One cannot help but think “what if” when looking back at the Boston College game.
What if the refs actually called the obvious block in the back on Jeff Smith’s kickoff return for a touchdown? Their correct call would have not only negated the touchdown, it would have pinned the Eagles deep in their own territory.
What if the guy in the replay booth actually made the correct call by not overturning the interception late in the game? I have yet to see indisputable evidence after viewing replays and still shots that would have led anyone to make that determination.
What if Chansi Stuckey actually holds onto the ball on what was a fairly light hit? In all likelihood, Clemson scores a touchdown and regains the lead as well as the momentum.
What it, what if, what if…
Unfortunately for the Tigers, none of those questions will ever be answered.
Instead, they have to deal with the reality of another tough overtime loss and the mental mistakes that ultimately cost them the game.
Saturday’s performance by Will Proctor had me scratching my head. There were times when he looked exceptional. Then there were times where he looked extremely rattled and unsure of things.
For instance, his touchdown toss to Tyler Grisham was spectacular and he showed a lot of poise on a couple of third down situations. In fact, I thought he was much better in the latter stages of the second half when the pressure was really on.
But then there were the times when he looked more like a freshman than a fifth-year senior, like the numerous (I think at least five) bobbled shotgun snaps that likely threw off his rhythm. There were also the errant throws on a couple of out routes, which he missed badly. Maybe those were mistakes by the receivers, but the location of the balls led me to believe Proctor simply misfired.
Overall, I think his performance should provide a lot of hope for Clemson fans. He definitely improved from Week One and, as already mentioned, he seems to be a guy that can deliver under pressure.
The receivers had a few mistakes, but looked good. I thought all of them did a good job of going after balls and a few made good adjustments on some that were not thrown so well.
Tyler Grisham did have one drop that would have kept a drive alive and Stuckey’s fumble was a back breaker. How he fumbled that ball after absorbing some of the hits he took throughout the game I will never know.
He is too seasoned to be making such a mistake, especially after Clemson had practically driven the length of the field and were on the verge of scoring.
Ball security in the red zone is a must.
I was really impressed with the output from the backs. They ran hard and had enough patience at times to let things develop. I do think Rob Spence would have been better off had he tried to use the speed of Davis and Spiller a little more by attacking the corner.
Spiller showed why the coaches have been so excited about him on his touchdown reception. He caught another gear or two after the catch that allowed him to separate from the linebacker and get up the field. A couple of nifty cuts later and he was all alone in the end zone.
It is because of that speed that I actually like the call on first-and-goal from the three in overtime. Boston College was very stout up the middle and Spiller has the speed to make it work. The problem was Thomas Hunter was blown up and a few others did not execute as well as they should have, thus never giving Spiller a chance to turn it on.
Although the offensive line was not awful, I do think they could have performed better. Boston College deserves a lot of credit because they are good up front, but the Tigers committed a number of mental mistakes and were outplayed at times.
The starting five did play as much as I can remember in quite some time, but I do not think that is the cause of their lapses. Those guys are well conditioned and the heat was never a concern. They simply took a play off from time to time and did not get to the second level of defenders as much as they should have.
That should not be taken as a shot at the line. Clemson rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense, had three drives of 75 yards or more, and moved the ball effectively much of the game, none of which would have been possible had they stunk it up.
My point is a veteran line such as Clemson’s should not be responsible for some of the mistakes that took place Saturday.
The loss of Anthony Waters was more than evident. There did not seem to be a clear leader on that side of the ball and the absence of his speed hurt the Tigers’ pass rush. It also appeared the lack of experience in the middle led to Clay and Conner jumping a few underneath routes that opened up intermediate passing lanes down the middle.
I think the staff made the best decision starting Clay in the middle and Nelson on the outside. Both are as experienced as anyone available and I think Clay can be more instinctive inside, which allows him to use his quickness. Besides, a big road game early in the season may have been too early to throw some of the youngsters into the fire.
Conner and Nelson performed admirably. Both have so little game experience that you have to take the good with the bad at this point. They are learning on the run and gaining experience against a line as good as Boston College is tough. Much like the shellacking Charlie Whitehurst took against Texas Tech his freshman year, I think this game will help both of those guys in the long run.
I was surprised by the lack of a rush from the front four. Gaines Adams in particular had a lackluster performance. Shoulder injury or not, he played as if he was trying not to get hurt. This was not solely my observation.
Scouts at the game left with the same thought.
Adams needs to understand he is doing himself and his team a disservice by not playing wide open. He will ultimately hurt his draft status and increase his risk of injury. The guys who do not play at full throttle are often the ones that get hurt.
In defense of Adams, Merling, and the others, I thought they were being held a good bit of the day without it being called. On a number of instances it was obvious because they were being pulled down by their jerseys. But give credit to Boston College because they were good enough to get away with it the entire day.
As I said before the game, the secondary would have a long day if the front could not generate a consistent rush. That was the case Saturday. Matt Ryan proved his is a very good quarterback by finding the holes in the zone defense.
What became clearly obvious to me is C.J. Gaddis is much more of an athlete than a football player. He seemed confused and lacked instincts. He has spent time at a number of different positions during his career, but that is no excuse for not knowing alignments and assignments. Quite simply, you have to put him down as one of those guys that looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane until he proves otherwise.
Another interesting development was the amount of time Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor logged. Each of them saw a significant amount of action late in the game when most coaches would have preferred experience over talent.
That tells me either the staff thinks those two are much more talented, or the play of some of the veterans has been a few notches below where it should be. I do not include Duane Coleman in that group because I think he has performed well and is very gritty player.
First, let’s cover the lone bright spot for the special teams – Cole Chason.
He had a very good performance and one of the best kicks of his career.
Be it the new formation or the competition from Jimmy Maners, he has stepped it up this year. Not only did he perform well under fire, he has been far and away the best punter in warm-ups.
It is all downhill from there, way downhill.
The kickoff unit looked as useless as a pack of three-legged hunting dogs.
Even forgetting the return for a touchdown, Jeff Smith had his way all day.
He even took one return across the face of the entire unit and out to midfield, something that should never happen.
There is enough blame for everyone to shar,e but Jad Dean has to share the brunt of it. I do not know this for sure, but I find it hard to believe the staff had him kick it with such little hang time to Smith.
I have been told Dean used the newly mandated one-inch tee last year, so that is no excuse. Even if that is not the case, he nailed at least two deep into the end zone last week.
Going back to my first article, I have pounded the table about how a touchback is one of the best plays in football because you are forcing a team to go 80 yards for a touchdown. If Dean cannot do it and do it consistently, then he must learn to increase his hang times and place his kicks in the corner.
Another reason I feel certain it was Dean misfiring and not the staff’s decision to kick it to Smith, is the fact Cole Chason attempted the final kickoff. Had Dean been doing his job, he would have remained in that position. I think the staff realized he was not going to get it done and inserted Chason for a pooch kick. Unfortunately, he did not deliver.
And if Dean was not having a bad enough day, he missed a field goal and had an extra point blocked. His missed attempt was from fifty-plus yards, but leg strength was not the issue. It was his accuracy. Those kicks are expected from a guy who is one of the top three returning kickers in the country.
The Tigers’ return unit also looked bad. Jacoby Ford was pulled for at least one return after abandoning his blockers and trying to make something happen on his own. Granted, the guys ahead of him did not do a great job on the return, but you are taught to never leave your protection.
Ford also let a couple of punts roll that probably should have been caught.
You would much rather have a young guy be a little conservative in the position, but that can be achieved by signaling for a fair catch. Clemson has lost some valuable field position this year on balls that were allowed to roll.
The mistakes by Dean and Ford aside, a number of guys need to step up on the kickoff and kickoff return units. Lane discipline and correct angles need to become a priority for the former, and sticking with blocks needs to be the point of emphasis for the latter.
As negative and cynical as this article may sound, all is not lost. In fact, I think there is a lot of good to come out of the game.
The offense moved the ball pretty effectively most of the day. They shot themselves in the foot a few times with penalties, turnovers, or miscues, but showed they can be pretty effective when firing on all cylinders.
They had scoring drives of 80 and 82 yards and another drive of 75 yards that ended at the BC 8-yard line when Stuckey fumbled. They also amassed just over 450 yards of offense during regulation.
The defense gave up some points, but had their backs against the wall much of the day because of field position. Boston College only mustered 17 points of offense during regulation and their average scoring drive was 47.3 yards, with the longest being 58. The Eagles did manage a 70-yard drive in the second quarter, but the defense held tough and forced a fumble, essentially creating a 14-point swing.
Anyone who questions the toughness of this team is wrong – very wrong. The Tigers played a very good team on the road early in the season with a lot of inexperienced players on the field. Two starting defenders, one of which was the heart of the team, were on crutches with a third joining them late in the game.
Antonio Clay had a very solid game after coping with the burial of his sister on Monday. It is amazing he was even into it enough mentally to contribute. That he racked up 12 tackles is pretty special.
The problems that plagued Clemson Saturday are ones that can be fixed as long as the players are willing to make the mental sacrifices. It is not as if they were out there running around without a clue of what they needed to do. They have been coached properly and were prepared.
The mental errors that come with inexperience reared their ugly heads.
Sometimes those things are not as prevalent early in the season because teams have a couple of gimmies to work out the kinks.
That is not the case this season with games two and three taking place on the road against very talented opponents. The Boston College game was a great test mentally and physically for the Tigers. What they learn from it, and how they capitalize on those lessons the next couple of weeks, will go a long ways towards determining how the season unfolds.