Roy Martin: Boston College - Clemson Postgame Analysis
|Wednesday, September 28, 2005, 9:46 AM- -|
The Clemson players and coaches said all the right things after the tough loss to Miami. They were not going to let the loss beat them twice. Instead, they planned to use the defeat as motivation for the rest of the season.
That was not the case on Saturday as the players looked like they were simply going through the motions. It was an ugly performance that left the Tigers searching for answers, as the team that once deserved the nickname Cardiac Kids officially flat lined.
Losing to a good Boston College team is not that tough of a pill to swallow. How the Tigers lost is what makes the defeat so painful. The lack of execution and the absence of a sense of urgency go against everything the team had shown through their first three contests.
Third down situations were the key to the entire game. Boston College converted on 10 of their 20 attempts while Clemson went 0-for11, which is a first for the program since the NCAA started keeping the stat in 1978. Allowing an opponent to have a success rate of 50 percent will nearly always spell defeat. Add to that Clemson’s ineptness and it is a wonder they were even in the game.
Much has already been said about the play calling. More specifically, there have been cries from the fans that the Tigers did not force the ball down the field enough to stretch the BC defense. There are three factors that need to be considered.
First, Clemson does not have the speed and big play receiver(s) they have had in the past. Absent are the Airese Curries, Derrick Hamiltons, Kevin Youngbloods, and Rod Gardners. Curtis Baham is the only truly experienced receiver on the team, but despite some big plays so far this season, is not the type of guy to stretch a defense with his speed.
Chansi Stuckey has the speed a big play receiver needs, but he lacks the experience. He essentially played in just three games last year because of nagging injuries. It was his first year at receiver after making the move from quarterback. He is still learning a lot about how to play the position.
There are a lot of potential playmakers at the position in Stuckey, Aaron Kelly, Rendrick Taylor, and Tyler Grisham. Three of the four are first-year guys. It is nearly impossible to rely on such youth to make big plays down the field. That void has enabled opposing defenses to run more man coverage than Rob Spence would like, which takes away many of the holes available in zone coverages.
Secondly, credit needs to be given to Boston College. Their front four does a good job of pressuring the passer, which makes it tough for a quarterback to sit in the pocket waiting for a deep play to develop. As if that was not enough of a challenge for an offense, completing deep passes is a very low percentage gamble. Long passes get fans out of their seat because they occur so seldom.
Finally, Clemson attempted to go long more than most think. Charlie Whitehurst was sacked twice on third down when he was looking to go long. There were at least two other occasions on third down that he threw incompletions to guys down the field. He also dumped off to guys running intermediate or short routes on at least three or four other attempts because no one managed to get open.
As for the criticism of Spence’s calls, being too conservative at the end of regulation and in the overtime drive, it is unwarranted. One must consider each of the situations when critiquing his decisions on those two drives.
Spence called for a pass on first down in the final drive of the fourth quarter that fell incomplete. It stopped the clock with 1:09 left and the ball at the Tigers’ 31-yard line. He was then faced with the possibility of stopping the clock with over a minute left and a third-and-ten situation if another pass was unsuccessful.
Considering the timeouts Clemson had remaining, the amount of time left, and the fact that BC was expecting a pass, going with a run for a first down was not that bad of a call.
There was the possibility Merriweather may have broken a long run to put them in field goal position. Otherwise, they run time off the clock, reduce their risk of a turnover, and take another shot at it on third down. As it turns out, the time they ran off the clock was time BC very much needed. That extra 30 to 40 seconds could have allowed them another shot at a field goal.
The final call in overtime needed to be a safe one. You have to come away with points in that scenario, but you also have to minimize the risks more so than at any other time during a game. An interception or a fumble forcing sack from the blindside gives BC the ball only needing a field goal to win.
The only real question concerning the call was how slowly the play developed. A quick hitting run that would have allowed Merriweather to hit the line at full speed running north/south would have seemed more appropriate.
However, the painful reality of the situation is the Eagles wanted it more on that play than Clemson. Clemson had their best short yardage back and nine big bodies in the game to lead the way. Getting stuffed for a loss of two under those circumstances is the result of a lack of desire.
As bad as it all seemed for the offense, there were a few of bright spots. Merriweather and James Davis combined to average over five yards per carry. Each of them busted a couple of big plays against a run defense that entered the game ranked third in the country.
Chris McDuffie played his second game at guard and looked good once again during his brief stint. Although his big body is missed on the defensive front right now, it appears his move to offense will pay off in the long run because he can help the line.
Charlie Whitehurst managed to find ten different receivers on the day. One of those was Thomas Hunter, who has assumed the role as the team’s second tight end due to Cole Downer’s injury. He had three receptions and a number of good blocks.
No matter how you try to break it down, the defense did its job on Saturday. Holding any team to ten points through fourth quarters should win you a lot of games, especially when they run 37 more plays than your offense and have a time of possession advantage of more than 11 minutes.
That being said, it was not a very pretty performance. As has been the theme all year, the inability to make tackles proved very costly. BC’s backs and receivers picked up big chunks of yardage after they should have been stopped.
The entire tackling issue is really getting out of hand now that the season is four weeks old. There are no excuses for it at this point. How to properly tackle is the first thing taught nearly every single time the pads go on at the beginning of each season and it’s practiced every day afterwards. It is not an issue of poor coaching. It is poor execution.
The tackling woes fueled BC’s success more so indirectly than directly. The average distance they needed on their 10 third down conversions was less than four yards. They were in such an enviable position because of their success on first and second downs, much of which could be attributed to Clemson’s poor tackling.
The linebackers continued to disappoint despite improving on the previous weeks’ performances. I was very critical of Anthony Waters after the Miami game for not being physical enough. He still did not play as physical as he could and should be, but he did step it up a notch against the Eagles.
Eleven of his fourteen tackles were on running plays, eight of which occurred within three yards of the line of scrimmage. That is the area he needs to be making plays instead of six, seven, and eight yards downfield. He and his battering mates still have a lot of improvements to make to get where they need to be.
The defensive line continued to do a good job against the run, but did not fare so well against the pass. They gave Matt Ryan too much time to throw and that enabled him to find the holes in Clemson’s zone.
The youth in the secondary is a major reason why the Tigers have to run so much zone coverage. Man coverage was something a lot of folks took for granted the last year or so with Tye Hill and Justin Miller locking down their spots. It would be asking a lot of Sergio Gillam, Duane Coleman, and Haydrian Lewis to stick them out on an island on a routine basis.
As such, the front has to do a better job of forcing quarterbacks to make quicker decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean the number of sacks has to increase. A good quarterback will get rid of the ball to avoid a sack. The amount of time passers are given in the pocket is a truer indicator of how much he’s being pressured.
The secondary had its up and down moments. Jamaal Fudge’s touchdown saving pick in the end zone was a great play. Gillam also had some nice breaks on the ball and added a physical presence in run support.
Duane Coleman continued to work his way into the rotation and Haydrian Lewis received his first snaps at corner. Each of these guys are far behind Gillam at this point in the season, but they’ll provide some valuable snaps as they continue to progress.
The pass BC completed to the tight end late in regulation was inexcusable. He should have been forced off his route by the linebacker and the defensive back should have made a better play on the ball. That is just one of the many examples of multiple missed assignments on one play.
Those are the type of mistakes that are absolutely killing the Tigers right now. Such scenarios are practiced on a daily basis and should be second nature at this point. The fact that they are still occurring shows a lack of focus on the players’ part.
It is great that the defense forced two turnovers and gave up only two plays over 15 yards, neither of which was 30 yards or more. But those are just numbers. The most important things to Vic Koenning are getting his boys off the field quickly and not giving up points. They only did one of the two on Saturday and it cost them.
This area of the game was a wash for all intents and purposes. Each squad limited the other to minimal returns and neither of them did anything to really hurt themselves.
Clemson did have a big personal foul on a roughing the kicker call that kept a drive alive and cost them some field position, but it was a bogus call. It deserved nothing more than a five yard running into the kicker call, which would have still given the Tigers the ball.
Cole Chason didn’t do anything to cost him his job, but he also did not do anything to cement his position as the starter. Had a couple of lucky bounces not gone his way his job would surely be in jeopardy.
Jad Dean missed on his first kickoff, but was pretty reliable after that point. He continued to be nearly automatic on his field goal attempts, the last of which came in another pressure packed situation.
The return units had another less-than-stellar performance. The staff shuffled at least two players on the kickoff return unit as Kyle Browning moved from the center position on the front line to an outside position formerly manned by Lionel Richardson, who swapped with Browning.
The coverage units performed much better than in past weeks and the kickoff team actually managed to stop BC inside the 20-yard line on one occasion.
Clemson talked the talk all week, but just could not walk the walk. Take nothing away from BC; they are a good team that fought and earned a victory in a tough hostile environment.
The offense struggled except for the two scoring drives. They did more to hurt themselves than the Eagles did to stop them. A couple of dropped balls here and a few missed blocks there cost them much needed chances to gain momentum and, more importantly, score points.
The defense seemingly continued to struggle with the new system and many of the basics despite have spent all spring and the first six weeks of the season learning. The time for excuses explaining those miscues came and went a few weeks ago. The time for someone to step up on a defense that seems to be missing a leader is now.
September is over and the Tigers are dead even at 2-2. They’re a couple of plays away from being 4-0 or 0-4. You can argue they have been unlucky just as easily as you can argue they have been lucky.
The fact is many fans would have gladly taken the current record before the season began and been extremely happy. That was a hypothetical scenario. Now reality has set in and many of those same fans are none to happy about the record. That has to deal more with how the Tigers lost than the fact they lost.
It is amazing how much one game can change the perception of a team. Just a week ago many were touting them as a hard-nosed bunch on the cusp of greatness despite the loss to Miami. Now there are “fans” calling for everything from Rob Spence’s head to a new starting quarterback. Granted, those are the extremes and in no way represent the vast majority of Clemson fans, but it goes to show just how crazy things can get when the sailing is not so smooth.
The fact of the matter is Clemson gave one away on Saturday. Those are the toughest ones to handle and it will leave a mark on many for some time to come. It was not the end of the season and should not be treated as such. There is a lot of time left to exceed the expectations of the so-called experts. And as tough as it is for fans to believe, the experts are generally right more often than not. (Note: I am not an expert.)
One game does not make or break a season and last night’s contest between LSU and Tennessee is proof enough that strange things can happen in the world of college football.
Hindsight is always 20/20. It is good to look at the past in order to learn from your mistakes, but actually living in the past creates many more problems for the future. Live, learn, and move on is sound advice for everyone from the coaches to the youngest of fans at a point like this. The more people that heed those words the better off everyone will be.