Open Date: To-do list for the coaching staff
|Tuesday, October 17, 2017, 7:01 AM- -|
The open week is a time to recharge the batteries, heal up and gear up for the rest of the season. For 6-1 Clemson, the open date comes at the perfect time.
The Tigers started the season 6-0, with three wins over teams ranked in the Top 15 in the month of September, the first time that has been accomplished in The Associated Press Poll era. Clemson defeated Wake Forest to begin the month of October but ran into trouble against Syracuse Friday in the Carrier Dome.
The Orange controlled both lines of scrimmage for much of the contest in a 27-24 upset victory, sending Clemson into the open date with that loss casting a shadow on the first part of the season.
However, head coach Dabo Swinney told the media Monday that the staff was hard at work Saturday on getting ready for the season’s final five regular season games. For Clemson, it’s a run to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers can’t afford another loss if they want to make it to the final four for a third straight season, and the schedule isn’t exactly easy.
Clemson faces Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Florida St. in consecutive weeks after the break to end the ACC portion of the schedule. With that in mind, what will the coaches be looking to accomplish over the next few weeks?
*1. Get healthy. The Tigers have avoided major injury issues, even though kicker Greg Huegel was lost for the season with a torn ACL (more on that later). Quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered an ankle injury against Wake Forest and was knocked out of the Syracuse with a concussion. The secondary could also use the experience of senior Marcus Edmond, who has missed the last several weeks. There is a chance that tight end Garrett Williams could return after the break, and Williams could provide a boost to a tight end group that has combined for just 16 receptions.
*2. Find a solution at kicker. Admittedly, the options here are few. Alex Spence is the one kicker on scholarship, but he’s just 2-for-6 since taking over for Huegel. If a kicker was just missing a little to the right or left it would be one thing – you can fix a minor mechanical flaw – but some of the kicks have been ugly to watch. Christian Groomes is next on the depth chart, but he’s never attempted a field goal in a game. Going the old route and finding a student to walk on isn’t really an option – do you want to trot out a third-year engineering student who kicked in high school to beat N.C. State on the road – so the options are Spence and Groomes. Or just going for it on fourth down from here on out.
3. Work on the solution at quarterback. When healthy, Kelly Bryant has been pretty good at quarterback. But Clemson’s offense now ranks 38th overall and 66th in passing. In fact, Clemson has just six touchdown passes on the season – five from Bryant and one from Hunter Johnson – which ranks them 104th nationally. After seven games, the offense doesn’t need to be a work in progress. It’s time to figure out what they are, which appears to be a team that will struggle to throw the football. Does that mean more runs? Or does that mean someone else can provide a spark in the passing game? The coaches will look to find a pecking order over the next few practices and figure out what the definite No. 2 guy is.
Syracuse attacked the Clemson offense with two deep safeties and then blitzed underneath, a gameplan that has worked more and more in recent weeks. The deep game has to be a part of the offense again. And soon.
4. Get Deon Cain involved. Cain has 24 receptions for 299 yards but hasn’t been a big part of the offense. The struggles in the passing game, combined with Clemson playing conservative with a lead, have hampered his production. He also hasn’t helped his case with drops. Cain is one player that can take the top off the defense, and he needs to be targeted multiple times a game, and then hold onto the ball.
5. Hit the reset button. The first half plus one game is over, and all of the team’s goals are still on the table. There have been thrilling moments, anxious moments and downright dreadful moments (at Syracuse), and this team still has everything to play for. Take a deep breath, get the legs back and rest while working on the inconsistencies that might cost them another game down the road.