Back To The Future, Part V: The Good, The Bad, The Noteworthy from Georgia Tech (plus Boston College preview)

Sammy Watkins

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – Payback was sweet, wasn’t it?

Georgia Tech will always give Clemson a tough game, but at least the Yellow Jackets didn’t ruin a good thing this time around.

Clemson garnered revenge with a 47-31 hardfought victory in the 2012 edition of this rivalry, a year after Georgia Tech ended the Tigers’ bid at an undefeated season.

Wanna watch the video? Here it is if you wanna try to follow along.

This is the fifth 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.

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 abbreviated positions and listed in bold. Opposing players will be preceded by full positions and not in bold.

(So: QB Tajh Boyd … quarterback Tevin Washington.)

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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.

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

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.

Counting down Clemson’s most valuable players in 2013: No. 9 RT Gifford Timothy

Timothy.RB_miniBY 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. 9 MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
GIFFORD TIMOTHY, JUNIOR, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

Interesting statistic from the Clemson football files: the squad has won 76 percent of its games in years with at least four returning offensive line starters. (The program has won 57 percent of its overall games, for perspective.) Seeing as Brandon Thomas and Gifford Timothy return at the tackles, and David Beasley and Tyler Shatley are back at guard, that could give the Tigers their complete starting lineup sans center Dalton Freeman from the entire ACC slate and Chick-fil-A Bowl. There’s still some competition to sort out – does Kalon Davis take over from Beasley at left guard? Does Isaiah Battle factor in at some point? – but continuity and chemistry are everything to coach Robbie Caldwell’s big uglies.

TimothyGiffordYou know what you’re getting out of Thomas: an All-American effort from a guy who if healthy will keep Tajh Boyd’s backside clean. The real fear for opponents is if a second dominant tackle emerges. (Remember when Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews resembled a shark-infested moat around some guy named Johnny Manziel?) Now, when Thomas got hurt in the first quarter of the bowl game, Battle held his own against LSU’s first-round NFL defensive end talents. So the onus is on Timothy to keep Battle just where he is: a hot prospect in waiting.
-Aaron Brenner

GIFFORD TIMOTHY
Position: Offensive lineman
Year: Junior
Height/weight: 6-6/310
Hometown: Middletown, Del.
Last year: Made 11 starts at right tackle, missed Furman game in week three and left Chick-Fil-A Bowl with injury

Previously: No. 12 Jr. DT Grady Jarrett, No. 11 Jr. LB Stephone Anthony, No. 10 Fr. TE Jordan Leggett
COMING SUNDAY: No. 8

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.