If you are a weekend golfer, you can relate to Clemson’s win on Saturday.
Much like the golfer who starts off with a couple of great holes and thinks he is on his way to the round of his life, Clemson started off with two quick touchdowns and defensive stands as they appeared to be on their way to a blowout. Then reality set in.
Just as the first couple of holes are not always indicative of how tough the course might be, UNC proved to be a tougher opponent than they showed in the first eight minutes of the game. Fortunately, Clemson did have enough good shots left to ultimately finish off the Tar Heels.
It may not have been pretty, and it may not have been what fans expected. But considering the crazy twists and turns that have occurred throughout the season in all of college football, a win is something for which everyone should be thankful.
As mentioned in the preview article, UNC was not your typical 1-6 team. They have some talented players, and they have played a pretty solid schedule. Coming into the game they were averaging 25.71 points while giving up 37 after having played Florida State, Syracuse, Wisconsin, N.C.State, Virginia, East Carolina, and Arizona State. Saturday’s score was not much different.
The Tigers faced a pretty good offensive team and gave up some points. Their offensive line is very good and experienced. The fewest starts among the five starters is 19. The most is 27. They averaged over two seasons worth of starts coming into the game. Darian Durant is a good quarterback who has been somewhat overlooked because of an injury and the lack of success his team has had.
On the flip side, Clemson faced a defense that was giving up a lot of yards and points. In terms of yardage, Clemson had its best game of the season. The offense only scored 29 points thanks in part to a couple of costly mistakes. Otherwise, it was not a bad day for that unit. They came through when it mattered the most.
It seemed as if many fans left Saturday’s game trashing the productivity of the offense. The play calling was scrutinized all too often in the stands and in the parking lots. Sure, all the right decisions were not made, but all of this criticism is unwarranted.
For starters, the play calling was not bad. No matter how porous a defense is, you do not rack up 530 yards of offense with bad play calls. The constant “looking to the sidelines for a revised play call” is aggravating for fans. They want to see the ball snapped and a play run. But when you look at the big picture, it seems impossible to question the way the offense is being run right now when you consider the numbers they are amassing.
The third-and-three call on the last drive seems to be a big point of contention. Fans are upset that it seems the coaches elected to settle for gaining field goal position.
Yes, the ultimate goal would have been to get a first down and that did not happen. However, other things had to be considered because points – be it a field goal or a touchdown– were what Clemson needed most.
The ball was on the right hash before the play making for a much tougher kick…especially for a kicker that has struggled this season. Earlier in the same drive, Whitehurst rolled to his left and lofted a pass into the end zone for Ben Hall. It was a pass that should not have been thrown and should have been intercepted.
So, you have a struggling kicker and a young quarterback that is still making some bad decisions. Meanwhile, you have had success running the ball. You just gained five yards on first down and two more on second down. You have to get at least three points. Why not give the ball to your senior tailback and hope he can get you three yards? At the very least, he gets you to the middle of the field for what should be a chip shot field goal.
Call it settling for a field goal all you want. It was the right decision.
As for not snapping the ball as UNC changed personnel, it is not as easy as it seems. Linemen have blocking assignments that are based on the alignment of the defense. If they cannot determine those assignments, it can create havoc once the ball is snapped. The best thing to do in a lot of those situations is simply take a quick snap and let the quarterback run a sneak. You then decide on whether to accept the penalty or take the gain. That is the first time Clemson has faced wholesale changes all year, and they will make adjustments for the future.
Finally, not going for two early in the 3rd quarter was the right thing. You do not make that call, that early, in a close game. It was shaping up to be a shootout, and you do not want to opt for a conversion attempt which is unsuccessful more times than not. Had it been late in the 4th, when a two-point lead meant a field goal wins the game, the call would have been to go for two.
As for how the offense played, the line had another pretty good game. Ron West rotated throughout the day with a total of 10 guys receiving playing time. Dustin Fry got the first start of his career and played well at times. He is still learning, but will develop into a solid player as he gains experience.
The most promising sign for the future came on the final drive when four freshmen and one sophomore manned the trenches. Considering the importance of that drive, it is obvious the coaches have confidence in the youngsters and expect big things in the years to come.
The backs had a good day as the Tigers racked up over 200 yards. When hitting that number, the Tigers are 18-1 under Bowden. Coleman became the first 100-yard rusher of the season with his performance. He also continued to catch the ball very well out of the backfield. The one glaring weakness in his game was his blocking. He is struggling with that aspect right now.
Chad Jasmin had some nice runs in the short yardage situations. He continued to show a lot of power, but also displayed some speed on a couple of sweeps. It was obvious at times that Kelly’s absence hurt, but Coleman and Jasmin did a nice job of picking up the slack.
The wide receivers averaged nearly 20 yards per reception and had some very big plays. Take away Hamilton’s touchdown reception and they still averaged over 15 yards per catch. Add to that the fact they threw some great blocks, and it appears they had a very solid day. Granted, there were a couple of dropped balls that should have been caught, but those will occur during the course of a game especially when you attempt 30-plus passes.
Charlie had another spectacular day statistically. The most telling number is zero turnovers. Unfortunately, he still was not as accurate with his passes as he has shown he can be. The throwback to Coleman on the wheel route was just too easy. He does not have to hit him in stride on that pass but he does need to give him a chance to catch it.
Some have said the incompletions on the slants were the result of drops. Charlie’s comments after the game indicate he faults himself for not leading the receivers a tad more and giving them a chance to make the catches with their hands rather than their bodies. In any case, UNC had excellent coverage so it is hard to fault anyone for those incompletions. The simple truth is that Charlie is going to have to do a better job of making the throws he is supposed to make.
I called for another stellar performance in the preview article. I was wrong – dead wrong.
The Tigers gave up a lot of yards. The rushing defense that has performed so well over the last few weeks forgot to show up. What hurt them more than anything was how they tackled.
It was the first time this season the entire defense looked like it had fallen into last year’s trap of not tackling well. There were too many times guys tried to lower the boom for a big hit without wrapping up. Those types of attempts lead to some big hits that look great on highlight tapes. The problem is they also lead to the opponents having some great plays for their offensive highlight tapes.
Some credit should be given to UNC. They have had a lot of success on offense all season long. There was no doubt they were going to move the ball, but very few thought they would move it as well as they did. The Tigers were in a position to make plays most of the day, but did not come through for whatever reason.
The front seven was an “on again, off again” bunch on Saturday. They did a pretty good job of containing Durant for most of the afternoon. They did not register any sacks, but they did get some pretty good pressure over the course of the game.
Then there were the times when it looked like they had never seen a running play. UNC gashed the Tigers and used their running attack to stay in the game. The Tiger run defense has not looked that inadequate since the Wake game last year.
The secondary actually played fairly well. Two picks and some big hits were the highlights. Jamaal Fudge and Travis Pugh continued their solid play while quietly going about their business. True freshman Sergio Gilliam made his first appearance of the season while logging a few reps at corner back.
Taking into account how successful UNC has been offensively, maybe the best thing you can say about the secondary is they limited the number of passing yards and did not give up the big play.
There is nothing left to say about the defense’s performance. It was not very good day and repeat performances will result in some losses during the remainder of the season. After being the one unit that could be counted on the last few weeks, they were a big letdown on Saturday.
Geoff Rigsby only played a couple of snaps because of an illness. Joshua Smith took his place and did a pretty good job. The snaps could have been better, but it is hard to expect perfect snaps from a guy getting his first playing time in such a tight game.
Jad Dean turned in pretty good performance overall, but had an awful line drive that went out of bounds near the end of the game. The coverage unit did a good job of getting down the field on the kicks that were not touchbacks. They, too, were plagued by bad tackling and would have had a better performance if they could have made the first hits count.
Cole Chason struggled once again. He is having a tough time right now and needs to find some way to be more consistent. He has shown he can kick well, but he cannot find a groove. Until he finds a way to pull it all together, Clemson is going to struggle when it comes to the field position battle.
The return game was what fans have come to expect. Nothing spectacular happened on the punt returns, but a couple of solid gains were turned in. Like Bowden said on his weekly TV show, all you ask of them is to get you a first down – meaning a 10-yard return. The kickoff return team finally came through with a big one. Hamilton’s 100-yard return was the second of his career and, quite simply, a thing of beauty. Tony Elliot threw the key block that made the whole thing go.
Aaron Hunt may have been the hero that no one has mentioned. His three field goals actually turned out to be the difference in the game. His missed extra point could have been a difference make,r but it honestly was not his mistake. A bad snap on the play resulted in his rhythm being thrown off. For a guy that has struggled much of the season, he has been very reliable the last couple of games.
This was a nice win for the Tigers. They had their backs to the wall yet again and showed they have learned how to win. They did it using a good combination of experienced players and talented youngsters.
The offense was successful. They did not score as many points as they would have liked, but they scored when they needed it he most. The drive no one seems to mention is the final drive of the first half. They did a good job of getting down the field and giving Aaron Hunt a chance to take the lead and regain the momentum heading into the locker room.
Clemson’s average starting position was just past the 21-yard line. That has to improve if they are going to win more games. The good thing is they did not let that get to them. The Tigers had scoring drives of 93, 76, 65, 80, 70, and 72 yards. None of their points were given to them. Besides the kickoff return, they had to drive down the field to put points on the board as they earned every last one of them.
The defense played miserably, but managed to find a way to make some stops when it they had to have them. UNC did have the added benefit of much better field position as their average start was just past the 32-yard line. The deepest they started was their own 19. They twice started in Clemson territory.
Special teams played a big role in the victory. Three field goals and a kickoff return for a touchdown are always welcome as those points take pressure off the defensive and offensive units. Cole Chason has to improve or Clemson’s inability to pin opponents deep in their own territory will eventually cost them.
Overall, it was a good performance as a team. The players kept their heads up as they got behind one another. Younger players are starting to step up and this team will only improve because of that. Once some key guys like Sampson, Kelly, and Williamson are healthy, the Tigers have a chance of playing some very solid football.
Things are slowly falling into place that will allow Clemson to finish in the top three in the conference. Their victory over Georgia Tech now seems much better than I originally thought. Teams like N.C.State, Virginia, and Maryland appear to not be leaving Clemson in their dust like many had predicted. The conference standing will continue to shuffle around throughout the next few weeks. For now, Clemson needs to worry about Wake because it is a game they must win if they want to remain in the mix for a top three finish.