Back To The Future, Part III: The Good, The Bad, The Noteworthy from Florida State (plus Wake Forest preview)

James Wilder Jr., Bashaud Breeland

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – Big game last fall in Tallahassee, and Clemson was closer to winning it than even the 18-point margin late in the fourth quarter would indicate. Yet you can’t ignore the roll Florida State rode in the second half, scoring 28 unanswered points.

Let’s get right to it. Plenty to discuss, both good and bad. Here’s the video if you wanna try to follow along.

This is the third installment of our new biweekly feature on PostandCourier.com and the TigerTracks blog this summer. I’ll provide a glimpse to the past – evaluating throwback tape from each 2012 game – as well as one into the future, looking ahead to whichever opponent awaits correlating to that game.

We’ll continue each Thursday and Monday until Aug. 15.

This is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and how they’ll fit in with the 2013 team, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (DeAndre Hopkins, Jonathan Willard, etc.)

One way to differentiate you should know: Clemson players will be listed with abbreviated positions and listed in bold. Opposing players will be preceded by full positions and not in bold.

(So: QB Tajh Boydquarterback EJ Manuel.)

NO. 4 FLORIDA STATE 49, NO. 10 CLEMSON 37 ~ Sept. 22, 2012, ABC

Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.

The Gamer

The Good

First drive, on 3rd-and-7, QB Tajh Boyd out of the pistol, takes a five-step drop, and watches WR DeAndre Hopkins race straight through a cover 2 defense. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes doesn’t stick with ‘Nuk’, and safety Terrence Brooks – who was abysmal on this night – can’t time his leap correctly to stop an only slightly underthrown ball, traveling 48 yards in the air by a flick of Boyd’s right arm. The strike came just 86 seconds after kickoff … which wouldn’t be a big deal if Florida State had surrendered more than three points in its first three games in the 2012 season. (Never mind who the Seminoles played. That’s ridiculous.)

What a goofy yet genius trick play on the second drive. Only TE Brandon Ford moved in tandem with a rolling Boyd, while the entire offensive line stayed frozen to deke the Seminoles. It worked; only two FSU defenders got anywhere near Boyd, and they were too late for the reverse screen pass to RB Andre Ellington, who all of a sudden had a bunch of maulers in front of him. It was six vs. four on the makeshift line of scrimmage, and in particular, OG David Beasley in the backfield and C Dalton Freeman upfield had the big blocks to spring Ellington for 39 yards.

Big left paw by DT DeShawn Williams was right there to deflect a pass by quarterback EJ Manuel, despite getting stoned by center Bryan Stork. Good awareness by Williams on defense.

Staying on defense, that was a perfect form hit by CB Bashaud Breeland on receiver Greg Dent to cause a fumble, jumped on quickly by DE Vic Beasley. Now, it was reviewed and the ruling correctly stood; it was inconclusive whether Breeland jarred the ball loose before Dent’s knee hit the ground, and so the ball stayed with Florida State since that was the call on the field. But hey, whaddya know: on the very next play, a first down for FSU, Breeland gets a 10-yard sack on a cornerback blitz.

You had to like the defense’s aggressiveness in the first half. This was the first time under DC Brent Venables it showed some real teeth, in the first major test of the season.

Special teams made a play against Florida State’s top-flight unit. LB Spencer Shuey well-timed his arrival when punt returner Rashad Greene called a fair catch, and when Greene lost focus (followed by the ball), LS Phillip Fajgenbaum was right there to recover. Those are the type of plays that keep you competitive in a tough road assignment.

Zooming ahead to the second half: not every trick up OC Chad Morris’ sleeve worked (see below), but this one early in the third quarter did. 2nd-and-8, a toss behind the line to WR Sammy Watkins, and he leaves his feet upon throwing the idea pass to Ellington across the field for a 52-yard touchdown that gives the Tigers a 2-touchdown lead with under 12 minutes left in the third quarter. The blocking for Watkins was good enough; WR Jaron Brown got a man, and LT Brandon Thomas trucked a guy. Ellington made a sick cut on Brooks to turn a long gain into a score, and broke the game open … momentarily.

K Chandler Catanzaro. 50-yard FG, down main street, with room to spare. Money. Nails. Call him ‘Kickalicious.’ And … don’t miss DABO on the sideline.

The Bad

It did take the Clemson defense at least one drive to dig in. Quite simply, guys got pushed backward at the line of scrimmage, even with a 7-0 lead before stepping on the field. In the red zone, Manuel read the defense like a book, calling for a stretch run to the left and an easy 13-yard TD by fullback Lonnie Pryor.

The trick plays were mentioned. I’m not sure I like the call on 3rd-and-3 on Clemson’s own 42 with 2:17 remaining in the first half … it’s easy to say now, of course. Watkins overthrew it on a jet sweep pass, and WR Adam Humphries struggled to locate it anyway and thus wasn’t in an outright sprint. In short yardage approaching the two-minute offense, holding a 7-point lead on the road and knowing FSU gets the ball after halftime … taking the ball away from Boyd, Ellington and Hopkins seemed odd. Maybe Morris overthought it. Again, hindsight’s 20-20.

So then the Seminoles get another crack at it before the half, and Clemson suddenly gets waaaaaaaay too conservative on defense. How did LB Travis Blanks simply run into S Rashard Hall’s backside? Clemson’s lucky Florida State bumbled the last minute before intermission.

Picking on Blanks here, but early in the third quarter, receiver Kelvin Benjamin roams for 64 yards on a shovel pass. Blanks has got to make a play here.

Then, a false start and holding call push Florida State into a 1st-and-25 situation from the Tigers’ 26. Yet Manuel rolls for 17 yards. Again, somebody’s got to make a play. Looking at you, DE Corey Crawford and CB Darius Robinson. This was step-on-the-throat time, and Clemson didn’t deliver.

The 90-yard kick return by Lamarcus Joyner was obviously a catalyst in the comeback. Gunner Daniel Rodriguez got caught too far up field, Hall got wrong-footed, and Joyner grabbed the momentum for his team.

After FSU gets the easy touchdown, Clemson starts the response drive in the Wildcat – no Boyd on the field. The Tigers couldn’t get set, and called a timeout. Wheels started falling off.

For the second time in the game, the defense suddenly got complacent. Not to be harsh, because this was a rebuilding defense in a really, really tough environment. But that’s how Clemson went from up 14 to down 18 in a 19-minute span.

And this wasn’t all on the defense. Clemson’s offense was shell-shocked getting the ball back down 42-31 with 13:25 to go in the game … plenty of time, right? Well, Ellington’s 15-yard screen catch on the opening play was nullified by Thomas’ holding call. On the Tigers’ next three plays – starting with 1st-and-20 on its own 15 – the Seminoles blitzed a grand total of zero players beyond its front four. Yet the offensive line completely melted down, resulting in a 3-and-out and the de facto nail in the coffin.

Down 18, following a recovered fumble by Clemson’s defense, Boyd started to get too desperate, throwing into double coverage for his first pick of the game. Then S Jonathan Meeks get shoved backwards, tailback Chris Thompson scores to cap a career night, and that’s your ball game.

A rundown: Sorry, FB Darrell Smith, but you needed to run more north-south on that fake field goal try. Florida State was unfooled, and Smith got too cute on his run … When Florida State pulls defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to the right side of the offense, RT Gifford Timothy can’t block two at the same time. Free shot for defensive end Tank Carradine to blow up the first-quarter drive; should’ve given the inexperienced Timothy more help … Clemson used two first-quarter timeouts on special teams alignment problems. No bueno … run defense was shaky at times. The gaps weren’t plugged on Thompson’s 90-degree cut and run for 41 yards, setting up a game-tying TD at 14-all … even though it was taken back by holding, Thompson broke four tackles by LB Quandon Christian, LB Tig Willard, CB Xavier Brewer and Hall on one rush. Even so, wide receiver Rodney Smith drew an “and-one” play on Robinson – who had a rough night – for the touchdown to make it irrelevant.

The Noteworthy

We had a 60-yard TD toss, a 28-yard QB scramble, a 39-yard trick play, a fake field goal attempt and a reviewed touchdown … in the first eight minutes. What a wild game.

We all did our usual chortling thing when Tajh Boyd sang a little country song at media days – reporters eat up stuff like that – but it’s not the first time Boyd’s tried out the pipes with an audience. For a Saturday Night Football promo, Boyd sang a couple lyrics from Eli Young Band.

As mentioned, the Seminoles shot themselves in the foot in the last minute of the second quarter. It’s clear they don’t operate at the same breakneck pace that Chad Morris-led squads do, and yeah, Clemson’s defense was probably more used to it because of practices all spring, summer and fall.

For a head coach that has a sign on his desk about the halftime score being meaningless – coachspeak which is pretty effective – Dabo Swinney had an interesting comment to ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox before the break. “Hey, we got a touchdown lead, and really that just makes it a tie ball game. ‘Cuz when you come into this environment, they got 7 on the board when you show up.” I guess that means Clemson’s already up 7-nil on Florida State on Oct. 19? Look, gambling sites may figure in a touchdown advantage for hosts; doesn’t mean football teams have to look at it that way.

First half for Clemson: zero penalties, zero turnovers. First half for Florida State: four penalties, one turnover, two missed field goals.

Hey, a hypothetical: what if Watkins evades all 11 Florida State men, not just 10, on that kick return? FSU’s Ronald Darby’s shoestring tackle was a key moment.

Tajh Boyd’s final line: 20-for-36, 237 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 18 rush, 44 yards.

EJ Manuel’s final line: 27-for-35, 380 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT; 12 rush, 102 yards.

By my count, Brent Musberger called this game a ‘dandy’ four times.

THREE STARS

3) Bashaud Breeland, CB. Like the eight tackles, and see above for his nice two-play exchange. Playmakers required this coming year. Maybe Breeland is one.

2) Tajh Boyd, QB. Made some nice throws, stayed poise until desperation time late in the game. Far from perfect, though.

1) Andre Elllington, RB. Aces on two trick plays. Gained 142 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches, and never was taken down for a loss.

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GAME 4: Wake Forest at Clemson, Sept. 28, 2013, Death Valley

A LOOK AT WAKE FOREST

2012 record: 5-7, 3-5 ACC

2012 highlights: It started respectably enough, winning two games by a total of four points (includes rallying to edge North Carolina, which turned out to be decent.) Three games against ranked foes, er, didn’t end well. Had a chance to squeeze into a bowl game, but let Vanderbilt hang 55 on ‘em in Winston-Salem in the finale. So that’s how things are going up there.

Head coach: Jim Grobe, 13th year (73-74) … yeaaaaaaaah, no, he’s not on Twitter. (EDIT: 24 hours later, he is now on Twitter.)

Returning starters (o/d): 15 (7/8)

Base formations: Offense – Option | Defense – 3-4

Clemson-Wake series: Clemson leads 60-17-1, and 35-7 in Death Valley. That home mark is its best against any opponent it will host this fall, other than its 12-1 mark vs. The Citadel. The Tigers haven’t hosted and lost to Wake Forest since 1998, a six-game winning streak. Dabo Swinney is a perfect 4-0 against the Demon Deacons by margins of 35, 20, 3 and 29 points. The last time Wake Forest defeated Clemson – 12-7 on Oct. 9, 2008 – Tommy Bowden resigned four days later and Swinney had coached his final game as a Clemson assistant.

Bonus random note: It only seems like Grobe’s been at Wake since the Stone Age. Truth be told, his predecessor was … Jim Caldwell, the emotionless drone who led the Colts to one AFC championship but was primarily known for turning a 14-2 team into 2-14 in two years when Peyton Manning had that whole ouchy neck deal. Yes, Jim Caldwell led the Demon Deacons for eight years. (Look it up.) And do you know how that went? He went 26-63. He won 29 percent of his games. 29 percent!!! Do you understand how courageously difficult it is to accomplish that feat in today’s day and age? He lasted eight years!!!

Anyway, that struck me as interesting. Carry on.

Back To The Future, Part II: The Good, The Bad, The Noteworthy from Ball State & Furman (plus SC State/NC State previews)

DeAndre Hopkins

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – Alrighty, so games two and three of 2012 were a little less enthralling than the Auburn and Florida State made-for-TV games.

So we’ll smash the Ball State & Furman efforts together, which summarily can be described as Clemson doing what it needed to do to enter the conference slate unscathed … and not much more than that.

Plus, we’ll take a peek at South Carolina State and North Carolina State, the corresponding early-September foes for 2013 coming up in a couple of months.

This is the second installment of our new biweekly feature on PostandCourier.com and the TigerTracks blog this summer. I’ll provide a glimpse to the past – evaluating throwback tape from each 2012 game – as well as one into the future, looking ahead to whichever opponent awaits correlating to that game.

We’ll resume after SEC & Media Days, starting on July 25 and continuing each Monday and Thursday until Aug. 15.

This is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and how they’ll fit in with the 2013 team, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (DeAndre Hopkins, Jonathan Willard, etc.)

One way to differentiate you should know: Clemson players will be listed with shortened positions and will be listed in bold. Opposing players will be preceded by full positions and not in bold.

(So: QB Tajh Boydquarterback Keith Wenning.)

NO. 12 CLEMSON 52, BALL STATE 27 ~ Sept. 8, 2012, ACC Network

Memorial Stadium, Clemson

The Gamer

The Good

The game opens with a pretty rhythmic drive for the Clemson offense: 12 plays, gains on 11 of them (but the longest went only 14 yards), and five first downs plus the touchdown.

RB DJ Howard and RB Roderick McDowell each flaunted their feet. Howard takes a screen pass and nicely tip-toes to the edge, ripping down the sideline for a 33-yard pickup. Later, he motored between the tackles for a tough 4-yard gain; a promising sign. Meanwhile, McDowell navigated his way to a 27-yard touchdown – he’s not quite as explosive as Howard, but what a move he made to shake-and-bake safety Chris Pauling. McDowell actually would lead the Tigers in rushing on this day, with 59 yards on eight carries.

QB Cole Stoudt wasn’t half bad in mop-up duty … although can it really be considered garbage-time if he was inserted before halftime? It’s fairly stunning how early QB Tajh Boyd traded his helmet for a ballcap. Stoudt delivered a nice strike to WR Martavis Bryant for his first career touchdown. Ultimately, Stoudt went 12-for-18 for 123 yards … in fact, Clemson’s three passers (Boyd, Stoudt and QB Morgan Roberts) completed 75 percent of their cumulative attempts, with 8.5 yards per try. Huge.

FS Travis Blanks laid a few big hits. Clemson’ll need that many a time this fall.

A rundown: WR Charone Peake got involved nice and early, including a fantastic catch in tight coverage upon a buttonhook (though it was nullified by an illegal shift) … DT Josh Watson trucked back left guard Kitt O’Brien, and swatted the first throw by quarterback Keith Wenning … pretty good footwork by Bryant on a 17-yard end-around, highlighted by a downfield block by none other than Boyd … speaking of which, Boyd went 19-for-23 for 229 yards and three scores. Ho-hum. … RB Andre Ellington: two short TD runs in the first eight and a half minutes. Ho-hum again. … WR DeAndre Hopkins (three TDs in an 8-minute stretch): Man. Ball State defensive backs: Boys. Period. … LB Stephone Anthony presented nice instincts by stepping back in coverage, watching Wenning all the way and snaring the pass. Anthony’s nine tackles led Clemson … DT DeShawn Williams with a nifty shift to his left to sack Wenning.

The Bad

Hey, defense. Yeah, you guys. Focus, men. All the way through. No reason for discouraged Ball State to rack up 221 yards after halftime, much of which did get charged to the starting unit.

Anthony may have topped the tackle box, but he lost his grip on tailback Jahwan Edwards after pushing him backwards. Anthony was still a work-in-progress with sure tackling.

K Chandler Catanzaro shanked an extra point, his first try of the season at home. That was … weird.

Not much else to nit-pick, besides the late defensive lapses.

The Noteworthy

Ball State attempted a surprise onside kick after a field goal to trail 21-10, thinking it’d like to keep Mr. Boyd on the sideline. Smart thinking. But Lateek Townsend patiently fell on a bouncing ball once it squirted loose from a pack of Cardinals.

A Stoudt interception was wiped out by pass interference. Stoudt responded with a nice loft to WR Adam Humphries.

WR Daniel Rodriguez’s first career catch went for four yards. Let’s just say the ensuing standing ovation wasn’t props for the popcorn vendor. (By the way, look for D-Rod at the ESPYs Wednesday. I’ve been told Rodriguez was invited as a finalist for an award, and while he did not win he’ll get some face time in L.A.)

THREE STARS

3) Charone Peake, WR. Did a nice job taking some of the pressure off Hopkins with a game-high seven catches, albeit for just 44 yards.

2) Tajh Boyd, QB. Nobody did anything too spectacular (save for Hopkins’ quick scoring binge), so Boyd’s here by default. Put up what would be 22 NFL fantasy points without breaking a sweat. No, literally. He didn’t break a sweat in the second half, when he did not appear.

1) DeAndre Hopkins, WR. Six catches, 105 yards, three touchdowns, 18 Ball State defenders in the fetal position in the locker room. (I only made up one of those stats.)

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Sammy Watkins

NO. 11 CLEMSON 41, FURMAN 7 ~ Sept. 15, 2012, Fox Sports Net

Memorial Stadium, Clemson

The Gamer

The Good

Returning from suspension to a warm welcome from the fans, WR Sammy Watkins showed good evasiveness on his first touch, and he was just getting started. OC Chad Morris called a jet sweep, and in about half a second: “Sammy gone.” After a block from LG Kalon Davis – starting in place of David Beasley – Watkins accelerates into daylight. Good gravy, Sammy Watkins is fast.

One more word for Davis, too: at 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, he’s fairly well-postured.

Boyd opened 9-for-9. Not bad.

LB Quandon Christian picked up a pick, and it was all due to DT Grady Jarrett, who destroyed right guard Ryan Storms and hit quarterback Reese Hannon upon release. Christian easily gobbled up a 27-yard return. Storms was called for holding, so give Jarrett the “and one.”

Jarrett also wrapped up petite tailback Hank McCloud and easily dispatched him to the ground. Nice game for the big fella.

Great concentration by Bryant on a deep route, catching an eventual touchdown in triple coverage to seal the scoring.

The Bad

Well, the defense picked up where it left off at the end of Ball State. Clemson allowed the Paladins to march on their opening drive … fortunately, the Tigers weren’t fooled on a fake field goal shift to conclude the drive.

Blanks couldn’t stay on receiver Will King, who went for 45 yards on a seam route. In fact, second-string quarterback Reese Hannon, a freshman in his first start, opened 12-for-14 for 160 yards and a touchdown in the first half. DC Brent Venables absolutely got on his guys about that in the locker room.

Overall, it was just a sloppy second quarter: a three-and-out, a poor punt, then allowing two long catches (including a touchdown), a missed tackle by DE Tavaris Barnes on running back Jerodis Williams, and CB Rashard Hall losing receiver Jordan Snellings on busted coverage … blech.

Boyd opened the second half with a fumble, then a poor throw behind TE Brandon Ford. Not his sharpest afternoon.

The Noteworthy

Announcers made a valid point when Boyd barely converted a sneak on 4th-and-inches: the quarterback’s not supposed to turn his body around. It moves the football away from the necessary first-down marker, and risks the defense being able to shove him backwards for a turnover on downs.

The previous week, when Clemson beat Ball State by 25, it wasn’t as close as the score intended. This week, when Clemson beat Furman by 34, it was closer than the score intended. Either way, 3-0 is 3-0, heading into an ACC showdown down south.

THREE STARS

3) Quandon Christian, LB. Six tackles, one behind the line, and the pick with a pass break-up. Nice all-around day.

2) Jaron Brown, WR. Seemed like he honed in even more when he was about to absorb contact. Great poise, no fear.

1) Sammy Watkins, WR. Welcome back, indeed.

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GAME 2: South Carolina State at Clemson, Sept. 7, 2013, Death Valley

A LOOK AT SC STATE

2012 record: 5-6, 4-4 MEAC

2012 highlights: Does allowing a combined 126 points in consecutive weeks to Arizona and Texas A&M count as a highlight? (We’re going to go with, yes.)

Head coach: Buddy Pough, 12th year

Returning starters (o/d): 17 (8/9)

Base formations: Offense – Multiple (Pro, I-Formation) | Defense – Multiple

SC State-Clemson series: Clemson 54, South Carolina State 0. In 2008. The only previous meeting.

Notes: The Bulldogs suffered their first losing season in 12 years … Recall the 126 points stat. In a related narrative, Clemson scores lots of points. Let’s move on.

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GAME 3: Clemson at North Carolina State, Sept. 19, 2013, Carter-Finley Stadium

A LOOK AT NC STATE

2012 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC

2012 highlights: knocked off No. 3 Florida State 17-16, giving the world one of the all-time great sports GIFs … followed up with a win at Maryland, but then lost to in-state rival UNC and never won consecutive games the rest of the year, losing 38-24 to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl

Head coach: Dave Doeren, 1st year (@StateCoachD)

Returning starters (o/d): 10 (5/5)

Base formations: Offense – Multiple (Pro style / power-I) | Defense – 4-3

NC State-Clemson series: Clemson leads 52-28-1, enjoying a 8-1 stretch over the past decade. The foes have tangled every year going back to 1971, a stretch where Clemson’s advantage is shaved to 24-18 … the Tigers are still on the plus side in Raleigh, with an 18-16 record, but the Wolf Pack won 37-13 in 2011 when Clemson was ranked seventh … the previous two trips to Carter-Finley Stadium, the Tigers triumphed 43-23 when ranked No. 24 in 2009, and 42-20 at No. 15 in 2007… historically, when ranked, Clemson is 12-3 against an unranked NC State squad. The Wolf Pack don’t figure to be in the top 25 when week three rolls around this fall, following non-conference openers with Louisiana Tech and Richmond.

Notes: Since 2003, North Carolina State has spent all of three weeks in the rankings, and never higher than No. 21 … when Clemson won 62-48 last year in Death Valley, it was the most points NC State had ever scored in defeat … the quarterback situation, replacing veteran Mike Glennon, is uncertain. The candidates are Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell, Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas and returning sophomore Manny Stocker … Doeren is in his first major-conference head coaching opportunity, after leading Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl berth after winning a rough-and-tumble MAC championship. He previously was a Wisconsin defensive assistant for five years, and both his coordinators (Matt Canada and Dave Huxtable) are Bret Bielema disciples as well.

Back To The Future, Part I: The Good, The Bad and the Noteworthy from Clemson 26, Auburn 19 (plus a Georgia preview!)

Clemson Auburn_mini

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – Today kicks off a new biweekly feature on PostandCourier.com and the TigerTracks blog this summer. Every Thursday and Sunday from now until mid-August (excluding SEC & ACC media days), I’ll provide a glimpse to the past – evaluating throwback tape from each 2012 game – as well as one into the future, looking ahead to whichever opponent awaits correlating to that game. (So, we’ll start with the 2012 and 2013 openers, and conclude with each season’s final game: the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl and the 2013 South Carolina showdown.)

Obviously, we’ll start Thursday with Clemson’s 26-19 defeat over Auburn, which sparked the Tigers’ terrific season. Plus, we’ll look ahead to what Georgia presents for the 2013 opener, just seven Saturdays from now. (Eek!)

This is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and how they’ll fit in with the 2013 team, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (Andre Ellington, Malliciah Goodman, etc.)

One way to differentiate you should know: Clemson players will be listed with shortened positions and will be listed in bold. Opposing players will be preceded by full positions and not in bold.

(So: QB Tajh Boydquarterback Kiehl Frazier.)

I hope you enjoy. Believe me, I’m eagerly anticipating football season’s arrival as much as you are.

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NO. 14 CLEMSON 26, AUBURN 19 ~ Sept. 1, 2012, ESPN

Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

The Good

Looks like that was a successful trip to Reno, Mr. Morris. Clemson reinstalled the pistol formation leading up to the opener, and as Travis Sawchik wrote the week after the Auburn game, the Tigers were in the pistol 80 percent of their snaps. Indeed, there were some hassles from the get-go – QB Tajh Boyd mishandled a pistol snap off his left shoulder, with no choice but to fall on the loose ball – but Clemson ran the ball relentlessly on Auburn, and RB Andre Ellington earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week honors for his 228 yards. Now if Clemson ever matches up with Nevada in a bowl game, well … this could get awkward.

DT Josh Watson was involved in two big moments. First, to start the second quarter following a couple of long Auburn runs, Watson patiently drops back, reaches his big left arm around to tailback Tre Mason’s left hand and slaps the ball loose. Easy recovery for Clemson. Then to open the fourth, when Auburn started to wear down Clemson’s defense a little bit, Watson draws a holding call by left tackle Greg Robinson, stunting momentum and forcing Auburn to, again, settle for a field goal.

Tremendous, game-changing play when Boyd breaks out of the grasp of linebacker Daren Bates and cornerback Chris Davis, and connects on a rollout with WR Charone Peake. Turned what would have been a 4th-and-16 into a 4th and 1, and after initially bringing out K Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson called time and gave it to Ellington instead. First down converted. Boyd flipped the switch after this point – a little over 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

Boyd doesn’t like to run? Poor Ryan Smith, the Auburn safety, begs to differ. Sprang loose by a zone read, the shifty Boyd cut back and Smith had no chance, crumpling to the ground.

Boyd’s pocket presence. Carries himself like a pro quarterback on dropbacks. Throws darts when he has time. So composed.

CB Bashaud Breeland showed great reaction and closing speed to take down tailback Onterio McCalebb on a screen pass, forcing Auburn to settle for a field goal in the red zone. Later on, Breeland wasn’t fooled on a reverse, shaking off a block from center Tunde Fariyike and gobbling up receiver Quan Bray. Couple of impact plays.

Hey, look, it’s DE Vic Beasley! And just in the nick of time. Color commentator Todd Blackledge exclaimed “it looked like he was shot out of a cannon”, forcing quarterback Kiehl Frazier to throw it away on the first play of Desperation Drive under two minutes to go. And, hey, look, it’s Vic Beasley again! Brutalizes Robinson (who had a terrible debut) and swallows up Frazier. Auburn only gets one more play, which goes incomplete, and that’s the ball game.

A rundown: LB Stephone Anthony makes an impressive leap to his right, tips a ball that would have moved the chains to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen … incredible submarine stop by DT DeShawn Williams, who from the carpet wrapped up Mason’s legs for a 3rd-and-2 stop … RB Roderick McDowell with a tough inside run on short yardage.

The Bad

Far, far too many penalties, dropped balls and unnecessary gaffes. WR DeAndre Hopkins’ illegal motion (he never got set) nullifies a fearless route and terrific diving grab by WR Martavis Bryant in between corner T’Sharvan Bell and safety Jermaine Whitehead. We mentioned the Boyd fumble. On 4th-and-goal from the 1, RG Tyler Shatley rocks his left shoulder – false start on a hard snap count backfires, and Clemson settles for a field goal. That was after a dropped ball by TE Brandon Ford. Then on defense, with nine guys stacked in the box, CB Darius Robinson gets twisted around and completely loses receiver Emory Blake, who ends up with the easiest 54-yard touchdown grab you’ll ever see. 12 men in the offensive huddle on Clemson’s next drive. And we’re still in the first quarter. Yeeeesh. So no, Clemson didn’t play its best ball.

Game stats said six penalties for 30 yards, but it felt like more. And I counted five drops; Bryant and Ford did so on two out of three consecutive plays.

A rundown: Bryant hesitated bringing the angled kick out of the end zone, and got caught behind WR Jaron Brown, before getting knocked out of bounds at the 10. Boyd didn’t look pleased … S Robert Smith gave Lutzenkirchen waaaaaaay too much cushion to end the third quarter, setting up Auburn in the red zone.

The Noteworthy

The overturned Tajh Boyd fumble on a scramble, which was officially ruled that his knee was down upon video review? Yeah, that was a bad overturn. That was a fumble. Clemson got lucky there. Brad Nessler even uttered on the telecast, “Wow. Well, we’ve got our opinion, but the one that counts is the guy’s next to us.” As in, the video review boss man.

Interesting decision: after receiving a punt at the 20, Instead of bleeding clock, Clemson merely cranked the tempo down a tad. They still were snapping the ball with more than 15 seconds left on the play clock. It paid off.

RT Gifford Timothy left the game late with discomfort in his knee, but coming off meniscus surgery, he played all right against Auburn’s defensive end duo of Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford.

Boyd had to exit the game four times: three for a popped-off helmet, and once with an ouchy right thigh.

Boyd went to Ford five times in his first 16 attempts. For the game, Ford was targeted nine times. Yeah, the tight end’s important in this offense.

Three rushing first downs by Boyd – on third down. Even when he’s not the star of the show (Ellington 228 yards, Hopkins 13 catches robbed the spotlight), Boyd impacts games unlike many, many players in the country.

I write this as an Auburn beat writer in 2012, who was obviously on hand for this game: this was Auburn’s best game of the year. In fact, of the nine teams to defeat the 2010 champions last fall, there’s only one who could consider that day a “good” win, and that’s Clemson. The other eight, with the possible exception of the circus that was Arkansas, simply beat a bad team. Clemson beat a good football team on the first night of the 2012 season.

THREE STARS

3) Tajh Boyd, QB. As mentioned above: Boyd’s good even when it’s not blatantly obvious he’s good.

2) DeAndre Hopkins, WR. An eye-popping, “I got this even without Sammy” performance set the tone for his entire season. School record 13 catches, for 119 yards and pay dirt.

1) Andre Ellington, RB. I’m as baffled as you are he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round.

*************************

GAME 1: Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31, 2013, Death Valley

A LOOK AT GEORGIA

2012 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC

2012 highlights: lost to Alabama 32-28 in SEC Championship Game; def. Nebraska 45-31 in Capital One Bowl; ranked in the top 13 all season long, finished No. 5

Head coach: Mark Richt, 13th year (@MarkRicht)

Returning starters (o/d): 12 (9/3)

Base formations: Offense – 3-WR pro style | Defense – 3-4

Georgia-Clemson series: Georgia holds a commanding 41-17-4 advantage, including a five-game winning streak that does reach back to 1990. Of course, as we’ll document later this summer, Clemson and Georgia met 11 straight years from 1977-87, which featured five Tigers wins, five Bulldogs wins and a tie. The margin those five years: Georgia 171, Clemson 159 … in the last 110 years, Clemson has opened against Georgia three times, and lost all three (1982, 13-7; 2002, 31-28; 2003, 30-0) … remarkably, this will be only the fourth meeting when both teams are ranked in the top 25. No. 8 Clemson edged No. 18 Georgia 21-20 in 1987, but the Bulldogs triumphed in 1982 and 1984 by a combined nine points. The home team won all three of those meetings … the foes have clashed 20 times in Clemson. Nine wins for Clemson, nine wins for Georgia, and two ties. Think this might be a good game?

Notes: Clemson is 87-22-8 in season openers, with 22 wins in its past 27 years … the Tigers are 4-7 when opening against a ranked opponent … Tigers have seven wins over opponents ranked in either poll over their past 33 games … Clemson has won 32 percent of its games against SEC teams … this game is 51 days away.

Counting down Clemson’s most valuable players in 2013: No. 10 TE Jordan Leggett

Jordan Leggett

BY AARON BRENNER AND DARRYL SLATER
abrenner@postandcourier.com and dslater@postandcourier.com

To help get you through college football’s slow days of late June and early July — before conference media days launch the preseason festivities — we’re counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. One Gamecock and one Tiger every day, so you can spend part of your summer studying the players who will make a difference for your team come autumn. 

CLEMSON’S NO. 10 MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
JORDAN LEGGETT, FRESHMAN, TIGHT END

Here’s a few things you ought to know about the relationship between Clemson and the tight end. A tight end has ranked among the team’s top three receiving leaders each of the past four years; no other ACC team, incumbent or incoming, can say that for just the past two years. With Tajh Boyd at quarterback, Clemson tight ends hauled in 21 touchdowns in 2011-12; the next-nearest ACC group is Syracuse’s 10 scores over the past two years combined, which doesn’t equal the Tigers’ total of 11 last fall.

LeggettJordanSo if you gave offensive coordinator Chad Morris the option of playing two-hand-touch in the spring game and therefore not losing presumed starter Sam Cooper for the year to a torn ACL, he snatches the opportunity without blinking. Somebody’s got to be the next stud in line behind Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford – Allen and Ford recorded eight TDs a piece in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The options are Stanton Seckinger, who’s really built more like receiver, redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough, and … Jordan Leggett. Don’t underestimate the value of getting  a headstart on absorbing the complex playbook of Morris – who, by the way, was Leggett’s primary recruiter. He’s already got the proper body to pound in the ACC, so if he fine-tunes his route-running, look for Boyd to look for Leggett often in 3rd-down and red-zone packages.
-Aaron Brenner

JORDAN LEGGETT
Position: Tight end
Year: Freshman
Height/weight: 6-6/235
Hometown: Navarre, Fla.
Last year: Three-star prospect enrolled in January, giving him a full spring to work out with the Tigers

Previously: No. 12 Jr. DT Grady Jarrett, No. 11 Jr. LB Stephone Anthony
COMING SATURDAY: No. 9

Clemson football back-to-back-to-back in NCAA Academic Progress Rate honors

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

Dabo Swinney 2013 hsCLEMSON – College football coaches – and, really, coaches in many other collegiate sports – like to say success on the field and progress in the classroom go hand in hand.

It’s not always the case. But Clemson was identified as proof positive Wednesday, and the Tigers are making a habit of doing so.

For the third straight year, Clemson football’s Academic Progress Rate score ranked among the top ten percent of FBS programs, as announced by the NCAA with its Academic Performance Public Recognition Awards.

“One of the things we talk about with our players is developing to the best of their abilities in every area,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in a release. “We have had consistency when it comes to graduation rate and academic progress.  It reflects on the team’s overall commitment to being the best.”

APR measures each scholarship player’s academic progress, factoring in eligibility, retention and graduation along with the team’s grade point average.

In 2012, Clemson’s six Academic all-ACC representatives trailed only Duke’s 21 in the conference. Center Dalton Freeman, who signed with the Jets after going undrafted in April, was the school’s first four-time academic all-ACC selection, and was joined by receiver Jaron Brown, kicker Chandler Catanzaro, tight end Brandon Ford, offensive guard Tyler Shatley and offensive tackle Gifford Timothy.

All 13 players from Clemson’s 2012 senior class graduated – the same class which won 36 total games, the sixth-most in school history and highest level of success for a class since 1991.

Last year, Clemson was one of 18 schools honored by the American Football Coaches Association for graduating at least 90 percent of its players.

Clemson, Alabama and Stanford were the only football programs honored for last year’s academics that also finished the 2012 season ranked in the final USA Today top ten.

Only Clemson, Boise State, Duke, Northwestern, Rice and Ohio State have attained the APR pinnacle each of the past three seasons. From that group, Clemson’s 21-6 mark over the past two seasons is eclipsed only by Mountain West power Boise.

“I want to thank the staff at Vickery Hall for their work with our student-athletes,” Swinney said. “Their level of dedication is reflected in us being one of the few schools to rank in the top 10 percent each of the last three years.”

Clemson’s golf program, which has the second-longest NCAA tournament streak in the country of 32 consecutive years, also has back-to-back years in the top 10 percent nationally in Division I golf APR scores.

“Both Coach Swinney and Coach (Larry) Penley create the proper balance between competitive excellence and academic success,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a statement. “I am proud that these programs are leading the way for our Clemson.”

Of the 13 football teams honored by the NCAA, the ACC led all conferences with four members: Clemson, Boston College, Duke and Georgia Tech.

Rutgers, Missouri and Wisconsin rounded out the list for football.

Multiyear APRs for all Division I programs will be released Tuesday.