Monday Morning Thoughts: Tigers survive another wacky weekend
|Monday, November 6, 2017, 9:00 AM- -|
Isn’t college football great?
Clemson’s thrilling win over North Carolina State provided enough cardiac moments to last a season, and as we walked from the press box into the cramped visitors’ interview area inside Carter-Finley Stadium we had no idea the fun was just beginning.
As TV cameras and beat writers crammed into a small room to await head coach Dabo Swinney, I started to scroll through Twitter to get a reaction on the game. Snippets of North Carolina St. head coach Dave Doeren’s postgame press conference began to see the light of day, and I started to share his now-infamous laptop comments with those standing in the hallway outside of the interview room.
One Clemson media member – his hat soaked with liquor thrown on him by a Wolfpack fan – endeavored to get his laptop working. An angry fan threw something full of rum at a game official and hit the cameraman’s bag, soaking through to the laptop.
Social media was all full of comments on Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, who inexplicably burned a quarterback’s redshirt year for three plays. If you missed that, look it up. That’s the move of a desperate man who knows he won’t be around next season. A big middle finger to his players and the school.
That wasn’t the only drama in the Tennessee-Southern Miss game. SEC officials threw a flag on Southern Miss for leaping during a field goal attempt. With the Volunteers lined up to try a field goal late in the third quarter, one of the officials suddenly threw a flag on Southern Miss' Xavier Thigpen. If you watch the video, the official has his hand on his flag before the play and is staring straight at Thigpen, ready to throw a flag. Thigpen seemed to make no move to leap forward, but appeared to be preparing to jump straight into the air. The official threw the flag anyway, and the Southern Miss head coach understandably was livid.
Hey, it’s the SEC, it just means more.
That wasn’t the only craziness – Oklahoma beat Oklahoma St. in a game that featured zero defense. The Big 10’s reputation took another hit with losses by Penn St. and Ohio St. Crazy was the name of the game across college football Saturday, and something tells me it’s just the beginning. Don’t like the top four in the College Football Playoff? That’s ok. It will change drastically between now and the first of December.
*Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Clemson’s win – the fact that it’s another tombstone for the Tigers’ ever-expanding graveyard outside the indoor practice facility. It’s the third one Clemson has notched this season, and the next chance should be in the ACC Championship Game (if they beat FSU Saturday).
Speaking of FSU – it’s a championship game (if the Tigers win they clinch the ACC Atlantic Division) so the Tigers will likely come out in all orange.
*When we finally got back to our car after the game, I turned to Nikki and smiled and asked, “Can you believe Clemson won that game?”
Head coach Dabo Swinney admitted during his Sunday teleconference that his team made a bevy of mistakes but still found a way to win. That’s commendable, but if you watch Alabama play they don’t make the same silly mistakes that plague Clemson. A lot is going to have to be cleaned up over these final three weeks if Clemson wants to be a serious contender for the National Championship.
That starts with quarterback Kelly Bryant, who missed wide open receivers all night long in Raleigh. Swinney has said that he wants his kickers to “hit the layups” or easy kicks. That should go for the quarterback spot, where Bryant has to make the easy throws. Too often over the last five games or so his throws have been well off the mark, many of them way too high.
He's been great in the run game, but...............
This is me being ticky-tacky on a team that is 8-1 and ranked in the top four and will likely win the division this week. But I went into the game in Raleigh hoping that the coaches would find a way to get Feaster and Etienne more touches. I told another writer I would like to see more of a reliance on the running backs in the run game. Heading into the N.C. State game, Feaster had carried a total of 21 times in the previous three games.
In fact, since a season-high 20 carries against Boston College back on Sept. 23, Feaster has carried the ball just 41 times in five games. Etienne has 43 carries in the same time frame and only once has either runner had double-digit carries (Etienne had 15 against Wake Forest). During the same five-game stretch, Bryant has carried the ball 67 times (and he only ran four times against Syracuse).
That brings me to the defense.
This group needs Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond to get healthy in a hurry. Brent Venables smiled ruefully Saturday when he was asked about Ray-Ray McCloud and Amir Trapp being on the field in crunch time, and he said, “We ran out of bodies.”
Tanner Muse was ineffective with the big cast, and Venables switched Van Smith to free safety and brought K’Von Wallace in to play strong safety. Then A.J. Terrell went out with an injury. During pregame warmups, we counted just four players warming up with the corners – Ryan Carter, Trayvon Mullen, Terrell and Trapp. With Terrell out and Carter playing some nickel, Venables was close to having put himself in the game.
I’ll give the defense a bit of a pass on this one. They need to get healthy, but luckily none of the teams left on the schedule provide the same challenge through the air as they ones they’ve seen this season.
*I know I’ve been wordy, but Dexter Lawrence is hurting. After playing just 14 snaps against Georgia Tech after a cheap shot, he came limping off the field against N.C. State and never returned. Swinney told us Sunday night that it’s something Lawrence will continue to battle through, but a part of me wonders if it would be better to rest him the next few weeks and get him ready for South Carolina and the ACC title game.
*I will finish with McCloud's punt return. Swinney said after the game that he was glad he didn't fire McCloud after a few major gaffes during the past two seasons. McCloud has drawn the ire of some fans for those mistakes, but he came up big Saturday. He was begging to go in on defense late in the game, and that punt return was one of the best you'll ever see.