Roy Martin: Postgame Analysis

by - Correspondent -
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"It was a conference win against a nationally-ranked opponent. So it was big in those regards. But it was also big in that I think this team learned something about themselves." That is what Tommy Bowden had to say about the victory.

It is hard to disagree.

What they learned on Saturday was how to win. There were so many times they could have folded. And just when it looked like they would, something or someone took control of a team that many said did not have the heart and motivation to win a game they were supposed to lose.

They showed signs of this two weeks ago against Maryland. Instead of quitting after quickly going down 14-0, Clemson fought hard enough to make a game of it. Once backed into a corner, they decided to come out throwing punches of their own. Unfortunately, they were not connecting.

They connected against the Cavs.

The knockout punch was a sweet one for the players, coaches, and fans who remember Billy McMullen’s catch from two years ago. His reception with one second left was nearly identical in every aspect. Maybe the only difference was his was made in regulation and on the right side of the field.

Not only did the Tigers show they may finally be figuring out how to win, they showed they are developing somewhat of an attitude along the way. They wanted everyone to know it as they came down The Hill. Having felt challenged by the Cavs as they tauntingly stood in the end zone, Clemson ran onto the field and let it be known whose house it was. The refs were so shocked by this sign of life that they did what they always do when they are dumbfounded – they threw a flag.

It happened again in the first half when Bobby Williamson and Cliff Harrell nearly drove a Virginia defensive back through the exit at Gate 5. Even though the nearest official did not have his whistle in his mouth and, therefore, could not blow it, the two players were flagged for unnecessary roughness. What should have been a 1st and goal at the 4 resulted in a 1st and 10 at the 19. Luckily, Clemson scored. Still, it was a penalty many were actually glad to see.

And just for good measure, Clemson showed a little attitude in short yardage situations all day long. When on offense, the line and the backs did a good job of gaining the tough yards. There were a couple of occasions when they picked up four or five yards when only one was needed. On defense, Clemson stuffed Virginia on three 3rd and short plays. Not bad considering Virginia led the conference in rushing coming into the game.

With the win, Clemson put themselves in a position to make some noise in the conference. There are a lot of games left, but beating one of the preseason contenders really helps. Florida State is the definite class of the league again this year with Maryland running a distant second. If college football continues the wild course it has taken thus far, it is not unlikely that Clemson could finish as high as third in the conference. One or two big upsets and they could somehow end up in second.

Of course, any talk of final standings is senseless at this point. Clemson needs to continue focusing on getting better. The win was a great one, but they do not have much time to enjoy it. The upcoming short week means practice on Sunday, which could actually be a positive. Instead of having a day off to kill the momentum, the players get right to work on the Wolfpack game plan. Everyone is ready to get back on the field as soon as possible after a big win.


Clemson’s offense was as balanced as it can be on Saturday. They rushed the ball 46 times and had 45 attempts through the air. The ground game finally came to life as Yusef Kelly led an attack that racked up 196 yards. The bruiser notched his first significant playing time of the year while carrying the ball 25 times for 88 yards.

The best thing about his performance was he always seemed to gain positive yards and move the pile. There were many times in which he looked like he would take a loss only to have the ball spotted for a two or three yard gain as the pile cleared. It is clear he is not the most explosive back available, but it is hard to keep him off the field. It is as if the line relaxes when he is in there because they know he will make them look good. Everyone just seemed to play better with Yusef in the game.

Duane Coleman offers a nice change of pace and did some good things. Most notably, he stepped up as a solid receiver out of the backfield. He had a couple of big grabs. What may have been the most overlooked part of his game on Saturday was his hustle.

Everyone knows he had the fumble recovery and run on the near sack. What some do not realize is that Coleman’s man is the one who caused the fumble. Thankfully, Duane never gave up even though he was beaten. That is the only reason he was in a position to scoop up the ball. He also did a tremendous job of getting down field when the wide receivers caught the ball. He could consistently be seen 20 or so yards downfield looking to take out a potential tackler.

Charlie turned in another solid performance, but seemed to be a little off. Missing some practice because of the foot injury or the injury itself may have caused some problems. For whatever reason, he just did not seem like his normal self. His accuracy was not always dialed in, and he seemed somewhat tentative at times. The good thing is that he began to settle into a groove in the second half and came through when it mattered the most.

The criticism is not meant to take away from his performance. He has spoiled the fans and coaches in the last four games. It is almost a let down if he does not throw for 300 plus. He played well, but not as well as he is capable of playing. It has to excite fans to know that the offense was pretty successful even though its leader was not clicking on all cylinders.

The line played better and deserves some credit. Charlie had ample time to throw most of the day. A few of the sacks and/or hurries were on account of the backs not delivering solid blocks. As for the running game, the line also opened some good running lanes most of the day. Granted, there were not many gaping holes that most backs dream of, but the linemen gave Kelly enough room to allow his bruising style of running to take over.

The most telling sign of improvement was the short yardage situations. The offensive line literally manhandled Virginia's defensive front on some of the 3rd and short plays. Chad Jasmin has 3 carries for 15 yards. Anytime your short yardage back can average 5 yards per carry, you have to be doing something right.

The wide receivers played well once again. Michael Collins and Curtis Baham stepped up and made a couple of very key catches to help keep drives going. The absence of Currie took away much of the deep threat, so Charlie went back to his possession passes. When he was forced to scramble, they did a good job of coming off their routes and getting open.

Youngblood made some very key catches throughout the game with the game winner easily being the biggest. All of the talk of him pushing off is ridiculous. He and Winborne battled for the ball and he came out on top. Some media outlets went as far to put a picture on the front page of their sports section that showed Winborne literally hanging onto Youngblood as the ball arrived. Yet, they will lead you to believe Youngblood shoved him completely out of the play. The media is trying to make something out of nothing.

You still cannot say enough for Tony Elliott. He is a blue-collar type of player that comes through when called upon. He came through with another big catch on 3rd down. He also led a unit in one category that was nonexistent last year – blocking. The wide receivers really got after it and are growing more comfortable with the roles when they do not have the ball.

Overall, the offense was solid. The play calling was much better for a majority of the game. Hamilton’s early run was a great way to set up the pass to Youngblood later in the 4th quarter. They finally ran a play off the wide receiver screen out of the 3 wide receiver- stacked-set. It was wide open early in the route, but Charlie did not pull the trigger. Maybe the best call was the fade to Youngblood. The coaches seemed to have been waiting for press man coverage on the goal line all year and wasted no time calling the route once they saw it.


Virginia came into the game leading the conference in rushing. They all but abandoned the run after Clemson all but shut them down in the first half. The front four contained a running game that was averaging over 180 yards per contest. To have done it without starting end Khaleed Vaughn and J.J. Howard made such a feat even more impressive. (Side note: Howard was clearly held on the play in which he was hurt. What is sad is his career looks to be over at this point and all Ron Cherry could do was simply watch as J.J. was taken down.)

Moe Fountain and Vontrell Jamison really stepped up. Gaines Adams showed some flashes of being a great player, but he has not reached a level of consistency that pleases the coaches. He does have the speed to be a holy terror on 3rd and long and should see more action in those situations. It also appeared that Charles Bennett made the move from linebacker back to defensive end, and provided some quality snaps as the starters took a break. Losing Howard really hurts, but the guys behind him are pretty good athletes and should fill in adequately.

Leroy Hill is quickly becoming one of the better linebackers in the conference. What he lacks in size he makes up for with speed and good angles. His third down stop in overtime was as big as it gets. Hats off to John Leake. I have criticized him for much of the year, but he played a good game. He, too, had his fair share of big plays on Saturday and played a big part in making Virginia a one-dimensional offense.

David Dunham and Anthony Waters logged some quality snaps in relief roles. Dunham seems to have dealt with the transition just fine. Eric Sampson’s absence meant more playing time for Lionel Richardson and Tramaine Billie. Both players are very inexperienced, but filled in admirably. Billie is going to be a special player once he gets used to the position and gets some reps under his belt.

When talking about the secondary, everyone immediately thinks Justin Miller. Miller is an integral part of the defense and had another solid game on Saturday. However, the real star of the defensive backfield through six games is Jamaal Fudge.

The sophomore from Jacksonville has quietly been one of the most solid performers on the team to date. He has delivered big hit after big hit while being solid against the run and the pass. His hit on Virginia tight end Heath Miller in the back of the end zone forced an incomplete pass. It was arguably the biggest play of the game for the Tiger defense.

Travis Pugh and Tye Hill also played solidly. Hill notched the first interception of his career to thwart what could have been a possible game winning field goal attempt. The defensive backs as a group kept everything in front of them and never gave up many big plays. They limited the number of yards after the catch by making good breaks on the ball and tackling well.

Overall, the defense looked like a machine in the first half. Michael Dean Perry spoke to the team last week and he must have offered some words of advice, as Virginia was rendered totally helpless for the first 30 minutes and give up its attempt to establish the run. The Virginia staff deserves praise for making some changes at halftime and putting points on the board in the 3rd quarter.

Lovett appeared to have gotten a little too predictable. He blitzed on nearly every 3rd down in the quarter and Virginia took advantage of it with screens, quick hitters to the backs, and play action throw backs to the tight end. To make matters worse, Clemson could not get any pressure on Schaub. To his credit, the Clemson defensive coordinator adjusted in the fourth and the Tigers were able to force a couple of punts.

The defense made a statement with its performance. Giving up 27 points is not a good thing but they played well when they had to. The third down stops were big all game long. Their ability to force Virginia to throw the ball nearly every play in the second half made it easier for the defense to settle in during the 4th quarter. There is a lot left to work on, but their effort will get them places for now.


Special teams nearly cost Clemson the game.

For starters, the Tigers missed another easy scoring opportunity when they did not convert what should have been an easy field goal. Not putting points on the board is bad enough. The side effects could potentially be worse. The inability to make field goals this year may affect play calling and decision making in the future.

The normally reliable kickoff coverage team gave up a big return on Virginia's final scoring drive of regulation that made their attempt to tie the game much easier. They successfully go the ball across midfield. That took a lot of pressure off their offense considering they had nearly three minutes of clock and all three timeouts. Kicking the ball deep for a touchback should have been a given at that point. Either the coaches need to reassess some things or Dean has to work on getting the ball deep in crucial situations.

The punt team had some very close calls and had one that was partially blocked. The scheme utilized this year is somewhat risky, but it does allow much better coverage. The Tigers regularly had five guys around the return man. Brian Carr delivered a monstrous blow in which he was flagged for hitting the returner after he had signaled for a fair catch. Carr needs to deliver that blow every chance he gets. It was not an obvious signal by the returner and the flag should have never been thrown.

Clemson’s return units never got much of a shot at doing anything. Most teams will probably continue to kick away from Miller and Hamilton on kickoffs and punts.


A win is a win. Clemson played well enough to earn the victory and they did just that. There seemed to be a lot of promising signs coming from a team that could have easily been down after a tough loss at Maryland. The running game did not exactly set the world on fire but it improved tremendously. Yusef Kelly was the spark they apparently needed. He gained the tough yards that have been missing most of the year.

The defense was solid for three of four quarters. Their first half performance was as good as a Clemson defense has looked in years. They were caught off guard by Virginia's change in philosophy during the 3rd quarter, but recovered just in time to save the day. Considering three starters didn’t dress out and a fourth was hurt during the second series, one has to be excited about their performance. They are quietly establishing themselves as one of the better defenses in Tigertown in quite some time.

The momentum established after such a victory will be needed if they are to continue their winning ways against N.C. State. The coaches and players must find a way to successfully channel all of the enthusiasm. More than anything, the Virginia victory should serve as a motivator. It should make the team hungry. Too many times in the past Clemson has had a big win only to suffer a let down the following week because they did not look like they wanted it. That cannot happen this week or all that was gained against Maryland and Virginia will be lost.

For now, the maturation process continues. Whether or not they are ready to take the next step will be determined Thursday night.

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