Roy Martin: Florida State vs. Clemson Postgame Analysis

by - Correspondent -

For a coach that many fans say does not know the first thing about football and is hated by his players, Tommy Bowden did a pretty good of getting his boys to execute a very effective game plan on Saturday night. Clemson earned what could be the biggest regular season victory in the history of the program with a dominating performance over Florida State on Saturday night. Other than allowing a late touchdown, the Tigers completely controlled the game from start to finish. For one night, there was no doubt that Clemson was the better team. The victory could not have come at a better time for the Tigers. Coming off of a humiliating loss to Wake Forest, the players and coaches had a lot to prove. Would they throw in the towel or fight back? Did they have the talent to compete? Could they find a way to not get embarrassed on national TV? Bowden bashers were certain Clemson would be blown out. Sadly enough, some fans actually wanted a blowout. Instead, they were treated to a great atmosphere, a great game, and one of the greatest all-around performances by a Clemson team in many years as the Tigers outplayed and out coached the Noles. OFFENSE Winning the time of possession battle and taking advantage of scoring opportunities are two things all underdogs almost always have to accomplish in order to win. Clemson did both of those on Saturday night. The Tigers managed to neutralize the Florida State speed by using designed runs for Charlie Whitehurst, while hitting the heart of the defense with solid running from Duane Coleman and Chad Jasmin. The much-maligned running game actually looked good as the Tigers used it to work the clock and wear down the Florida State defense. Whitehurst quite arguable delivered his best performance of the year. His numbers may not have been spectacular, but his performance was more than you could ask for from a sophomore quarterback. Other than his lone interception, he made good decisions and looked comfortable in the pocket. And even though no one is ready to proclaim that he is the next Woody Dantzler, Charlie ran the ball well enough to make the defense think twice before they came with all-out pressure. Even though a few wrinkles were added, the offense basically went with the same game plan it has used for much of the season. The difference was they got good execution from all of the position groups. Instead of shooting themselves in the foot with dropped passes, poorly thrown balls, missed blocks, missed cuts, and things of the like, they came through when it mattered the most. Clemson scored on 6 of its 12 drives. When you consider they were trying to kill the clock on the last two possessions and had a turnover at the goal line on another, they were pretty efficient when it came to putting points on the board. There were nine different times Clemson faced a 2nd-and-5 or less. On their other occasions, they faced a 2nd-and-7. That means they did a good job on first down much of the night. That allowed them to operate without feeling a need to press on second down. And with scoring drives of 11, 13, 8, 11, 4, and 9 plays, Clemson showed an ability to sustain drives instead of hoping to capitalize on a big play. The sustained drives were successful because of a good mix of play calling, and they clearly had the Florida State defense frustrated. Looking at it from a devil’s advocate point of view, there were a few mistakes that could have been very costly in a close game. Michael Collins had a drop on a third down pass. Kevin Youngblood probably should have made the catch in the end zone on the first drive. Charlie could have thrown a better ball on the pass that fell just outside of Youngblood’s reach in the end zone. Four field goals are great but you have to find a way to convert at least a couple of those drives into touchdowns. You are looking at a difference of 4 to 16 points on the board by settling for field goals. That will eventually come back to haunt you. Still, the offense had a very good game. The bad merely needs to be pointed out because that is where they need to focus their attention if they are going to improve. Rest assured that the coaches put just as much, if not more, emphasis on the negatives during the film review. DEFENSE It is too bad Levin Kirkland did the sideline reporting for the Wake Forest game. As a member of one of Clemson’s greatest defenses ever, he would have loved doing the radio gig on Saturday night. Witnessing the outstanding effort put forth against the Noles would have given him ample opportunities to reminisce on the air about his playing days. John Lovett and everyone involved with the defense deserve a lot of credit. They did not let the Wake Forest game get them down and beat them twice. Instead, they develop a great scheme that the players executed magnificently. Granted, Chris Rix did not have a stellar performance, but that was part of the plan. They wanted to slow down the running game and put the weight of the offense on Rix’s shoulders. They did more than just slow down Florida State’s running game. They totally disabled it. When it became apparent that the Noles were not going to run the ball, Clemson used good pressure and lots of crowd noise to its advantage as they rattled Rix. To make things even tougher, the defense did a good job of consistently changing and disguising coverages. Look at Leroy Hill’s interception as an example. After bringing Jamaal Fudge on a blitz for two consecutive plays, Lovett decided to bring him a third time. Rix finally picked it up and made what appeared to be a good hot read as he attempted a quick slant. Fortunately for Clemson, Lovett had the defensive ends drop into pass coverage as part of a zone blitz. Rix never saw Khaleed Vaughn, who tipped the pass Hill picked off. And there were other examples. Toure Frances appeared to line up as a nickel-type back in certain situations, which he had not done much of the season. The corners would show press-man coverage, then bail on the snap into zone coverage. At least twice Clemson had defensive ends peel with the running backs as they made stops for little or no gain on swing passes. It is hard to nail down one particular play or player on defense that changed the game. Everyone played well and there were a number of big plays: Fountain’s big third down stop on the first drive, Fudge’s big hit on Jones early in the third quarter, Hill’s pick, Dunham’s fumble forcing sack, and Gaines Adams’ coming out party of sort. The list goes on and on. When you hold a team like Florida State to 11 yards rushing and 250 yards of total offense until their final two drives when the outcome had been decided, there are not very many negatives. You have proven you can play football. Considering how the Tiger defense has performed for a majority of the season, it is easy to argue that their performance against Wake Forest was nothing more than an anomaly. SPECIAL TEAMS Kudos should go to Tommy Bowden for sticking with Aaron Hunt. The senior place kicker has made his last 11 attempts, including 4 on Saturday night. It is further proof that the coaches may actually know what they are doing considering they see the guys every day in practice. Cole Chason had five attempts on the night. His numbers may not have been that good, but they are somewhat misleading. Twice he forced the Noles to start on their own 16-yard line and backed them up to the 9-yard line on another occasion. His other punts covered 40 and 35 yards. Jad Dean kicked well and did what was asked of him. Leon Washington is one of the best return men in the country. The play was to keep the ball away from him or bloop it down there and give the coverage team a chance to make a play. Neither team really made a difference in the return game. It has become clear that most opposing coaches would rather have the ball in Justin Miller’s hands with Derrick Hamilton blocking. It seems like a less risky alternative because Hamilton is not as good of a blocker as Miller. SUMMARY After beating Clemson 54-7 in 2000, Bobby told his son to go out and recruit better players. After watching Saturday night’s performance, it appears Tommy still respects the advice of his old man. Clemson may not be as talented as Florida State but there is no doubt the Tigers have improved tremendously over the last few years. The promising sign is that many of the better athletes on the Tiger squad are freshmen and sophomores. For all of the heat Bowden has caught, he has done a good job of dealing with it. At no point during the week did it appear to be a distraction for the staff or the players. They managed to get over the Wake Forest loss and put the media frenzy aside as they focused on their game plan for the Seminoles. That in and of itself shows Bowden is in control of this team much more so than many seem to think. Saturday night was more than just a win. It was a sign of hope. Many have been down on Bowden, his staff, and this team. Clemson fans have big expectations and expect to win. After suffering losses to Georgia, Maryland, N.C. State, and Wake Forest, many were ready to help Bowden pack up his belongings. There are still those out there that feel that way. There will always be a few. What fans need to realize is that Bowden is slowly getting it done. He has not done it at a pace many would like, but he has done it the right way. The talent level is vastly improved and the future is promising. The defense will return 19 of 22 players next year and the offense will see 18 of 22 returns. Charlie Whitehurst will only be a junior as he looks to plaster his name all over the Clemson record books. If the Tigers can finish out with two more wins, an 8-4 season will be on the books and a trip to the Peach Bowl will be very likely. Recruiting is sure to get a boost seeing as how many of Clemson’s main targets were at the Florida State game and loved the atmosphere. Clemson promised Tommy Bowden facilities when he took the job almost five years ago. To date, his players have not benefited from any of the work that has been done. In terms of player facilities, Clemson is now last in the conference. Fans expect Bowden to compete against schools like Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia Tech, etc. for recruits, but that is hard when those kids see what other schools are doing and have done for their players. The facilities talk is old but meaningful. Clemson has not helped Bowden where he needs it the most. Yet, he has still managed to do a pretty good job when you consider how much everything has changed in the last 5-10 years. Bowden proved Saturday night that he has brought in talent and he knows how to coach. It is time for Clemson to step up to the plate and give the program the facilities it needs and the coach all the backing he could ask for. As long as fans are negative, the program is going to have a dark cloud hanging over it. Enjoy the Florida State win and realize that it is a sign that things are on the up and up. Bowden delivered one of his best coaching performances to date under circumstances in which very few thought he could succeed. He is a good coach. There is no reason whatsoever to run him off now and begin another 5-year plan. His is starting to work just fine.

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