After watching bits and pieces of North Carolina’s games against Rutgers and Virginia Tech, I thought they would be able to move the ball against Clemson. I thought Ronnie McGill was the type of back, with his bruising north/south running style, who would give Clemson trouble. I thought their wide receivers would take advantage of a young Clemson secondary.
Maybe I was a little bearish because so many fans were predicting a blowout and I found it hard to believe the seniors who said this is a different team because of the leadership and cohesiveness was unlike anything they have ever experienced. That is the same mantra teams seem to spew when faced with adversity.
After all, Clemson has earned a reputation over the years of being a team that has a letdown or two every year. I guess I needed Clemson to actually prove they could follow a big win with a decisive victory before I actually believed it.
As bad as North Carolina is – and they are awful – I guess I never really bought into the fact they are one of the worst teams in the conference.
Maybe Clemson played better than they have in some time. Maybe North Carolina played as bad as they have all year.
Maybe it was a little of both.
Whatever the reason, Clemson looked as good as they have in…well, in quite some time. North Carolina looked like a team that may be lucky to may a game of it with Duke.
Excuses and justifications aside, I was wrong. I was very wrong. I guess it is a good thing I do not gamble and those that do pay no attention to what I write.
The film from Saturday’s game could be used as a training video for offense.
The Tigers had drive of 90, 82, and 72 yards. It was at least the second game of the year in which they had three scoring drives of over 70 yards.
If there was any doubt how they would attack the Tarheels coming into the game, those questions were answered on the first drive when Clemson marched 90 yards by simply going right at the defense.
No smoke and mirrors. No trickeration. They simply took it to North Carolina. And they did not stop the rest of the day.
James Davis was a fantasy league superstar by rushing for four touchdowns and 95 yards. That is a great game for most players. He basically did it in a half.
C.J. Spiller, Reggie Merriweather, and Demerick Chancellor picked up a lot of carries throughout the day as the game got out of hand and Davis found a comfortable spot on the sideline.
Spiller recorded his first two rushing touchdowns of his career on the day.
I thought he missed some cuts, but that is to be expected from a player who was devastating high school defenses this time last year. Specifically, I thought he missed a cut heading toward the West End Zone that would have allowed him to easily score.
I was really impressed by how hard Spiller ran. There were a number of instances where he literally carried the pile while picking up and extra three to four yards. We have heard about his speed since last recruiting season, but his ability to gain that extra couple of yards should not be overlooked.
Merriweather was Merriweather. Hopefully his ankle injury is not too serious and he will be back soon enough because he is an important part of this offense. My one negative concerning Reggie is he missed a big cut on the play before Proctor overthrew Hunter in the end zone. If Reggie would have cut it back to the right, he could have run to Westminster.
Chancellor made the most of his carries by showing a burst of speed, an ability to fight through tackles, and good hands out of the backfield. The fact that he is the fourth guy listed on the depth chart is a testament to how deep the Clemson backfield really is. He would be on the field a ton at many schools. His contributions will increase greatly in the future.
The least talked about back of the bunch has been Alex Pearson. He continued his trend of having some tremendous blocks. The fullback/tight end/h-back has been an integral part of the offense this season because he has led the way on many occasions.
The biggest thing I saw from the backs was their blitz pickups. Chancellor and Spiller are the smallest of the bunch, but they did a good job of sticking their noses in their long enough to give the quarterbacks time.
A lot was not asked of Will Proctor and it showed statistically. He had no touchdowns passes and one interception on a pass that was overthrown. He also overthrew a wide open Thomas Hunter in the end zone.
There are times when Proctor seems to lock on to his receivers and others where he does a good job of making his progression reads. I thought Saturday he did more of the former than the latter. Still, he showed great touch on some passes and did a good job of guiding the offense.
Because the ground game was the main emphasis, the receivers did not receive a lot of opportunities. A few did a good job of blocking downfield while the others could have done much better. The best thing for them is I do not remember any drops.
Thomas Hunter had a career day with two catches for 71 yards. He showed surprisingly good speed for a kid his size as well as soft hands on his big gainer. Durrell Barry logged more snaps, proving the coaches are getting more comfortable with him, and Michael Palmer continues to improve.
By far the brightest spot for the offense was the play of the line. They have struggled with their run blocking this year, but seemed to tidy up that segment of their game Saturday. Not only did they allow very little penetration, they made great strides in getting to the second level. Many of the runs that had gone for two and three yards earlier in the season went for eight to twelve yards.
Brad Scott began substituting early and often. Chris McDuffie and Christian Capote were in on the third touchdown drive. McDuffie is slowly but surely improving, and Capote has made great strides. Just eight months ago many questioned if he would ever see the field. Now he is a viable option of one of the tackles needs some relief.
Bobby Hutchinson, Cory Lambert, Jamarcus Grant, Barry Humphries, and Thomas Austin were all on the field for a number of reps.
Austin has been the most impressive of the youngsters so far this season while Lambert has been somewhat of a disappointment. It was hard to gauge Grant because it was his first action of the season after suffering an injury this summer.
I was hard on Barry Richardson in the pregame analysis and his performance Saturday did nothing to change my mind. He is a great left tackle in that he is a mountain in pass protection. His problem is run blocking. He gets lazy at times, is often outmaneuvered in short yardage, and goal line situations.
Roman Fry continues to impress me. He plays with a mean streak and has a good sense of not only what he is supposed to do, but what is expected of those around him. I think he even had a few snaps at center on one of the scoring drives.
If anything, I owe the defense a big apology. Despite all of the inexperience, I did not give them enough credit after their performance against Florida State.
North Carolina had 54 total yards at halftime – two of those yards came via the ground – and racked up over half of their yards on their 80-yard scoring drive against the Clemson reserves. Their quarterbacks were just 7-of-23 and their backs averaged a measly 2.5 yards per carry on 22 rushes.
The front four was dominant. When they were not making tackles, they were creating enough havoc for the offensive line to free up the linebackers for kill shots.
Dorrell Scott had his best game of the season. He worked his way through a double team for a sack just a few plays after running down one of the North Carolina ball carriers towards the sideline. More importantly, he played wide open all day.
Gaines Adams and Phillip Merling proved just how potent they can be when they both come to play. North Carolina had no answer for Adams as he and Merling continually collapsed the pocket and forced Cam Sexton to either rush throws or make bad decisions.
I, along with many others, criticized Adams after the Boston College game, and rightfully so. In the two games since he has stepped up his level of play, and given those that thought he could be a top draft pick reason, to believe he will.
Ricky Sapp and Jamie Cumbie have shown flashes all year and Saturday was no different. Both are excellent pass rushers because of their speed, but they continue to struggle against the run. That aspect of their game will improve drastically as they gain more strength.
Antonio Clay, Nick Watkins, and the rest of the linebackers simply had fun Saturday. They were able to operate with very little resistance thanks to the front and it showed. They looked as if they were playing in some type of hyper mode only found in video games.
Some of the younger guys like Kavell Conner, Josh Miller, Courtney Vincent, and Jeremy Campbell picked up a lot of valuable reps. I was very impressed with their speed, but more impressed with their aggressiveness.
Sure they may some bad reads and even appeared to miss a few assignments, but even when they were wrong, they were doing it wide open. I vividly remember one play in which Courtney Vincent was leveled on a block near the Clemson sideline. Instead of lying there trying to shake off the cobwebs, he popped up like a spring and ended up nearly making the tackle just four yards down the field.
Coaches hate to see any mistakes, but understand that is part of the learning process for young players. What really excites them is to see them make those mistakes at mach speed. The staff can correct the mistakes, but the level of intensity the younger guys showed cannot be taught.
The secondary has far and away been the biggest surprise. Chris Clemmons has quietly become a stalwart who may be the best tackler on the team. He picked up his first interception of his career and had a thunderous hit on North Carolina’s first drive that set the tone for the game.
Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor continue to impress. Butler hits like a linebacker, although I would like to see him do a better job of wrapping up.
Chancellor reminds me of the cartoon character Mighty Mouse. He is tiny but packs a powerful punch, and is not scared to mix it up with the big boys.
Haydrian Lewis has been in the proverbial doghouse most of they year, but had a nice play on a deep ball in the second half. The ability is there and he has the size to be a very dominant corner. He just needs to get it together mentally and the defensive backfield will have another viable option at corner.
Again, I cannot give the defense enough credit in how they have dealt with adversity. They are missing three of their four best players but have seemingly not skipped a beat.
Aside from North Carolina’s 80-yard scoring drive in the second half, they never came close to sniffing the end zone. And if you take away that one drive, the Tarheels mustered a mere 16 yards in the second half with much of their first unit on the field while Clemson freely rotated their reserves.
Jad Dean deserves a big pat on the back.
He was called out by Tommy Bowden earlier in the week, and I also had harsh words for him. He responded by improving his get off times, drilling all seven extra points, and connecting on a field goal.
He was still a little inconsistent on his kickoffs and even duck hooked one when it looked like he tried to kill it. If he can get a few of those little things fixed, he will once again be one of the best kickers in the country.
Cole Chason had one unofficial punt because a penalty gave the ball back to the Tigers. It was a beauty that was downed at the one-yard line by Ray Ray McElrathbey. It was the second time in two home games Clemson did not have to punt, a streak Tommy Bowden would like to extend.
The kickoff coverage unit did an excellent job against a team that had a good average coming into the game. Guys either out ran blocks or simply fought through them to shrink the running lanes. Sadat Chambers’ forced fumble dashed any hopes North Carolina may have had and essentially ended the game.
Brad Scott deserves a lot of credit. The offensive line play was tremendous. They took a lot of pressure off of Rob Spence. It seemed like the toughest decision he had to make all day was whether to run right or left.
Vic Koenning turned in another gem. He thoroughly confused Cam Sexton with a number of different looks, stunts, and blitzes.
On a third-and-six drive on North Carolina’s second possession, he dropped nine and rushed two. Sexton was so baffled that he had to throw it away after nearly being sacked by Rashaad Jackson. How often does a two-man rush nearly get a sack?
The game plans on both sides of the ball were very solid and the staff did a good job of getting the young guys in there early and often. These are the games that make coaches look brilliant.
The only real negative was the confusion that was apparent throughout the second half. Clemson wasted three timeouts early on and tried to call a fourth. The staff needs to resolve those issues with the younger players.
It was complete and utter domination on the part of Clemson. The game was over by the end of the first quarter and Clemson could have easily scored 73 points had they left their starting offense in the game.
They may have also logged a shutout had the starting defense been in during North Carolina’s scoring drive. Had Vic Koenning wanted to pad his stats rather than give his younger guys playing time, it is safe to say North Carolina would have been held to double digits in total offense.
The most promising aspect for Clemson fans is the fact the Tigers were finally able to answer the call after a big game. I questioned just how good the leadership was on this team, but left very impressed. They have followed up the heart wrenching Boston College loss with a huge road win and a blowout at home.
If the Tigers can maintain the attitude and focus they displayed on Saturday, the 2006 could end up being a special one.