7 at 7: Chad Morris gets philosophical, Vic Beasley speaks logic, Corey Crawford preaches confidence

Corey Crawford

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Seven quick quotes from Monday Funday at the Clemson football complex, to get your football mind whirring this morning:

1) Offensive coordinator Chad Morris got philosophical.

“These guys have worked extremely hard to get to this point. What we talked to these guys about: some guys come in here and think they’re the only person who ever wore a Tiger Paw. What we talk about is, where you are today is because of the players who have wore the Tiger Paw before you, and don’t ever forget that. A lot of players been through blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, and they are just as much a part of where we’re at as our current players. Then you also remind our players who will wear the Paw after you leave.

“So all you are is holding a place and a seat right now. You’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Every day you step on this field. Most the players, you’re gonna get 28 opportunities on a Saturday to play here at Death Valley.”

He wasn’t done.

Continue reading

7 at 7: Mike Williams pushing Martavis Bryant for playing time, Danny Ford reflects on Bill McLellan, and what Syracuse defense does well

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Typical Chad Morris: he’s at the point of expecting to be asked what went wrong after a 49-point victory, because elite is never enough.

Quite simply, Morris said in his weekly Monday sitdown with reporters, “There’s plenty to get better. We’re not going to spend the day patting them on the back.”

Among the complaints Clemson’s offensive coordinator had for his No. 16-rated scoring offense: “We’ve got to get cleared up in our run game. We had some snap issues. We gave up two sacks just by being soft, entirely too soft and not playing with technique. Our technique has got to get better on the offensive line. We’re going to keep pressing those guys. We had three drops.”

Continue reading

Practice notes: Clemson honing in on firm five up front; Leggett suffers knee injury

Offensive line_mini

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – If Georgia was coming to Death Valley today, Clemson’s got a good feel of who run out there at offensive line.

Individually, there has been some consternation at certain spots within the past week. But with 17 days to go before the opener, head coach Dabo Swinney sounded far more confident in his starting group.

And that group does not include Isaiah Battle, whom the coaches have practically begged to step into a starring role at left tackle.

“Battle’s not going to beat out Brandon Thomas,” Swinney said Wednesday at Memorial Stadium following a morning situational scrimmage. “I mean, that’s a pipe dream.”

So there’s that. But if Battle was at least one of Clemson’s best five offensive lineman, that would scooch all-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas over one spot to left guard.

“In Battle’s situation, he’s not there yet, but at some point, hopefully the light comes on, and he’s one of those five, maybe he’s better than one of our other guys, then we’ve got flexibility,” Swinney said. “We don’t have a lot of flexibility with Isaiah – he’s going to play one spot, and that’s tackle.”

So Thomas is locked in at left tackle against the Bulldogs, right?

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Unless something drastic changes, he’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win,” Swinney said. “That’s not going to change in the next couple of weeks.”

Plan B doesn’t look good either, for one reason. He stands 6-foot-4 tall and weighs 315 pounds and has a new nickname.

“David Beasley has had a great camp,” Swinney said, with enthusiasm. “If you had asked me that before camp, I’d have said it’s a real hot fire at left guard. But I tell you what: I think (offensive line coach) Robbie (Caldwell) changed his name from the Ugly Duckling to the Sexy Swan. You never know what Robbie’s going to say.”

After reporters stopped chuckling, Swinney outlined how Beasley’s been “the most pleasant surprise of camp,” and the best camp overall on the line outside of entrenched right guard Tyler Shatley.

“We didn’t know if he was going to be fully committed. We’re most pleased with him and his performance and his mental preparation,” Swinney said. “He has been very, very focused, and he’s made very few mental mistakes.

“And physically, he’s a train. Very strong, hard to get around. If he gets his hands on you, it’s over. He’s pushed through conditioning from a fatigue standpoint.”

On the other side of the line, Gifford Timothy’s hanging on to right tackle for now. Eric Mac Lain, Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are in the mix as backups.

“Giff is probably the guy who I’m not displeased with. I trust Giff. We all trust him,” Swinney said. “But he’s probably the guy that needs some fire under him.”

Finally, the center position. The most important cog on the line, and the saga of inconsistent shotgun snaps continues with Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo.

“We’ve been a little inconsistent with our snaps,” Swinney said. “Not bad, but just not the perfection that we’re looking for.”

The Tigers would like to have a firm five in place when game preparation for Georgia begins Aug. 22 – nine days before the showdown.

“Obviously an opener like this, a game like this, you’re gonna put your best foot forward,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to really dial in on who we want to go to battle with, and who we think is really ready, that we can trust.”

Leggett goes down: Promising freshman tight end Jordan Leggett was carted off from Wednesday’s scrimmage, after catching a pass and getting tackled. He went off to get his knee checked out, and details should follow today or tomorrow.

“Hopefully, it’s not bad,” Swinney said. “It didn’t look good on the field.”

-AB

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.)

Continue reading

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.