Roy Martin: Texas A&M Postgame Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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Complacency is rarely a good thing. Right now it is the only hope Clemson fans have to explain what has happened so far this season.


Considering the competitiveness of the first two games, that does not look like a likely explanation as to what occurred on Saturday night.

The Tigers looked like a team that lost the game long before they got on the plane. They were never mentally in it. That lapse led to mental and physical miscues which contributed to one of the worse all around performances under Tommy Bowden’s watch.

It was a group that was scared to lose rather than one that wanted to win.

OFFENSE

Four turnovers kept the offense from establishing any consistency. Two of those turnovers led directly to fourteen points and the other two killed what could have been scoring drives.

Charlie Whitehurst accepted the blame for the turnovers because he committed all four. In reality, he did not have that much to do with any of them. Two of his interceptions were a result of his receivers dropping/tipping balls that should have been caught. A defensive lineman tipped the third. The latter will occur throughout the course of a season when you attempt as many passes as the Clemson offense does.


In no instance is a quarterback expected to fumble a ball. Of course, a quarterback is not supposed to have his clock cleaned on a blind side shot. As bad as the protection was for a better part of the night, one could argue he could have turned the ball over more than four times.


To say the offensive line struggled would be a gross understatement. Charlie was running for his life much of the night and the backs rarely had enough room to get going. Many of mistakes I witnessed from the offensive line were not a result of a bad scheme. The coaches did not ask the players to play above their physical capabilities. The guys simply did not give the type of effort it takes to win a game.


Barry Richardson had a couple of bad plays. That is to be expected when a kid is that young and inexperienced. It does not matter how big and talented he is. There will always be some growing pains. Still, he was a very small part of the collection of follies.


Speaking of follies, it seemed as if someone played a bad joke on the wide receivers. Is it possible someone covered their gloves with Vaseline?


Dropped balls early in the game killed some drives and possibly caused Charlie to lose some confidence in his targets. It is tough enough for a quarterback to operate when he does not have ample time. It is nearly impossible when he does not have faith in the guys he is eyeing.

Whitehurst has yet to look like the guy fans saw much of last season. He has been high with some balls throughout the first three games and some of his decisions have been questionable. Still, it is tough to blame a guy in his situation.


He is carrying the weight of this offense right now. Leadership and athletic skills can only do so much when you are just one man in a group of eleven. His struggles will only continue until he gets some help.

Maybe the lone bright spot on offense was the play of the running backs. Kyle Browning and Reggie Merriweather ran pretty well when the offensive line gave them some room. They also did an adequate job when they were called on to help in protection. If the offensive line can ever get their act together, these guys have a chance to be productive.

DEFENSE


The Tigers looked like they were completely lost. No team should expect to win when they give up 502 yards of total offense, 99 of which came on one drive.

Cornerback Justin Miller has either bought into his press clippings or he has simply outgrown the position. He claims to have run a 4.26 40-yard dash this summer. If that is true, there has been a sudden explosion of receivers with world-class speed.

There is no excuse for a guy with his ability to play the way he has. His true freshman season has been his best by far. Even with very little coaching, a guy with his ability should have improved at this point in his career.

Somewhat in his defense, the front seven put the secondary in a very precarious situation because they were not able to stop the run. They knew Reggie McNeal was a huge threat to run the ball and Courtney Lewis has been more than capable in the past. Both went for over one hundred yards as they ran wild.

In what has become a theme in the first three games, missed tackles caused a lot of problems. That is not coaching. That is a lack of effort.

Football players are taught at an early age how to tackle. At this point it should be second nature. The coaches will do everything in their power to focus on the basics, but it’s up to the players to follow through. The greatest schemes in the game will not cover up a lack of desire.

That is also a direct cause of another of Clemson’s biggest problems on defense – getting off the field. There have been a number of times they have given up those key conversions. There are times when a great offensive call or a bad defensive call will keep an offense on the field.


More importantly, the drive to be a feared unit or the lack thereof is what dictates how a defense performs in those situations. The only fear the Aggies may have had Saturday night is they were not giving their defense enough time to rest. A 99-yard drive in less than three minutes is absolutely awful.


Yes, they were put into some tight situations by the offense. Tough. Being a great defense means you thrive on those types of situations. They did not. They also did not do the offense any favors at times by giving up field position and not forcing punts.

The talent is there. They have shown flashes of being a very good unit. The goal line stop against Tech is a great example. Until they get it together mentally, all that talent will be wasted.

SPECIAL TEAMS


Cole Chason had another good night as he had a net of 43.1 yards on seven punts. That is a very good net average. It is even better when you consider nearly half of his attempts were downed inside of the twenty.

Stephen Furr again struggled as he missed an extra point attempt. He has lost his job to Jad Dean for now.


It was good to see Geoff Rigsby recover from his mistake a week earlier and have a good night. Maybe he could give some lessons to his teammates as to what it takes to get mentally prepared.


The return game was not that bad. Chansi Stuckey got his first action returning punts and will likely continue in that role this week. Justin Miller had an excellent game returning kicks, and is currently one of the national leaders in that category.

CONCLUSION


Things do not look very good at this point. This team really fooled me by not showing up to play. I saw a lot of fight in the Wake and Tech games, but noticed very little against A&M.

They are now staring a 1-4 start dead in the face. There really is not anyone to blame other than the players. That sounds harsh, if not downright cruel. However, that is the truth.

Sure, there are some things the coaches could have done differently. That is the case anytime you look back on a loss. Truth be told, hindsight nearly always reveals things that could have been better planned be it a loss or a win.


The problem at this point is the players are making mistakes that are not a result of bad coaching. Anyone that has seen a Clemson practice knows the coaches begin each and every session with a focus on the basic fundamentals like catching, tackling, and footwork. When the players are not doing those things, it cause the staff to alter their game plan.


Offensively, it usually causes them to simplify things to the point that defenses can have their way. Deep balls cannot be thrown because there is not enough time. Timing patterns are moved to the side because receivers are having a tough enough time catching the easy balls.

Defensively, Lovett is sometimes forced to over coach in hopes of making something happen. Then there are times like this week when he cannot blitz as much as he would like because guys are missing tackles that let a quarterback run free. Defensive backs are not getting good jams at the line. That allows receivers to get a clean release.

This team can turn things around. They proved it last year. To a lesser degree, A&M has proven it this year. They face a tough task, but not one that should be considered impossible. What they need is leadership from within.


Whether it is the guys that are considered team leaders or someone previously unheralded in that capacity stepping up, someone must take control in the locker room. If that happens, a lot of good things can happen with eight games remaining. If it does not, this fall and off-season will seem like an eternity.

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