For the surprisingly large crowd on hand and the seventeen Clemson fans at home that actually get ESPNU, Saturday night’s game was a lot of fun. The Tigers took control early and never looked back on their way to their first shutout of a Division I-A team since October of 1998.
Substitutions began early and often, as Tommy Bowden was able to play eighty-one guys. Considering how early he began substituting, and the large number of players that actually saw the field, is a testament to how dominate Clemson’s performance was.
The amount of work the reserves received was a big bonus, but the most promising aspect was the focus displayed early on. Instead of come out looking a little rusty, because of a looming rematch with a Wake Forest team that beat them last year, which is a trap the Tigers have fallen into in previous years when facing a weak opponent, the Tigers were crisp and effective.
It is not a sure sign that they have gotten over the hurdle of playing down to their opponents, but it was definitely a major step in the right direction.
It only takes one look at the box score to realize there was not a whole lot to complain about.
Clemson racked up 526 yards of total offense as three backs eclipsed the 100-yard mark for only the second time in school history. They had three drives of over 73 yards, the longest of which was 97 yards.
James Davis had the longest run for a Clemson running back in the Tommy Bowden era as he dashed 64 yards for an early touchdown. He did not see the field in the second half after accumulating 143 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns.
C.J. Spiller looked as comfortable as he has since arriving in Tiger Town, and Demerick Chancellor showed why the staff has been so high on him since the spring as Reggie Merriweather rested a bum ankle.
If Chancellor is the fourth best back on the team, Clemson may be as deep as any team in the country at that position. He has shown glimpses of speed and power in his few limited touches, but proved time and again Saturday night he is a quality back.
Will Proctor only attempted eight passes and completed five, one of which was a beautiful 34-yard touchdown toss to Chansi Stuckey. Bowden said after the game that Proctor has been given a lot of responsibility in terms of
checks, and he appeared to handle it really well. Seldom did Clemson
appear to be in the wrong call.
Cullen Harper looked both shaky and promising. I thought he held the ball too long on a bootleg in which he overthrew Thomas Hunter, but he also hit Alex Pearson for a two-yard touchdown on fourth down with a pass that looked like a laser.
Tribble Reese has made very good progress in practice since the beginning of the season according to some of the coaches, but it was hard to truly judge his abilities in his first meaningful action. He attempted just three passes with one being a deep ball on his first play, and the other a swing pass to Paul Macko.
As mentioned, Pearson had a reception for his first career touchdown, and he continued to block extremely well. His emergence as a blocker has greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the offense and enabled him to garner a lot of playing time for a guy that some thought may fit into a position on either side of the ball.
The starting line was as effective as they have ever been as a unit. Their maturation has been extremely impressive over the last few weeks after struggling with run blocking at times early on.
For those that truly understand the zone blocking scheme and the continuity it requires among the entire front, the last couple of weeks has been a thing of beauty. Not only have they done of good job of helping sustain blocks before moving to the second level, their steps and movement have been nearly impeccable.
Some of the reserves such as Christian Capote, Chris McDuffie, and Thomas Austin looked good and may see more time in meaningful situations as the year progresses. The only letdown with the reserves is not in ability as much as it is a lack of cohesiveness. As a group they do not move as well as the starters, but that takes time. It will come.
By no means is Louisiana Tech an offensive juggernaut, but they have historically been a pretty good offensive unit. To hold them scoreless over
79 plays, with a large number of freshmen and sophomores receiving a ton of playing time, says a lot about how far Vic Koenning has brought his unit.
The Bulldogs twice had first-and-goal opportunities from the six-yard line and could not come away with points in eight plays.
Gaines Adams and Phillip Merling again played as if they are the best defensive end tandem in the league. Both created a ton of havoc as the Tigers notched four sacks and five hurries. Youngsters Ricky Sapp and Jamie Cumbie each got in on the action as they both tallied their first career sacks.
The interior guys did a good job of stuffing the middle and forcing things to the outside as Tech managed just 33 yards on 29 carries. Considering all of the major contributors other than Donnell Clark are sophomores and freshmen, this unit has really been impressive the last few weeks.
Antonio Clay had another good game and is shaping up to be one of the better linebackers in a long line of Clemson defenders. There is no question the move back inside has provided him with an increased comfort level.
Nick Watkins made a fabulous break on a ball after taking a great drop, and picked off his first pass of the year on his way to his first career touchdown. I also thought he tackled as well as he has since he has been a Tiger.
Courtney Vincent, Kavell Conner, Jeremy Campbell, and Josh Miller all looked good. Vincent picked up his first career interception on a key fourth-down play, and Campbell continues to impress me with his speed.
I still have not been able to figure out why Kevin Alexander did not receive much time, if any, at linebacker. He played sparingly in the Florida Atlantic game, and I thought he looked very instinctive and showed good speed for a guy his size.
Chris Chancellor made his second start opposite Duane Coleman after C.J.
Gaddis moved back to safety, although Gaddis did take a few reps at corner.
Crezdon Butler recorded his first two picks and remained very physical in run support. He did have a late break on a ball that was eventually called back because of a penalty, but made a sure tackle to keep it from going for a big gain. Both he and Chancellor again looked good.
Chris Clemmons is quietly playing his way into possible honorable mention All-ACC honors at the least. He is a very sure tackler and has done a good job of quarterbacking the secondary in Michael Hamlin’s absence.
Roy Walker surprisingly got a lot of time at the other safety. It is not that I thought Walker has played all that bad. In fact, he has really surprised me. I just thought entering the game that Chris Russell has looked pretty good at that position.
Haydrian Lewis continues to try to work his way out of the doghouse with his limited opportunities. He made a great break on pass break-up that prevented a big gain.
I will cover the only two bright spots first.
Jacoby Ford took Clemson’s only kickoff return 94 yards for a touchdown to open the second half. He finally looked like a true return man by taking turning on the jets as he raced up the middle of the field then to the Clemson sidelines without being touched. It was good to seem him shake the hesitation that has plagued both him and Spiller in earlier contests.
Although not needed, Spiller threw a great block as Ford raced up the sidelines. The great thing about the block is it occurred about 35 yards downfield, and he made sure he got his head and shoulders in front of the defender to avoid a penalty.
Cole Chason was the other positive with two punts for a 51-yard average and a long of 54 yards. He had excellent hang time and the coverage on both kicks was outstanding. So good, in fact, that Duane Coleman was flagged for a 15-yarder because he leveled the return man a split second before he had a chance to field the punt.
Now for the bad – the very bad.
Clemson’s kickoff coverage unit reverted back to their old ways. They gave up 148 yards on five returns, with a couple of them being very close to going for much bigger gains.
The most alarming aspect was how the Tech return men were able to take at least two kicks across the face of the coverage and up the far side of the field. That tells me the defenders are not doing a good job of maintaining their lane responsibilities while constricting the coverage.
And has seemingly been the case all year; Jad Dean is still having difficulty establishing a kickoff routine. Only one of his kicks was deep enough to keep the Bulldogs from coming out. Another was a miserable looking line-drive hook that appeared to be the result of Dean trying too hard.
He also had another extra point blocked. I have not been able to watch a replay so I have to rely on what the coaches said, which is Jad had a low trajectory.
Again, the theme with the kicking problems seems to have one constant – Jad Dean. He is lucky the kicking woes have only cost Clemson one victory. He better improve or Clemson will have another hit in the loss column much sooner than anyone would like.
Ford and Spiller both muffed punts that were recovered by Louisiana Tech.
Bowden later said he can live with such mistakes because they were made by freshmen. I honestly find that hard to believe.
I think Bowden was saying that merely in an attempt to keep those two from getting down. No coach wants to see that because it is essentially a 45-yard turnover that can drastically change the scope of a close game.
It is great having their big play potential back there, but it may not be worth the risk. Ford has now fumbled two muffed punts and Spiller has looked shaky on a few. Give me a guy that will securely field a punt and possibly pick up a few yards here or there over a big play guy that may just as easily turn it over or let one roll 25 yards.
In their defense, it seems as if Clemson has not been able to block a gunner all year. The Tigers even tried doubling a couple of times Saturday with little success. That is unacceptable. Any time you double a gunner, he should either be forced to the sideline, or driven to release so far inside that he essentially takes himself out of the play.
It was a very solid performance by the starters and reserves. Regardless of the competition, such gaudy offensive numbers along with a shutout signals everyone is dialed in and performing well.
A lot of credit should be given to the staff and the seniors for having the team ready to play. Getting up for a second consecutive blowout against a much lesser opponent can sometimes be a monumental task for a team entering its fifth game.
There is still a lot left to prove with seven games remaining on the schedule, but Saturday night was a very good step in the right direction because another mental hurdle was cleared. More important than the big numbers, and experience many guys picked up, was the momentum and confidence boost attained heading into the Wake Forest game.