It is much easier to lose to a team when they actually beat you up and down the field. Being able to walk away saying the better team won means fans, players, and coaches do not have as much to lament and do not leave with that ‘what could have been’ feeling.
Such was the case two weeks ago in Blacksburg.
Last week was a much different. Clemson could have and should have won. As a result, everyone from players to fans seems to have been in a funk all week.
Wake’s win over BC only made the misery harder to handle. Had Clemson won, they would be in the driver’s seat for the Atlantic division title.
Instead, the Tigers are now playing for nothing more than pride and a shot at a decent bowl. Considering all of the expectations and hype surrounding the program after the Georgia Tech win, the worry now is the players have thrown in the towel because they feel there is nothing left for which to play.
Chuck Amato has focused a majority of his recruiting efforts in South Florida and his defense has benefited, as five of his starters are from the Sunshine State. The Pack is a very athletic and talented bunch.
State’s defensive philosophy matches up very well against Clemson considering the way the Tigers have played in recent weeks. They play a ton of man defense and like to load the box against teams that run the ball, essentially making the opposing quarterback and his receivers win the game.
Linebacker Patrick Lowery is one of the top tacklers in the league and tackle Tank Tyler may be the best lineman the Tigers have faced this year other than BC’s B.J. Raji. Their starting front seven is the biggest unit in the ACC.
Three of their four secondary players are returning starters. All four are extremely physical and play both the run and pass equally as well. The corners do a good job of jamming receivers at the line and are speedy enough to run with Clemson’s receivers.
As Dustin Fry said last week, the book is out on Clemson’s offense. Shut down the run and make Will Proctor win the game. Two teams have tried it and both have been successful.
Proctor looked like a guy trying to learn the position last week instead of a guy who spent four years waiting for his chance. Proctor admitted this week that he and Spence have been working on his mechanics because they have been shaky at times.
That is the greatest indicator of how poorly he has played and how shaken his confidence has been. Fifth year seniors should not have to worry about their mechanics.
Clemson had success running the ball last year but that was with a threat at quarterback. State will commit more people to stopping the run this year, which will create more opportunities for Proctor to make plays.
I think Spence will utilize more runs for Proctor this week simply because they will be there. If Proctor can make a few plays with his feet early on, it should loosen up the defense and help him regain some confidence.
I also think Spence will employ a number of trick plays this week. Because their secondary is so aggressive against the run, Clemson should get some shots at big plays if they are able to pull off a few tricks.
The folks who had harsh words for Vic Koenning after the Maryland game are complete morons or fans of a team other than Clemson…possibly both.
Koenning’s defense has played extremely well all year and kept Clemson in nearly every close game they have had over the last two seasons. With the exception of just a few plays last week, they played lights out and gave the Tigers a chance to win despite the offense not picking up a touchdown on four trips inside the red zone.
State offensive coordinator Marc Trestman installed a west coast offense last season that is similar to Spence’s in that he uses a lot of formations and shifts to keep the defense guessing. He utilizes a lot of high percentage passes that have worked well for freshman quarterback Daniel Evans.
One thing Trestman does well is mix in a lot of passes that attack the middle of the field. That has been the weakest point of Clemson’s coverage this season and one he will surely focus on Saturday afternoon.
He has two good backs in Andre Brown and Toney Baker. Although they are very different from Clemson’s combo of Davis and Spiller, they are just as effective. Both backs have great speed but are better power runners than the Tigers’ tandem.
Evans has looked great and very average at times. He seems to operate at his best when the chips are down and he has that gunslinger mentality. His inexperience has caused him to take some chances you do not want to see in a quarterback. At times they have paid off and at times they have hurt the offense.
The Pack has wide receivers that are talented and a tight end that can be a weapon in the passing game but they are not the type of guys that can take over a game. My guess is Koenning will take away the running game and force Evans to make plays.
He will give up the underneath stuff in the passing game and force State to sustain drives. The more plays they have to make each drive, the more chances Evans has to make a mistake.
State is also one of the most penalized teams in the conference, so putting them in first, second, and third and long situations will force them out of their comfort zone.
Kicker/punter John Deraney is one of eight guys in the country that handles both duties. He excels at neither but is more than capable. He has made eight of his 12 field goals and averages 38.5 yards per punt.
Darrell Blackman and Andre Brown are very good return men. Blackman is averaging over 31 yards per kick return and has one touchdown this year. He also has one punt return for a touchdown and is averaging over 10 yards per attempt.
Because Jad Dean has been hampered with a pulled hamstring, the Tigers have been forced to go with Cole Chason on kickoffs. Chason does not have a strong enough leg to take shots at the end zone. Combine that with the fact Blackman is such a good return man and I think you will see more directional kickoffs this week.
The other thing to watch is how Clemson handles State’s pressure. They have done a very good job of blocking kicks over the last few years and they will definitely take their shots Saturday.
There have been a few reports of dissension within the team this week. Courtney Vincent to into a shouting match with Vic Koenning after last week’s game and some of the defensive players have confronted Will Proctor about his ineffectiveness as a quarterback and leader.
With a lot of Clemson’s preseason goals and hopes now out the window, how they handle the current adverse conditions will be a big factor in how they play this week. The recipe is there for them to experience a late season collapse that Bowden has managed to avoid in recent years.
I am through trying to figure out exactly what this team will do. Just when I was beginning to finally buy into what they were doing as a team and thought they had turned the corner, they dropped one at home they should have taken.
Sadly enough for Clemson fans, it seems this is a team that does not handle prosperity very well.
The seniors on this team have put a lot into the program and have notched some big wins over the years, especially when they were backed into a corner. I will give them the benefit of the doubt this week and predict they will once again get back into the win column.
It will not be pretty and they will struggle at times, especially offensively, but State will make too many mistakes in the end as Clemson wins 27-23.