Roy Martin: Clemson - Georgia Tech Postgame Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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About the only thing that could have made Saturday’s game any uglier, was a torrential downpour. A sack full of turnovers, a missed field goal by each squad, and only one touchdown were the results of a defensive battle that was painful to watch.

There is not much to say about the Tigers other than they gave one away. As has been the case in each of their losses, too many missed opportunities and mental mistakes led to their self-destruction. There is no doubt Clemson could have and should have won the game.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. That phrase is as pleasant to Clemson fans’ ears as fingernails screeching across a chalkboard, yet in some ways it has become the theme for the season.

OFFENSE


There is no doubt Dr. Larry Bowman, Clemson’s team surgeon, was a very busy man on Sunday and Monday. Between surgically removing players’ heads from their rears and repairing all of the wounds incurred from shooting themselves in the foot, the Clemson training room had to look like a MASH unit for offensive players.

The offense did not have their heads in the game and it showed all too often.

It first started with Aaron Kelly dropping a pass at the line of scrimmage without making an effort to get on what was originally considered a lateral. He knows better and has been coached better.


Making matters worse was Bobby Williamson drawing a personal foul as he attempted to make a block. Some have argued the whistle had not blown and it was a legitimate hit, but I think the whistle had blown. Regardless, a senior should know better than to make such a hit that had no outcome on the play. The penalty resulted in a second-and-25 situation the essentially stalled the drive.

Just a few drives later, Clemson started at their own six-yard line and moved it all the way down to the Tech 22. A great play call led to a beautiful touchdown pass to tight end Thomas Hunter. Unfortunately, the Tigers were called for an illegal formation that negated the touchdown and the drive ended in a missed field goal.


There is absolutely no excuse for not having seven guys on the line of scrimmage, much less in the eighth week of the season. Any number of players should have picked up on the miscue that, quite frankly, should never be a concern because it is one of the basics of offensive football.

The absentmindedness continued in the second half when Charlie Whitehurst took a delay of game penalty on third-and-goal from the two-yard line. There is no excuse for a fifth year senior with 37 consecutive starts when it comes to something like that.


And as if the Tigers had not done enough to hurt their chances, Nathan Bennett was charged with holding on first-and-10 on Clemson’s last drive as they were moving the ball. It turned a decent gain into a first-and-20 from which they could not recover.


Those are just the ones that jump out at me because they were the result of veterans and/or multiple players being at fault on any given play. Throw into the mix fumbles, drops, and poor decisions, and it is a wonder the Yellow Jackets did not win by three touchdowns.


Aaron Kelly played like a freshmen receiver for the first time this year. His drops were extremely costly, one of which would have at least put Clemson in a first-and-goal situation had it not gone for a score.

Chansi Stuckey continued to show why I think he is the biggest disappointment on this year’s team. He is not the jitterbug he seems to think he is when he dances nearly every time he catches the ball. Even when he makes a grab in space, his initial instinct is to make a move rather than get up the field.

He also wasted a golden opportunity for a touchdown when he failed to make a timely thrown to Curtis Baham on the trick play inside the red zone. Baham was clearly open early in the play and could have easily scored.


On top of letting the play clock run out, Whitehurst had two fumbles and appeared to miss some of his reads and locked onto his initial receiver. Tommy Bowden has stated Charlie made a bad read on the fourth down play of the final drive, but it is tough to say just how many times that was the case during the game.

Just because he did not hook up with a wide-open guy down the field does not mean he made the wrong decision. He has to follow the progression of his reads and go with the first man that is open. Without knowing what those reads were on each play, it is not fair to assume he was incorrect in his decisions.


As anemic as the offense was, there were a few bright spots. Reggie Merriweather had a great game despite being the first Clemson back to fumble since 2003. The turnover occurred as he was fighting for extra yardage, which is going to happen from time to time. Quite frankly, it is amazing it has been that long since a Clemson running back has fumbled.

The offensive line was solid in the run game and pretty good on passes. They did give up three sacks, two of which led to fumbles, but Charlie had ample time to throw most of the day.

DEFENSE


Kudos goes to the defense. They surrendered just 10 points in regulation for the second time this season, yet the Tigers have lost both games.

The defense was put in some tough situations because of three turnovers and poor punting. They responded on each occasion by limiting Georgia Tech to just three points and forcing two turnovers.

The Yellow Jackets’ lone touchdown came on a drive late in the game when they caught Vic Koenning playing some of his younger players as he tried to rest his veterans. The starters did not have time to recover once they were back on the field and P.J. Daniels punched it in from three yards out.

Calvin Johnson’s name was rarely called as the defense found a way to limit the sophomore playmaker. That was a feat in and of itself considering Tye Hill is the only corner with any significant experience coming into the season and Michael Hamlin was making his third start.

Hamlin had another outstanding performance, as he has helped solidify a secondary that was questionable at best earlier in the year. The man he replaced, C.J. Gaddis, seemingly responded for the first time to his demotion by turning in the best game of his career. He finally made some solid tackles and looked more comfortable in coverage.


The linebackers continue to struggle with getting off blocks at times and missed tackles are still occurring, most notably on Tech’s touchdown drive when Daniels should have been stopped for a three yard loss, but ended up making it to the line of scrimmage. Still, they have made great strides since the beginning of the year and are finally beginning to gel as a unit.


The front four was great against the run, but struggled against the pass. They did not record a sack and allowed Reggie Ball to escape contain too many times. The interior linemen were inconsistent in that they were driven to or past linebacker depth on a number of occasions, but they also stuffed many of the running lanes.

SPECIAL TEAMS


It was a tale of the good and the bad for the Tigers.

The kickoff coverage unit finally performed at the level they did much of last season. Dawan Landry managed just 44 yards on his three returns with a long of 15. Jad Dean had one touchback and the Jackets started at the Clemson 14, 15, and 16 after their three returns.

Aaron Kelly provided a huge boost to the return game with his 81-yard scamper after Tech score the go-ahead touchdown. He made a couple of great cuts that displayed the field vision that has been missing to date.

Clemson’s Achilles’ heel continued to be the punting unit. Cole Chason unleashed an 18-yarder on his first attempt without any pressure. I have seen pass deflections travel farther and look prettier. The unit also gave up a 13-yard return when they should have had Pat Clark stopped for little or no gain.


Jad Dean missed another field goal that had no chance. It would not have been as big of a surprise had that same attempt not been a virtual chip shot for him earlier in the year. He was also extremely lucky on a kickoff poor kickoff attempt when it took a fortunate bounce and resulted in a touchback. He needs to quit trying so hard on his kickoffs and rely more on his natural leg strength.

SUMMARY


There were questionable calls on both sides of the field and from the refs. That is the case in nearly every game that goes down to the wire such as this one. The fact of the matter is the players did not execute the way they have been coached. What is more disturbing is they did not play up to their capabilities.


It has become apparent that the one thing this team is lacking is the most important intangible any team needs to succeed – leadership from the players. Not only are the most costly mistakes ones that are a result of a lack of focus, many of them are being committed by veteran players.

The guys on the field have to look no further than a mirror to discover why they are in the predicament they now face. The coaches had a solid game plan for the game; one that would have resulted in a win had the players made plays.


With three games left and a shot at becoming bowl eligible for the seventh straight season, it is time for someone, anyone, to step up and assert themselves as the leader this team so desperately needs. That trait lies within this team because it has been apparent at times throughout the season.

This is when the true mettle of a team is tested. There is no better test of character than adversity and the Tigers are facing plenty of it right now. The month of November will serve as a litmus test for how these young men will react the remainder of their lives.

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