The Temple game served its purpose. The Tigers notched an easy victory and had a chance to play some younger guys, the fans had a chance to finally relax in Death Valley, and the players had a chance to relax on the field.
Clemson was supposed to win big and they did. It was supposed to be a boring game and it was. I am supposed to write a detailed article and I can’t. What is there to say? Everything went about as expected against one of the worst teams in Division I-A.
At least the weather was nice and the crowd was better than expected, at least in my opinion.
The offense had its second consecutive game putting up big numbers. The Tigers have accumulated over 1000 yards in their last two contests while receiving breakout performances from two freshmen – James Davis and Aaron Kelly.
Kelly hauled in the first touchdown of his career on his way to a 155-yard performance. The lanky freshman showed he has the ability free himself on deep passes and the toughness to turn short and intermediate routes into big gains.
Reggie Merriweather filled in as expected in the absence of James Davis. He apparently wanted to make the most of the opportunity, as he hit the hole well and appeared to run even harder than fans have grown accustomed to seeing from him.
Charlie Whitehurst added to his record number of 300-yard games while completing 70% of his passes. He is continuing the trend of accurate passers under Rob Spence, which is what everyone expected coming into the season.
His touchdown to Kyle Browning was one of the prettiest balls he has thrown, while his attempt to throw one away that resulted in an interception was one his ugliest. The latter is a mistake he shouldn’t make. He is too good and too experienced. Chalk it up to not taking a weak opponent seriously, at least for now.
The one criticism I have had of Charlie over the years has been his footwork. Too many times he has attempted a pass without setting his feet. Once again, that was evident on Saturday. Some of his misses were bad and came as a direct result of his footwork. He admitted as much after the game.
Aaron Kelly has already been covered, but the rest of the receivers also played well. Youngsters like Tyler Grisham, Rendrick Taylor, La’Donte Harris, and Andrew Diomande made the most of their opportunities.
The most promising aspect of their performances was how well all of the less experienced receivers continued to block. A perfect example is Harris’ touchdown, which would have never occurred had Taylor not driven his man our of the field of play.
Speaking of blocking, the offensive line did a pretty good job of it. The backs were given some gaping holes and Charlie had a good amount of time all day. Lots of guys saw their most significant action to date, the most notable being Chris McDuffie.
His presence along the defensive front may be missed, especially with the loss of Donnell Clark, but I firmly believe this may have been the best scenario for the long-term. He has not played errorless ball, but his miscues have been more of a result of a lack of experience. His technique and aggressiveness give hope that he will be a solid contributor sooner rather than later.
As for Tommy Bowden’s decision to bench Roman Fry and play Nathan Bennett, who still has to serve his suspension for the last year’s season finale, I think it’s a good decision.
The first reason is you do not want to sit your starting guards for the same game unless you are forced to do so. The players could take that to mean the staff thinks the game is a gimmie. There is no such thing and, as bad as Temple is, they are there to win a game. Secondly, Fry is more versatile. He can play nearly every position along the line, which means it makes more sense to make him available for the Duke game because they figure to be a much tougher opponent.
Overall, the offense was okay. They did convert on five of 12 third down opportunities, but they also missed out on a chance to score inside the red zone and had to settle for three field goals.
A false start negated a touchdown on a drive in which the Tigers settled for three points. The missed field goal came on a drive that stalled out after Clemson ran for a loss, had an incompletion, and was sacked for a three yard loss on three consecutive plays inside Temple’s 20-yard line. They also made it to the Temple 10 on another drive that ended with a field goal.
Those types of missed opportunities will not get it done the rest of the season. The remaining opponents, Duke included, are not going to be as forgiving as Temple.
There was a little bit of everything on Saturday. The good is Clemson registered 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, three turnovers, and nearly recorded its first shutout since the first game of the 2000 season. The bad is they surrendered 15 plays of 10 or more yards and gave up over 300 yards of passing.
Granted, a lot of the numbers Temple put up came after the game was out of reach and the defense admittedly was a little relaxed. Unfortunately, that’s not the attitude you want from your defense. Relax shouldn’t be in their vocabulary. Be it starters or seldom seen reserves, there should never be any let-up on the defensive side of the ball.
Antonio Clay filled in nicely for Anthony Waters as he served his suspension. The true freshman did one thing that every coach likes to see – he played wide open. He had his share of mistakes but they didn’t come without him hitting someone or doing his best to make a play.
His speed was evident on his lone sack, as he lined up over the center then executed a blitz that required him to loop outside of the tackle’s alignment on his way to the quarterback. If he continues to play with such intensity, the coaches will have to find a way to get him on the field more often.
Haydrian Lewis continued his progression as one of the reserve corners with an impressive performance. He gave up a couple of plays that stick out, but only because the coverage was good and the receiver simply made a great catch in each instance.
Michael Hamlin solidified his role as a starter by distancing himself from C.J. Gaddis. Hamlin is simply a much better fit at the position because he more comfortable in coverage and he is a far superior tackler.
The starting defensive line had a very solid game. Dorrell Scott garnered the most significant time he has seen to date. He must have impressed the staff because he is now listed as the starter ahead of Rashaad Jackson, who has arguably been the best interior lineman all year.
The loss of Donnell Clark only depletes a unit plagued by youth and a lack of depth. He was quietly having a good year and was the most athletic of the bunch. Fortunately for Clemson, the impact of his loss should be lessened by the sudden emergence of Scott.
Tackling is still a major concern and one that has the coaches scratching their heads. The inability of a defense as athletic as Clemson’s to tackle is inexplicable. Hit ‘em low, wrap up, and keep your legs driving – it is as simple as that.
C.J. Gaddis blocked the first punt of the year for the Tigers and Jad Dean had another big day despite missing a 42-yarder, which has become something of a chip shot for him.
Kwam Williams was a new face on the punt team. He was lined up as a personal protector and appeared to have done a good job. He, Tyler Grisham, and Aaron Kelly were the only new faces I noticed on special teams.
Grisham was solid on his one kickoff return, but that turned out to be the only opportunity the Owls gave Clemson’s new returners. Aaron Kelly did make a surprise appearance as a punt retuner but only managed one yard after catching the ball in traffic.
Both coverage units had their best day of the season. The kickoff unit only gave up 42 yards on three returns. An average of just 14 yards per return for the remainder of the season would be a huge boost considering teams are averaging more than double that number at this point.
There was not a whole lot to get too excited about nor was there much to cause any concern. Emotions weren’t all that high and the intensity level dropped a bit as the game wore on. Bowden did not like that, but he also understands it was nearly unavoidable given how the season has gone.
Temple was their last chance to get their feet under them before making the stretch run.
The win put the Tigers back above .500 and have them in the position to once again make a strong finish. Their record is about what most predicted at this point, which makes how they finish even more important if they want to silence some of their doubters.