The Big Man upstairs definitely had his eye on Clemson Saturday. A solid crowd, perfect weather, and a lesser opponent were a blueprint for what a homecoming game day should be.
And although the team didn’t play as well as many would have liked, they earned a decisive victory to get back on the winning track. By far, that was the most important aspect of the weekend.
A 35-6 final wasn’t what the blowout many fans had hoped to see. The offense only managed 28 points against a team with a porous defense. That’s not something to get overly excited about, but it wasn’t a bad day’s work considering the game plan and the number of times they shot themselves in the foot.
There were enough positives to build a little momentum as the Tigers return to conference play against a Maryland squad that seems to be reeling.
The question that now looms is whether or not they can continue to resolve the small issues that have bugged them all year while working with the foundation they established against the Aggies.
The fumbled snap on the first play of the game must have been an omen for the first half. The first quarter ended with the Tigers having two straight three-and-outs followed by a very poorly thrown ball that was intercepted.
The second quarter wasn’t much better as the offense only mustered one touchdown. A tipped ball that was intercepted ended another drive that had some potential.
The pass wasn’t a perfectly thrown ball but it was one that should have been caught. As has been the case all year, the receivers have to do more than just make the catches on well thrown balls – they have to steal a few.
The second half was a different story.
Clemson settled in and discovered a running game that has been non-existent all year. Reggie Merriweather and Duane Coleman showed they can make things happen when given the ball so long as they have a little help from the line.
Merriweather was the most pleasant surprise of the day. He gained some very tough yards while also showing the speed and quickness Tommy Bowden has desired for so long.
Coleman, while not as good at getting the tough yards, displayed the speed not seen from a Clemson back in a long, long time. He has that extra gear that allows him to get to the corner and into the next level.
Michael Collins stepped in nicely for a receiving corp that was shorthanded due to an injury to Chansi Stuckey and Kelvin Grant’s suspension. His performance was reminiscent of some of those turned in by J.J. McKelvey. He’s not very fleet of foot but he used his size and caught anything thrown close.
Aside from the previously mentioned interception, Charlie made some really good decisions and threw the ball well. His 26-yard jaunt in the third quarter was a play that showed maturity and poise.
The offensive line faced the most undermanned defensive front they’ll see all season, so it’s hard to truly gauge their performance. There were a couple of good things that occurred.
First, a number of guys received significant playing time in relative terms to what they’ve seen so far. Dustin Fry came in at center and the transition was smooth in terms of snaps. Sometimes the hardest thing for a quarterback to do is adjust to a new center.
Secondly, the line did a good job of getting down field to look for blocks on some of the longer runs. They registered at least of couple of penalties because they were getting after it a little too hard. And even though penalties are never good, sometimes you like to see the ones that occur when guys are playing a little nasty.
I don’t know what’s crazier – A defense that has struggled throughout the year having registered eleven sacks or that feat not setting a school record.
Again, a dominating performance was expected but Saturday’s effort may have exceeded expectations. A late scoring drive was just a minor letdown for what was a nearly perfect showing.
The defensive line finally came to life as four players registered two sacks. Three of those four had two.
Cory Groover continued to step up his level of play. He’s quickly becoming Clemson’s best defensive lineman as well as taking on the role of being the emotional leader of the defense. He’s continually talking it up and giving that extra effort coaches love to see.
The secondary had a few mishaps, most notably when safeties didn’t provide support over the top in two-deep coverage. Utah State also did a good job at times of creating mismatches in which a linebacker or strong safety was manned up on a receiver.
Even when those mismatches were there, Travis Cox had a hard time taking advantage of them because of the constant pressure.
Unless I missed something in the first five games, Clemson employed a nickel package for the first time this season. C.J. Gaddis was brought in as the fifth defensive back, which is a role that seemed to fit him pretty well.
There were times in those nickel situations when Clemson only rushed two. Even with a minimal rush, they were able to disrupt Cox and force him to make bad throws or take a sack.
Perhaps the most promising sign is Leroy Hill wasn’t as big of a factor as he has been in the past. It may normally be a cause for concern when your best defensive player doesn’t have a great performance against a team like the Aggies but his lack of production was more of a result of others stepping up.
Anytime you can hold the nation’s leading punt returner to one yard on two returns you have to be happy.
Because of Utah State’s unconventional punting style, the staff decided to leave the defense on the field in those situations. It seemingly paid dividends, as they recorded the Tiger’s third block of the year – for a touchdown, no less – and Justin Miller turned in another good day fielding the kicks.
With the help of a strong wind at his back most of the day, Jad Dean had a great day on kickoffs. His only miscue came when he tried to kick it too hard against the wind and knocked it out of bounds.
Dean also showed just how strong of a leg he possesses on his 62-yard field goal attempt just before the half. Although the kick was no good, he had the leg to drill one through from about sixty yards. If he can become consistently accurate with that kind of strength, he could win a few games before his career is done.
It wasn’t as strong of an outing as it could have been because a lot of little mistakes still cost Clemson some valuable opportunities. But a win is a win, especially when you’re struggling at 1-4 entering the second half of the season.
The defensive unit had to come out of the game feeling better about their abilities as a group. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, eleven sacks and 139 yards of total offense are gaudy numbers.
The most promising aspect is they finally tackled like they should.
Offensively, this team still has a long ways to go. The line and receivers are going to have to make great strides if this team plans on making a bowl game.
The play of Coleman and Merriweather was very promising. If not for Coleman’s ability as a receiver and his all out effort on every play, Merriweather could be the feature back. As it stands, Clemson will likely continue to develop its two running back attack.
With a little work and some good breaks, it could resemble the successful combination of Coleman and Chad Jasmin that allowed the Tigers to finish last season on such a strong not. The only real difference would be a little less power and much more speed.
This week will be a much stiffer challenge even if the Terps are struggling. They have much better athletes than Utah State and will be better at some positions than Clemson.
There were a lot of positives on which they can build but they must not overlook the areas that need improvement. Hopefully for everyone from the coaches to the fans, that little taste of success will drive them step up their level of play as they return to meat of one of the toughest schedules in the country.