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 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.

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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 2013 players: No. 5 DT Josh Watson

Josh Watson

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. 5 MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
JOSH WATSON, JUNIOR, DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Josh WatsonClemson’s below-average rush defense has already been discussed in the Grady Jarrett entry. As a reminder: 156 yards on the ground per game, which is 56th nationally and eighth in the ACC. That was actually an improvement upon the previous year: Clemson was 10th in the ACC in 2011 (177 yards a clip). It’s not an unsalvageable situation, but guys like Josh Watson have to make the leap from good to … well, better. Even if he’s not a Nagurski winner, Watson’s the guy with the expectations.

Watson’s production isn’t necessarily quantifiable. The 2012 numbers say 54 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 12 quarterback pressures and so on and so forth. He’s got a defensive end’s mindset, but he’s asked to play in the trenches alongside the nose guard Jarrett. The best defensive tackle sets are the ones who aren’t necessarily hearing their names yelped by play-by-play announcers; they’re the ones quietly pushing back the line of scrimmage and tearing apart the opposing quarterback’s rhythm, keeping running backs bottled up and ultimately allowing the back seven to make plays if the rush ends aren’t being dominant. Certainly, Clemson can (and will) win a shootout here and there. But depending on that method every single week gets you 9-3, not 11-1 or beyond.
-Aaron Brenner

JOSH WATSON
Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Junior
Height/weight: 6-4, 285
Hometown: Wilmington, Del.
Last year: Started nine games, recorded a QB pressure in nine out of 13 games, led all Tigers’ defensive linemen with 54 tackles

Previously: No. 12 Jr. DT Grady Jarrett, No. 11 Jr. LB Stephone Anthony, No. 10 Fr. TE Jordan Leggett, No. 9 Jr. RT Gifford Timothy, No. 8 Fr. CB Mackensie Alexander, No. 7 Soph. FS Travis Blanks, No. 6 Jr. WR Adam Humphries

COMING THURSDAY: No. 4