Sunday Morning Quarterback

CLEMSON – While waiting in a corridor in the depths of Memorial Stadium for interviews after Clemson’s 62-48 over N.C. State win yesterday, I spoke with someone who has been around the team the last few seasons.

Without being prompted he took this from the win over N.C. State: ‘the culture really has changed.’

He said we in the media, those in the public, have speculated all year about when Clemson would pull another ‘Clemson’ and slip up against a team it should beat. After all, it has happened every year since 2000 when Clemson only lost two ACC games and both to ranked opponents in Georgia Tech and Florida State – though Clemson was favored over Georgia Tech.

Clemson has slipped up at least once in ACC play all but two seasons since 1991 — until Saturday.

My informant said there had been little reference of this negative history within the team this year. There has been a laser-like focus on goals. There’s been little looking ahead, little worry of external factors, just a focus on objectives.

Many of us have been hesitant to believe that the culture has changed at Clemson. But it’s hard to look at the scoreboard Saturday, in what could have been a “trap” game with South Carolina on deck, and not believe the culture is changing at Clemson.

It’s difficult to look at Clemson’s 8-2 record against the spread this season and believe the culture is not changing.

So it turns out Clemson was willing to pay the price for a 10-win regular season. Greatness? Let’s see how the final two games unfold

Who deserves credit?

You start at the top with the CEO in Dabo Swinney who has put together this staff, who has signed most of this roster, and who flew in Ray Lewis to serve as a motivational speaker on Saturday. Yeah, that Ray Lewis

I think Chad Morris deserves a lot of credit. He has not let up on his offense at all despite the statistical achievements. He’s been a taskmaster. He’s going to be a very good head coach, imo. (And how soon will that happen?)

And Tajh Boyd deserves a lot of credit. The best teams typically have standard-setters within the player ranks and Boyd has been just that.

“It’s one of those deals where we have matured as a program, matured as a team. We’ve learned how to win, how to accept success and failure,” Boyd said. “I guess we didn’t pull another Clemson.”

TEN THOUGHTS
10. As much as Clemson has accomplished this season, reaching double-digit regular season wins for the first time since 1981, capturing a share of the division title, breaking record after record, all of that will be tarnished with a loss to South Carolina.

So much of this season, like many seasons, fairly or unfairly, will be defined by the South Carolina game.

Who ya got?

Dabo Swinney likes changing culture and sweatshirts, I’m not sure about Steve Spurrier.

9. College football’s unpredictability is part of its charm, everyone loves a good upset. But if you were rooting for Stanford last night you might have also been unknowingly rooting for Clemson to land in the Chick-fil-a- Bowl.

Stanford now has the head-to-head tiebreak over Oregon to play in the Pac-12 title game, meaning a one-loss Oregon team now could become a very attractive at-large BCS team. Stanford has to lose to UCLA to get Oregon back in the title game.

The at-large selection order goes like this: 1. Fiesta, 2. Sugar, 3. Orange. …. unless a bowl loses a team to the national title game, then it skips to first in the order.

Assuming Notre Dame wins beats Southern Cal and Stanford beats UCLA, Oregon would land in the Fiesta Bowl, I think. And the SEC’s second rep would go to the Sugar Bowl. (There is a two program per conference limit in the BCS).

That would leave Clemson fighting K-State and Oklahoma for the Sugar Bowl bid if my BCS math is right.

A Notre Dame loss would almost certainly give us an all-SEC title game. Notre Dame would go to the Sugar, Oregon to the Fiesta and Clemson would again fight K-State and Oklahoma for the second Sugar Bowl at-large.

A Notre Dame-Clemson Sugar Bowl? It could happen. (Tim Bourret would sign up for that.)

But it’s complicated and Oregon and K-State’s losses makes it more complicated.

8. This was a crazy weekend in college football.

*No. 1 and No. 2 are upset.

*Maryland appears headed to the Big Ten with Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank apparently willing to help with the $50 million exit fee.

*Tennessee loses to Vanderbilt and Derek Dooley is fired (OK, Dooley getting fired isn’t shocking).

8a. The Maryland move makes some sense for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten needs markets – and subscriber fees – for its Big Ten Newtork. Maryland holds two key markets: D.C. and Baltimore. And with Under Armor in its backyard, it’s conceivable Maryland could become the East Coast version of Oregon. Again, what we are seeing with Missouri, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Maryland is it’s not the program’s quality that so much matters in conference expansion as it is the new markets conferences can tap into.

8b. On the flip side, the Big Ten is taking some risk as it’s willing to split its substantial revenue pie with a couple mediocre programs in Rutgers and Maryland, which is going to cost the conference some traditional rivalry games.

8c. Maryland’s departure from the ACC doesn’t spell doom for the conference but it has to be unsettling for Greensboro headquarters. If we’re headed to four, 16-team conferences, could it be a battle between the Big 12 and ACC for survival?

8d. There are now three SEC head coaching jobs open, and Auburn could be a fourth, which is going to cause coaching carousel trickle down. You have to wonder if the nation’s highest-paid coordinator Chad Morris will get caught up in the job swapping.

7. Back to focusing on Clemson on-field matters …

7a. Tajh Boyd should be a Heisman candidate. I’m not saying he should win, but he deserves a trip to New York. His numbers and consistency are remarkable. Eight combined TDs versus a solid State defense? 529 yards of total offense? Crazy. 41 combined TDs this year? 9.5 yards per pass attempt?

6. Dabo Swinney called Vic Beasley a “creature” last week. He meant it as a compliment.

Beasley is a freak athlete and he’s beginning to turn tools into pass-rush skills. He easily went around NC State tackles en route to three sacks yesterday. He has a team best eight sacks despite playing in a part time role. Clemson really needed a pass rusher, it might have found a pass rusher. Beasley’s just scratching the surface.

5. How can Dabo top flying in Ray Lewis on Saturday for South Carolina week? He could fly in Robert Nkemdiche’s mother.

4. Winning and scoring can cover up a lot of faults. The Clemson defense is hardly a perfect unit as we saw Saturday allowing 493 passing yards. It appears Duke, Wake and Virginia Tech can cover up for defensive weaknesses.

3. I do think the Clemson defensive front is much better than earlier in the year but the secondary is still prone to coverage busts. Clemson corners Xavier Brewer and Garry Patterson let N.C.State receivers get inside position with no middle of the field safety help on a couple of long touchdowns. This is football 101, at least football 201.

2. What more can you say about the Clemson offensive line?

Remember when Clemson allowed 11 combined sacks to NC State and South Carolina when Phillip Price was hurt last year? I thought that was a preview of what was to come this year. That’s why I predicted an 8-win regular season for Clemson. OL has allowed this offense to be great and didn’t allow a sack to State, which leads the ACC in sacks.

2a. Now, Mr. Clowney provides a much different challenge. South Carolina will disrupt Clemson’s passing game to a degree, I think. Clemson will be better than a year ago when Boyd completed only 11 of 29 passes, but it needs to be a lot better.

2b. The only thing I don’t like about what Morris is doing this year? Leaving starters in to reach individual statistical records. I know he’s trying to reward players but he’s also risking the health of key stars. Tajh Boyd took an unnecessary shot on the 96th play of the game Saturday.

1. Interesting note: Our own Mr. Gene Sapakoff notes Clemson’s top offensive player has not been complete healthy in Clemson’s three straight losses to S.C.: Spiller ’09 (turf toe), Kyle Parker ’10 (ribs), Sammy Watkins ’11 (shoulder).

After catching 11 passes for 110 yards Saturday, Watkins looks healthy to me.

STATS OF THE WEEK
754 – Total yards for Clemson on Saturday, two short of the school record set in ’81 vs. Wake Forest.

102 – Total offensive plays, a school record

10 – Of Sammy Watkins’ 11 catches, 10 came near or behind the line of scrimmage. Clemson is using Watkins more and more like the Vikings and Urban Meyer used Percy Harvin – in quick throws to get him in space. Watkins turned one of these throws into a 27-yard touchdown, showing his elite acceleration.

8 – Malliciah Goodman has eight sacks in just over 1,900 career snaps. Vic Beasley has eight sacks in just over 200 plays this season

THEY SAID IT:
Chad Morris on running a program-record 102 plays:
“Some of the coaching staff’s kids kept come up to us and saying ‘We’re up to 90 … we’re up to 96 (plays) … Our guys take a lot of pride in that.”

Brent Venables on his defense.
“I have perspective. It’s incredibly disappointing. I can’t give the opponent credit … when we are not where we are supposed to be.”

Dabo Swinney on win:
“We made it harder than it had to be, and we gave them a couple of sparks. It’s a good thing, though, because we haven’t faced a lot of adversity as of late. We missed a lot of opportunities early, turnovers were huge, but offensively for us to respond with so many records led to a great win. There were just a lot of things going on in the game.”

MODEST PROPOSAL OF THE WEEK
I’d suggest no more late-game record chasing for regulars when game has been decided. Clemson could have paid dearly for stats chasing vs. State. Boyd took a shot.

NON-FOOTBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Hearing great things about Lincoln. Go see it.

Enjoy watching the biggest football rivalry of the year, USC v. Clemson on the large screen and in surround sound at The Charleston Hippodrome. Plus, tailgating, food trucks, cornhole tournament, prizes and more! Tickets on sale now at 50% off, http://charlestonsavvyshopper.com/

 

3 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Quarterback

  1. Travis, you’ve got to have your web people do forwarding from the old Tiger Tracks URL…I’ve been going there for a week wondering why you haven’t made any posts, only to find the whole blog has moved without any notification (except maybe on Twitter)!

  2. In my opinion, the current problem breeds a solution for the previous problem. Leaving players in well after the game is out of hand does expose them to unnecessary hits and injuries. But I also feel like it’s a huge reason there hasn’t been a let down this year. When Chad Morris tells Tajh, Sammy, Nuk, etc “Hey guys, play until you destroy the all-time yardage record, season receiving yards, total touchdowns, etc,” it gives the players something to focus on. It gets their competitive juices flowing. Without that, maybe there’s a loss to Virginia Tech or NC State.

    I also feel like this sets Clemson up well for South Carolina. It’s no secret that NC State torched Clemson on the deep ball. But it’s also no secret that Connor Shaw is no Mike Glennon. As long as Clemson can find a way to slow Clowney down and keep him from setting up shop in the backfield all night, I like the coaches’ ability to have the team motivated and ready.

    • Matt,
      You might be right that leaving players in to reach individual goals has helped the team collectively avoid letdowns.

      I asked Morris about this and he had a somewhat interesting answer I’ll have to post here today. I have not yet transcribed it. But Morris did note it’s a “violent” game, and I just think Clemson is playing a dangerous game.
      ….
      Before the season I thought S.Carolina would win this game. But looking at how the Clemson OL has exceeded expectations, and looking at the S.Carolina injury report, I think Clemson is a slight favorite.

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