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 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.

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

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 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.