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.

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Jimbo Fisher talks Clemson showdown

Jimbo Fisher. Trey FisherBY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – With a bye heading into his team’s biggest game of the year, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has a checklist with three items on it this week.

Go back to fundamentals for the Seminoles, with limited focus on Clemson initially.

Hang out with his wife and two kids Saturday, when FSU is idle.

And coax the conference into doing something about Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Clemson’s fearsome defensive line, since the Tigers’ 19 sacks are tied for the most in the country.

“I’m trying to get the ACC to give me 13 guys, to give me two more linemen … so we can block ‘em,” Fisher said on Wednesday’s ACC teleconference. “I’m serious, they bring pressure. Beasley, Crawford, inside, they all blitz, they bring different combinations.”

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7 at 7: Tajh Boyd’s swagger, Vic Beasley’s sack pace, and an Office Space reference

Tajh Boyd

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

CLEMSON – I haven’t done nearly enough of these. To the blog readers: please, please hit me with your input. You can reach me at any link above: e-mail, Twitter or Facebook.

1) Tajh Boyd is one part philosopher, one part optimist.

The guy knows how to work a room; both when it’s time to drop some wisdom, and when it’s time to express some confidence.

“Being so much involved in the offense and being here for a while, we have expectations of what the offense is supposed to look like,” Boyd said.

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7 at 7: Notes from Saturday’s scrimmage, including the starting running back and the most important Tiger besides Tajh Boyd

Roderick McDowell

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – See what I did there? We can go 7 at 7 p.m. as well as in the a.m.

1) Since the quarterback position has been settled without a shadow of a doubt, the most intriguing positional battle in Clemson football camp on offense focuses on the starting tailback.

Of course, it won’t be just one featured runner. For now, at least, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney favors senior Roderick McDowell, who leads all Tigers tailbacks with 674 career rushing yards – which are actually nearly 100 fewer than quarterback Tajh Boyd’s career total.

“Rod’s our starter. He’s clearly earned the right to be the starter,” Swinney said Saturday, two weeks before the opener vs. Georgia. “But he can’t do it by himself. We’re going to be a running back by committee, and that’s fine. When you do what we do and you play as many snaps as we play, we’ve got to be able to have a good crop of guys.”

The other big name to watch is true sophomore Zac Brooks, who averaged 4.6 yards a carry in limited duty last year and has produced a consistently solid camp.

“He’s obviously a little bit bigger,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Moving the chains right now, doing some good things in pass protection, catches the ball really well.”

Brooks is listed as 6-foot-1, 190 pounds after pre-camp weigh-ins. McDowell is 5-10, 200, while D.J. Howard is 6-0, 195, so whatever Morris is seeing, Brooks might simply be playing bigger than his measureables.

“D.J. and Hot Rod do the same too, but he’s just a bigger body,” Morris said. “He’s got more of a tendency to be a punishing-style runner.”

Freshmen Tyshon Dye (5-11, 215), who’s missed the past week with a bad back, and Wayne Gallman (6-1, 200) are redshirt candidates. Walk-on C.J. Davison is also in the mix for carries.

2) While the baby-faced secondary goes through growing pains, Clemson’s defense will hinge early on its experienced front seven.

“I don’t think we’re dominant yet, but we are much, much improved in the defensive line and linebacker position from where we were last year at this time,” Swinney said. “Now will they make the same type of improvement? We will see. And we better be. Because we’ve got a really tough challenge right out of the gate.”

Darrell Smith3) In 37 career games, fifth-year senior Darrell Smith has one recorded one stat besides his 25 special-teams tackles: one catch, one yard, last year.

With the tight end position ravaged by injuries to Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett, the listed fullback Smith is working at tight end.

“Darrell Smith has been awesome. Probably as important as Tajh right now to our offense,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to keep Darrell healthy and ready to go. He is that important to what we do in everything. He brings that toughness that we have to have.”

Added Boyd: “Darrell Smith is a big part of this offense right now. He’s a fifth-year senior who’s a selfless guy when he steps on that field. He’s going to have a big impact on us this season.”

Smith is referred to by teammates as a soft-spoken leader, but his role might be increasing very soon.

“I’m working on my craft,” Smith said. “Working on my pass routes, trying to catch the ball better, and improve my blocking every day.”

4) Upon discussing the knee injury to freshman athlete T.J. Green on Aug. 7, Swinney said ominously, “it doesn’t look good.”

Yet Green escaped a torn ACL prognosis, and returned to drills this week. On Saturday, he caught three passes during the scrimmage and was tackled without issue, a highly encouraging sign.

“He’s practiced well the last few days,” Swinney said. “Ran the ball after the catch well, returned kicks. He feels good.”

5) Swinney gathered his players and told them not to buy into the hype surrounding the program this season.

Once. And then, that was the end of it.

It hasn’t been a recurring topic in team meetings, even after the Associated Press poll released Saturday matched the coaches’ poll rating of No. 8 for the Tigers.

“I really don’t pay attention to it,” defensive end Corey Crawford said. “I don’t know how to comment on it, because we have to play regardless of whether we’re No. 1 or the last one. It really doesn’t matter until the end.”

6) Even though he’s just 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds – usually a body type fit for an outside linebacker – defensive end Vic Beasley has a chance to terrorize many a quarterback trying to pick apart Clemson’s defense.

“He plays like he’s 270. He can get into some mismatch situations, but his skill set allows him to overcome a lot of those things,” Swinney said. “His strength, his length, his speed, and his motor. He can be on the field on any down.”

7) This is probably the best way anybody could sum up a skilled yet raw group of freshmen going through their first fall camp, hoping to produce as early as 2013:

“The consistency is the thing,” Swinney said, “but they are flashy from time to time.”

Look for Leggett, Green, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive backs Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins to definitely play early in their careers. The rest of the pack is still hoping to contribute this season, but many will redshirt and prepare for 2014.

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.