For most Clemson fans, the buildup heading into the Alabama game was similar to what a kid experiences in the weeks leading up to Christmas. - A lot of excitement and talk about what could be.
Unfortunately, that big box sitting under the tree was an empty box.
Is Clemson that bad or is Alabama that much better than most had predicted? That is a question that probably will not be answered until sometime in November, but if I had to pick one of the two right now I would say Alabama is better than most thought.
The offensive line was the big question mark heading into the season. After Saturday’s performance, it may be an even bigger question mark.
At times it appeared they were lazy and slow to react. Then there were times when they just played high and tried to catch a lot of blocks instead of being physical.
For example, Barry Humphries allowed a man to basically run untouched to Cullen Harper on a simple twist by the two defensive linemen to that side. It was nothing special by the defense. It was not a tremendous play. Just a lack of recognition and execution on Humphries’ part.
On a similar instance, Cory Lambert allowed a defensive end to run by him as if he was one of the parking attendants guiding cars into one of the parking lots. Again, nothing special by the defense. Just poor execution on the part of Lambert.
As for the lack of physical play, there were too many examples to count.
On the second play of the game, it appeared Michael Palmer was pushed into the backfield by the guy he was blocking, which forced the man in motion, Brian Linthicum, to trip. The guy Linthicum would have blocked ,shot in and forced Jamie Harper’s fumble.
Cory Lambert looked like he was trying to cut his grandmother on a particular pass in which he allowed the defender to dive through and hit Cullen Harper as he released a pass. Harper was visibly dinged up after the play.
Jamarcus Grant continually allowed his shoulders to get turned. Offensive linemen cannot do their jobs with their shoulders toward the sideline. If you see a center or guard turned in that manner, you can almost always bet they were too high and got overpowered.
Offensive linemen are going to get driven back from time to time. It was the frequency and force by which they were thrown around that was alarming, and that goes for nearly everyone on the line.
As awful as it looked at times, some credit needs to be given to Bama. They have some studs up front…real studs.
Terrence Cody is the type of nose tackle that does not come along very often. He is at least 360 pounds, but moves like he is about 100 pounds lighter. He gave the offensive line fits all night, but he is going to do that to pretty much everyone he plays this year.
Improvements will be made. Personnel changes may even be made. However, all is not lost. That probably the best all-around front Clemson will see this year. Boston College is very good but probably not as deep. Besides, there is a lot of time to improve between now and November.
As for the rest of the offense, there is not a whole lot to say. The woes along the front prevented the offense from ever getting on track and allowing the skill guys to use their abilities.
Tyler Grisham blocked his tail off and had tremendous effort the entire game (Hey, maybe he will get a look at playing along the line).
C.J. Spiller made a great catch on a high ball and James Davis showed some added speed on his catch that was called back by a penalty.
Cullen Harper was off on a few throws but it was nothing to be worried about.
After the game, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what happened to a defense that was supposed to be pretty good. After watching a recorded version, one word answered that question – linebackers.
To say the linebackers had a bad night would be a huge understatement.
The fits by the linebackers were disgusting. And when they did make the proper fits, they delivered arm tackles or left their feet instead of exploding through the ball carrier.
In some instances, they just flat out missed tackles. On a third-and-three at the Clemson seven-yard line in the second quarter, Jeremy Campbell had the type of kill shot on John Parker Wilson that every linebacker salivates over. He came completely untouched on a blitz. Wilson, who is not known as a scrambler, nonchalantly stepped to the side and then rushed up the field for a first down.
Alabama scored on the next play.
There was not a single linebacker that had anything close to a good game. I quit counting the number of false steps and slow or improper reads sometime in the first quarter.
There was no aggressiveness or physical play spotted among anyone in the group. When they did make the right reads, they blocked themselves by running into blockers rather than blowing them up in the hole or scraping in an effort to make a tackle.
And that was just in the running game. They all looked lost and tentative in coverage. There were a number of times they bit on the play action fakes then just stood there trying to decide if they should rush the passer or drop into coverage.
There is nothing wrong with a bunch of young linebackers making mistakes. It is going to happen. The key is to physically punish someone in the other colored jerseys when it happens.
But that never occurred. And when that is the case, you may as well be playing with nine or 10 guys.
The defensive line played better than I first thought. They had to fight double teams all night as Alabama did more man blocking than anyone expected, maybe because they could sense the Clemson linebackers were playing poorly.
There were times when they were pushed around, but they did a pretty god job of holding their ground, which is all you can ask for against double teams. I thought Jamie Cumbie played high at times, partly because he is so tall, but he never really got thrown around.
Andre Branch and Kourtnei Brown need to be a little more physical, especially on the sweeps, and Ricky Sapp needs to get healthy.
Da’Quan Bowers and Kevin Alexander are the most physical of the ends. Both did a pretty good job of rushing the passer and fared well against the run. I did not quite buy into the hype surrounding Bowers, but saw enough Saturday night to make me believe he is going to be special.
The secondary was never really tested deep but looked good in the few situations which they were. Chris Chancellor is undersized but he is a football player. He plays with a ton of intensity and heart while making very few mistakes.
The one knock on the secondary would belong to Crezdon Butler. He was playing zone when everyone else was in man coverage on Julio Jones’ touchdown reception. And even though I cannot be sure of who was at fault on Nick Walker’s touchdown reception because I could not get a look at the entire secondary, it appeared Butler was the guilty party based on the “conversation” Vic Koenning had with him on the sideline.
It was a good night for Mark Buchholz. He was solid on his lone field goal attempt and had good placement on his kickoffs. If you cannot pop it deep into the end zone, the best place to be is on the numbers or between the numbers and the sideline, which he did.
Dawson Zimmerman had a good debut. He averaged 40 yards on his four punts with a long of 51 yards. All but one of his attempts had good hang time. I did not time any of his releases but they looked like they could be a little quicker. The number all punters shoot for is a release of 1.9 seconds or less.
Speaking of the punting unit, the one thing I would question is having Nelson Faerber as a gunner. If he was a speed demon, it would not be that big of a deal. However, I would venture to guess he is probably not in the top ten on the team in terms of speed, so having an offensive player not accustomed to tackling manning that position is somewhat puzzling.
C.J. Spiller did just what has become expected of him. He made a tremendous play in the return game when Clemson needed it the most. He did not dance or try to make something happen. He caught the ball and took off, which is when he is at his best. He was so far ahead of everyone by the time he crossed midfield, he probably could have hopped on one leg for the last 30 yards and still scored.
The coverage units were fair to good. Until they prove themselves over the course of a few games, they are still going to be a unit to worry about.
As soon as this game was scheduled, I was a little surprised by the number of fans that were excited about the timing of it. Yes, I am sure it was fun for most of you to think about such a big meeting to start the season and a chance to make a statement on a national stage.
Still, this was a scheduling nightmare for Clemson. You never want to play a game of such magnitude to begin the season when you have so many unanswered questions along the offensive line and at linebacker, not to mention the fact that it was tougher to prepare for their offense because they brought in a new coordinator.
Saturday night’s loss was a tough one but it is not one that will ruin the season. Too many things can happen between now and the end of November.