Roy Martin: Clemson vs. NCSU Postgame Analysis
There are two words to sum up the loss to N.C. State – missed opportunities.
The Tigers missed a big opportunity to gain some precious ground in the conference standings. A win would have put them in a good position to finish in the top three and possibly higher with a couple of upsets throughout the league.
The Tigers missed out on a chance to put together two victories in a row against teams that were favored. It has been a long time since Clemson has built that kind of momentum.
Clemson also missed out on an opportunity to get a big road victory. Unfortunately, the shot to do just that was not an easy one. The last three games have come against teams expected to finish at or near the top of the conference – Maryland, UVA, and NCSU – and occurred during a 12-day span. Two of the three were on the road.
Why did they miss out on these opportunities?
Well, it is quite simple. They did not step up and make the plays when they had to.
Fans can lambaste Tommy Bowden and his staff all they want. There is no denying there were some very questionable calls throughout the game. But when you break it all down, the players made the mistakes that lost the game. Dropped passes, missed assignments, and penalties absolutely devastated the Tigers and their game plan.
Derrick Hamilton had three big drops and ran into an offensive lineman in the open field on a reverse. Kelvin Grant also had a big drop on what should have been a Clemson 1st down. Defensively, Clemson committed a number of penalties that kept NCSU drives alive or aided their field position. Two fouls resulting in 15-yard penalties occurred on the drive in which NCSU booted what turned out to be the game winning field goal. The last gave them a first down after Clemson had successfully stopped them on 3rd and seven.
There were numerous other plays in which the Clemson players did not execute. Those are just a few that immediately jump out at you. If the players come through in just one or two of those instance Clemson may be celebrating a big win. Instead, they have to listen to the “what if” scenarios and find a way to get over a heartbreaking loss.
It seems harsh to place much if not all of the blame on the players, but that is the brutal reality of this situation. Granted, the coaches could have called things differently at times and made some adjustments. That can almost always be said about any game plan - win or lose. What it all comes down to is whether or not the players were put in a position to win the game.
The players had chances to win against State.
I have heard John McKissick - the winningest coach in the history of the game of football - speak on many occasions. During some of these speeches and talks he has spoken about how games are won. He says winning is not about Xs and Os. It is about Johnnys and Joes.
McKissick is a humble man that does not revel in the praise heaped upon him by everyone from Joe Fan to the national media. Maybe he uses that saying as a way to deflect much of the praise to his players. Maybe he actually believes it in his heart of hearts. Either way, it was applicable to the game Thursday night.
Looking at the bright side of things, Clemson displayed a lot of heart and attitude for the third game in a row. It has been years since that took place.
Down 17-6 early in the fourth and having already missed out on some scoring opportunities, the Tigers could have stuck their heads in the sand. Instead, they fought their way back into the game with a bruising scoring drive and consecutive three-and-outs on defense.
This team has definitely come together and believes in themselves and their abilities.
The good is that Clemson had success moving the ball much of the night.
The bad is they traded touchdowns for field goals.
Charlie Whitehurst did not put up the same big numbers he has shown the last four or five games. The absence of his top deep threat – Airese Currie – seemed to hurt. As mentioned earlier, the dropped passes were also very costly.
Charlie has been a solid performer and leader. The State game was only his 12th start. What he has done at times is amazing considering his youth and the pressure he feels to carry this team. When you take into account all of the variables like line play and expectations, he has been spectacular.
Still, he has struggled at times and that is to be expected. His accuracy in the last three games has been off and on. It appears that he is sometimes rushing things and not stepping into his throws. That is why some of his balls have been so low.
He will settle in even more as the season progresses. He is too good of an athlete and too sharp mentally to continue making that mistake. Overall, he had a relatively good performance against State.
The backs played well. Clemson had another solid game running the ball. The totals may not have been spectacular, but an average of over 4 yards per carry is pretty good. Yusef Kelly, Duane Coleman, and Chad Jasmin all ran hard and gained some tough yards. They also did a good job of blocking and receiving. Coleman and Jasmin stepped up their level of play when Kelly left the game with an ankle injury.
The line played better than what fans have come to expect. State did apply good pressure at times but that was expected. The guys up front weathered the storm and had a pretty solid performance.
This group has consistently improved throughout the season while rotating a lot of the younger guys in. Roman Fry and Chip Myrick got their first starts last night. Dustin Fry was in on the TD drive. Marion Dukes and Brandon Pilgrim also participated. There is a lot of promise in this group and their progress has been a nice surprise.
The wide receivers may have taken a step back last night. It is not fair to blame the entire group for the drops committed by one or two players but there was more to it than that. The receivers repeatedly did not get to their marks on 3rd and 4th down plays. They seemingly cut their routes short of the 1st down marker all night long.
That is not coaching. They know that is expected of them. Anyone that participates at the collegiate level has heard time after time that they must get past the marker on third down then turn back for the ball.
Enough cannot be said about the drops. They were well thrown balls that had the potential to be big plays by either keeping drives alive or going for big gains. Hamilton was not on his game last night. He just did not show up ready to play. He has to put it behind him. He is a special player who should learn from his mistakes and move on.
Going into the game nearly any fan would have said Clemson wins if they only give up 17 points. Shockingly, the 17 points were too much.
Even though the end result was a loss, the Clemson defense deserves some credit for the way they played last night. They effectively shut down the State running game and limited Phillip Rivers. They showed a lot of attitude in the 4th quarter when they held NCSU to two consecutive three-and-outs with the game on the line.
Clemson had shots to win the game because of its defense.
Rivers and his receivers confused the secondary at times. There is no shame in that. Rivers is an outstanding QB and the NCSU offense does a good job of moving the ball.
Much like the Maryland game, third down situations, specifically third-and-long, killed Clemson. Rivers threw on nearly every third down play. For whatever reason, the secondary and linebackers just could not get a stop. Kudos goes to State for making the plays.
What really hurt is the secondary seemed to play very nonchalantly at times. Whether they were confused or just a little too confident, they made some mistakes that allowed the Wolfpack to keep drives alive and score.
It would have been nice if the front four had gotten more pressure. When is that not the case?
Even so, they played a good game. Rivers was harassed throughout the night as he had his lowest yardage total of the year with 213. McClendon was held in check with only 60 yards. The Wolfpack had only 70 yards rushing as they averaged less than 2 yards per carry.
Trey Tate caused the only turnover when he jarred the ball loose from Rivers. The younger guys filled in nicely for J.J. Howard. Overall, the front four did their job.
The linebackers played well. Their drops into coverage were sometimes not as efficient as they should have been especially on the third and long situations. They need to realize that getting a little extra depth in those instances is okay. The key is to get back deep enough to shut down the intermediate routes while maintaining a position between underneath receivers and the line needed for a first down.
Otherwise, there are not too many complaints to offer about their play.
Aaron Hunt knocked the monkey off of his back and came through for the Tigers. He made three key field goals when the Tiger offense couldn’t convert in the red zone.
Jad Dean also returned to his old form as he boomed kickoffs into the end zone most of the night. When N.C. State did have an opportunity for a return, the coverage team made a great stop around the 15-yard line.
Other than that, there was not much to get excited about from specialist units of either team. There were no big returns, no turnovers, and no blocks.
Clemson did try one trick play by running a reverse on a punt return. It actually looked like it may have been more productive if Hamilton had faked the toss to Coleman and gotten up the field. Of course, it is always easier to see things on TV.
ESPN commentator Lee Corso did not like the call, but he is no longer in coaching for a reason. Bowden was simply trying to make something happen in hopes of providing a spark. There was nothing gained and nothing lost. No big deal.
It was a tough loss under tough circumstance. The last three weeks have been a hard row to hoe for the Tigers. Three games in less than two weeks against quality opponents is no small task.
Despite a 1-2 record in that span, the Tigers have played well enough to win all three games. There have been some critical mistakes in the two losses that could have easily changed the outcome of both games.
What is promising is the attitude this team now has. Their willingness to not give up is a breath of fresh air for a program that has seen its fair share of let downs and poor performances in the last few years. The Maryland and NCSU games would have more than likely been blow outs in the past. When you take into account the humiliating loss to UGA and the possible effects it could have had, it makes the heart this team has displayed even more impressive.
Do not misunderstand my point. I am not saying Clemson should be proud of its moral victories. There is no such.
The point is that Clemson is finally turning the corner. It is not happening as fast as the fans, coaches, and players would like but changes are occurring. Besides the new attitude, there is a lot of young talent that is developing at a nice pace. The younger guys are playing more because they are earning it. That is good.
There are five games left in the season and a lot of good possibilities remain. If the Tigers can bounce back from the loss, there is no telling what can happen. The Duke and UNC games should be wins. Wake and South Carolina will be hard fought contests. Both are on the road but very winnable.
Florida State is the one game in the bunch Clemson is supposed to lose. It is hard to argue Clemson has much of a chance. But, there is no reason to put that game down as a loss at this point. Clemson has the ability to play with the Seminoles if they find some consistency and catch a few breaks. Stranger things have happened.
In reality, Clemson is ahead of where many thought they would be at this point. A victory over Virginia and two close losses against Maryland and NCSU is more than most honest fans would have predicted before the season.
This team has the potential to finish off the season with a nice run. The way they have played the last few weeks leaves no reason to think otherwise. The State loss is going to be a tough one to swallow. Thankfully, the players have an extra day or so to get over it and refocus. This loss will make them better because they know they should have won.
More importantly, they now know they can win.