position to avenge the loss to Miami in late November.



OFFENSE

Kudos goes to Rob Spence. The first year coordinator stuck to his word when he said he would take whatever the defense gives him.



Clemson ran the ball 66% of the time in their first two games. Only 28% of their plays against Miami came via the rush. Such a drastic change typically indicates a team having to throw the ball in order to get back into a game. That was not the case.

Spence realized that his ground attack, which relies on a lot of east-west running, would not suffice against Miami’s speed. He devised a series of short passes that helped neutralize the Canes’ strength while also managing to do something Clemson had done very little of in the first few games – go deep.


Charlie Whitehurst did an excellent job of directing the offense. His completion percentage (56%) was not nearly as good as it has been in so far, but that is to be expected when a quarterback nearly triples his number of passes attempted. His numbers would have been better but for a few key drops and good pressure by Miami.

Whitehurst did misfire on a few passes, most of which were high and long. That is indicative of him throwing off his back foot. Some were because he was being pressured and others were a result of him not setting his feet. The latter is a result of him having “happy feet”, meaning he bounces around when going through his reads.


Regardless of what has been said about his final throw in regulation, he did not miss a wide-open receiver. Miami sold out on the play and their gamble paid off. They were able to get to Charlie before he could set himself and make the proper read. Stuckey was covered at the time the ball was released and Charlie put it where it needed to be in order to ensure the Tigers at least had a shot to tie it.


The receivers and tight ends had a good game. Tyler Grisham and Thomas Hunter had their first catches of their careers and Cole Downer had his first touchdown.

Curtis Baham proved once again that he is a very reliable possession receiver who will make plays in clutch situations. He manages to get open by running good routes and making the proper adjustments when the quarterback is scrambling.

The three drops that immediately come to mind were all big ones. Kelvin Grant had one in the third quarter that would have kept a good drive alive. Aaron Kelly gave away an almost surefire touchdown when he dropped a third quarter screen pass. He could have run to Seneca with the wall he had in front of him.

Maybe the most painful of all the drops was Stuckey’s on the first play of the game. It would have given Clemson a huge play right off the bat and conceivably changed the way the entire first half unfolded by changing the face of the field position battle. It was a tough catch to make, but it was also one that should have been made.

The line passed their toughest test in some time by only giving up one sack against the fastest defense they will face all year (FSU’s is as fast but not faster). The Canes did manage to apply pressure throughout most of the day, but, once again, it was nowhere near the assault they would have launched just a few years ago.

The coaches showed their dedication to the offensive line rotation by leaving Dustin Fry, Marion Dukes, Barry Richardson and Nathan Bennett on the bench as the offense took the field with around ten minutes left in the game. Christian Capote saw his first action of the year on that drive and Chris McDuffie entered the game during the second quarter.

It is a move that will pay dividends later in the year and even more so in the years to come, especially considering a couple of guys, most notably Barry Richardson, were getting beat in the latter stages of the game because they seemed tired.

Clemson’s average scoring drive was 70 yards as they began many of their drives deep in their own territory. Putting up 20 points in regulation against a defense as good as Miami’s while having an average starting position on the own 22-yard line is a feat.



The one glaring weakness was Clemson’s inability to convert on third down. They were just 3-of-17 in such situations. The flip side of that is they were 3-of-3 on fourth down conversions.



Although they finally committed a turnover on the last play of the game, the lack of turnovers continues to be a bright spot. Other than missing on a 51-yard field goal attempt, the Tigers managed to get points every time they were in scoring position other than their final drive of the game.

DEFENSE

It was a good effort by the Tigers. They held Miami to 347 yards on 78 plays, which is just less than 4.5 yards per play. Three of Miami’s drives resulted in a loss of yardage and Clemson managed five sacks by five different players.

Tommy Bowden put the outcome of the game solely on their shoulders when he elected to kick it deep after the touchdown that made it 20-17. They responded much the way a champion does by stuffing Miami for no gain, 3 yards, and a loss of 15 on three consecutive plays.

The defense had their backs against the wall much of the day because Clemson lost the field position battle. The average starting position for Miami during regulation was the Clemson 36. Three of their possessions started on the Clemson side of the field, two of which led to scores.

Big plays were once again a negative. Miami accumulated 62% of its offense (214 yards) on just 14% of their plays. All 11 of those plays went for 10 yards or more. The backbreaker much of the day for the defense was a simple 15-yard square-in route. Kyle Wright was given enough time to find that hole in the zone on several key downs.

A lot of folks have expressed an opinion that the linebackers played well once again. I agree that they looked good at times and seem as athletic as any group that has been on campus in years.

However, I must say that they are not where they need to be in terms of playing a physical game. A number of Miami’s big runs were a direct result of linebackers taking on blocks instead of getting through them.

Quite simply, the linebackers are shying away from contact too many times. Instead of blowing up blockers and forcing them into the hole, they are making it much easier on the offense by bracing for contact.

Anthony Waters did this on several of Miami’s big runs Saturday, basically giving the Canes a running lane. His job is to make a lot of tackles, but another important role is to force runs to go where they are not designed. Until he and the others learn how to manage their roles as run stuffers and not just tacklers, the linebackers are going to be sore spot for the defense.

The defensive front had a pretty good showing even though Miami tackle Eric Winston practically owned anyone who lined up in front of him on Saturday, but that has been the case most of the times he has been on the field. He is one of the premier linemen in the game and will most certainly be a 1st round draft pick.



Cory Groover continued to improve. Search for all the negatives you want about this guy, but the one thing you cannot say is he does not come to play. This guy is a true “gamer” and the rest of the defense would be well served to play with his emotion and intensity.

Many of the younger players continued to log time along the front, especially on some key drives. There were at least two instances when the entire front seven consisted of second and/or third team teamers to start a drive.

Courtney Vincent saw increased playing time at one end while Jock McKissic, Phillip Merling, and Rashaad Jackson all had some good plays, but they are still very green. The maturation process for each of them will be expedited due to the playing time they have received to date against such quality competition.

The secondary still seems to be a work in progress. C.J. Gaddis looks great on one play and lost the next. In his defense, he is still learning how to play on that side of the ball and is relying more on his athletic ability than his instincts at this point. The position will fare far better as he continues to learn and Michael Hamlin pushes for more playing time.

Sergio Gillam has finally earned the starting spot at the corner opposite of Tye Hill. He has been a fairly steady performer against the run and pass. Duane Coleman had his first snaps as a defensive back on Saturday. He looked fairly comfortable in his new role, which indicates he could make a significant contribution once he learns more about his alignment and assignments.

As mentioned earlier, the secondary did give up a number of key plays to Miami receivers running a 15-yard square-in. That is an extremely tough pass for a zone defense to defend when the quarterback has enough time to make the throw. No one was beaten or outmanned. Miami simply gave Wright the time he needed to make the throw.


As has been the case all year, tackling was atrocious. Granted, Miami has some very good backs and receivers that make the first guy miss much of the time, but that is no excuse for some of the misses witnessed on Saturday. There were times when the Tigers looked like they could not have tackled someone in a phone booth.


SPECIAL TEAMS

There have been some questions as to why Tommy Bowden elected to pooch the kickoffs instead of going deep. After all, Jad Dean drilled his last two kicks through the end zone.


On his next to last kick, the Hurricanes were expecting an onside attempt. The decision to kick it deep against that formation was not a bad one because it is tough to set up a decent return with nine guys so close to the kicker. Besides, he had a decent wind at his back.


On his last kick Bowden probably decided to go deep for two reasons. First, the wind was again at his back. Secondly, the adrenaline rush the entire team was feeling probably gave Bowden the confidence that Dean would either reach the back of the end zone or the coverage unit would come up with a big play.

It is tough to say whether or not Bowden made the right decision to kick it short. Miami had good field position nearly all day as a result, but the coverage guys were in a position to make a stop had they not missed so many tackles. Devin Hester is too big of a threat to take a chance on in such a big game. Regardless of the outcome, I like Bowden’s decision.

The kickoff return unit has basically gone from first to worst in the nation. Their performance has been nothing short of awful. At this point Bowden can only hope the opponents kick it out of the end zone so he only has to go 80 yards for a touchdown. The return men have not communicated well with one another and too many blocks are being missed up front.


Cole Chason struggled with his first couple of kicks, but actually settled in to have a decent day. His job was not made any easier by a block in the first half and his orders to kick away from Hester. Still, he managed to log decent hang time that allowed the coverage unit to make some plays.

Jad Dean finally missed a field goal attempt. His 51-yarder looked as bad as any miss I have seen. It did not help that Nathan Bennett drew a five-yard penalty for a false start to push it back from 46 yards. It looked as though Dean simply tried too hard. He still managed to convert on three attempts, two of which were in pressure situations. His performance thus far has been a big boost.

As for his kickoffs, it would have been nice had he gotten more air under the pooches. That would have allowed the coverage unit more time to get in position and it could have forced the Canes to call for a fair catch.



SUMMARY

Despite their first turnover of the season, the Tigers continued to do a good job of protecting the ball. The downside to that aspect of the game is the defense had its first outing of the year in which they did not create a turnover.

The lack of penalties against Clemson also continued to be a bright spot. They are currently sixth in the country in fewest penalties per game with an average of 3.67 for just 29.00 yards per contest.



Aside from missed assignments, dropped passes, etc., all of which are to be expected, Clemson has done a good job of not beating themselves. They have been very disciplined through the first three games, which is a very good sign for a team with as much youth on the field as they have.

Clemson was in the game and actually should have won it. The loss itself is not the toughest thing for the players right now. The fact that they missed out on too many opportunities is the killer.


It is one thing to play your heart out and barely lose to a better team. It is another to let a victory get away from you because the players did not execute to their fullest. That was the case Saturday. It was a solid game plan that just was not carried out as well as it could have been. That and the fact that Clemson simply caught a few bad breaks is the reason the Tigers now have to face their toughest battle of the season – recovering from a loss.


There are plenty of reasons to believe they will do just that. The Tigers have stayed positive in the face of adversity all season and there were too many good things to take away from the loss to think that trend will change.

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