This week we are joined by our friends at Shakin The Southland, covering all things Clemson. The tag-team that runs STS is comprised of serious football experts and they are always on point. STS is a really good site not only for Clemson info, but also to learn about the game of football. I answered some of their questions and you should definitely check that out as well.
1. How far off from your pre-season expectations is Clemson at this point? Have the Tigers suffered an unusual amount of injuries?
We predicted in February around 8-4 or 9-3, then I ripped off your method (allotting a confidence percentage to each game) in August and came up with 8-4/9-3 again, so we will need to win out to get to this level. This team has, from an overall level of play, been disappointing especially on offense. I fully expected a more veteran offensive line and Ellington (who I had been praising all off-season) to be more proficient. Ellington has not disappointed me but our inability to get quality receivers on the field early and our predictable/inexplicable play calling to be better. Our kicking game has also been a liability as we have yet to find a dependable place kicker out of the three we have on scholarship. The defense has played well for the most part (we had a few breakdowns in important portions of games but have adjusted after those miscues).
We suffered the following losses over the course of the year, which I do not think were insurmountable:
Jaron Brown missed the NC State game with an ankle injury.
Andre Ellington got hurt in the BC game. He missed the NC State game and we are not sure how much longer he will be out with a strained ligament in his foot.
Kourtnei Brown got dinged up and has missed some time.
Brandon Maye had his knee scoped to start the year.
Tig Willard battled an elbow injury.
Jamie Cumbie was dismissed from the team after an altercation this summer with a Clemson student.
Obviously we had an issue with Kyle Parker getting speared during the Auburn game.
2. Clemson has had one of the best 20 defenses in the country forever, sometimes even best 10. How has the defense changed in the second year of Kevin Steele's scheme? Do you think the defensive personnel is better this year than it was last season?
Steele's base play has not changed too much and neither has his core tendencies. Clemson did show more flexibility in particular situations, especially against Georgia Tech. Steele showed a few three man fronts there and featured bandit end Andre Branch playing some linebacker along with portions of our defensive line playing in a two point stance.
Clemson's defense is weakest at the linebacker position as we were last season. Steele is still working on this group and we have to get better. Otherwise Clemson is pretty good in up front and in the secondary. This team lost Jamie Cumbie and Ricky Sapp off the defensive line from last season but gained a rejuvenated Bowers and Kourtnei Brown off of a red shirt. At linebacker we are still struggling. Clemson lost both starting corners from last season and took a little while to get in a deep groove especially defending the pass as Clemson gave up quite a few big plays on critical secondary miscues early in the year.
Overall, we probably get a little better up front specifically with an improved Bowers, stand still at linebacker, and are a little worse in the secondary and, overall, close to where we were last season. I will say that I have been pleased with our third down defense the past few weeks.
Andre Ellington has been our most potent weapon on offense but now he is obviously going to be sidelined for a couple more weeks. Ellington really broke out and, if this staff would have fed him the ball more, probably would have had a huge year to date and Clemson probably would have picked up another win and/or instilled more confidence and more of an identity for this offense.
DeAndre Hopkins (Nuke) is an impressive wide receiver. He has a wide array of skills and has contributed as a freshman, quickly becoming Clemson's go to receiver. There is little doubt that he is the Tiger's biggest pass catching threat at the wide out position and has proven himself as a very capable return man.
Defensively, you could make a case for Rashard Hall or Andre Branch. Hall has accounted for a lot of tackles (55 total) to this point and has a couple of interceptions including one he returned for a score. I like Branch, our bandit end, for the versatility he has shown on the year, even playing some linebacker when called into this role against Georgia Tech. You could make an argument for our other defensive linemen if you wish as those guys overall have played pretty well as a group on the year.
4. Does this Clemson offense do anything well? I know the coaches have changed up the receivers and benched the vets for the talented young guys, and pledged to give Ellington more carries (then he got hurt), but, is this more of a development problem, philosophical problem, organizational problem, or x&o problem?
What does this offense do well? They are predictable (under center we will run and out of the gun we will throw) and inconsistent. I will say that the younger receivers have improved as they received more playing time. Ellington proved to be a great back before his injury and we may be singing a different tune had the staff committed to getting him more carries earlier in the year.
Overall, we have problems in all of the areas that were asked about. The Tigers (Brad Scott) have done a poor job developing offensive linemen AND we have not signed as many linemen as we would have liked. Consequently we have little experienced and quality linemen beyond the starters and their play has been suspect the past few weeks. Clemson has had similar problems at other positions including the wide receivers, so this is an issue here.
Philosophically, we have discussed at length at STS what looks like a conflict between Coach Swinney and Coach Napier regarding play calling and offensive strategy. Coach Napier's background is a quarterback in a pro style offense. He seems to prefer two back sets and utilizing more "traditional" offensive methods. Coach Swinney seems to favor more spread formations particularly with a direct snap from the center to QB. This gun/under center and spread vs. TE clash has given us "choppy" drives and seems to rob the offense of rhythm.
As a young coach and more of a people person, I think Dabo is not as strong on the X's and O's as some other coaches, especially since he lacks coordinator experience. The same goes for Napier, although I get a hunch that Billy is more of an X's and O's guy that Swinney. From an organizational standpoint, I am not sure that we have had the best personnel on the field at all times this year and have suffered lapses including the use of timeouts to start quarters and clock mismanagement.
Our defensive staff is more mature from a coordinator standpoint. Steele is a very capable coach who aptly adjusts in-game. Clemson's biggest issue defensively has been, ironically, KS's position linebacker group. We are thin there and if this defense is going to make mistakes it will probably be there.
5. Not to fan the flames, but Clemson has not won a conference title in 19 years. Nothing wrong with holding the program to a high standard, but should Clemson fans lower their expectations until Clemson gets a president or at least and AD who wants to play ball with the big boys?
The question seems fair enough and can see how someone outside of the Clemson fan base would think in this fashion. Clemson has a deep football tradition. Clemson currently has the talent to play with anyone in conference and has one of the more enthusiastic fan bases in the ACC. I think Clemson has a passion for football that is shared by only a couple of other ACC schools. No championships in 20 years is unacceptable and should not be tolerated particularly when Wake Forest wins one in this time period.
I hope that Clemson fans will not lower their standards because maintaining such expectations and demanding better is the only way that the administration will realize that Clemson fans demand more than a 7-5 record. Clemson as an institution needs an adjustment in the athletic department and an overall attitude adjustment towards athletics (and football in particular) but once you lower your expectations you begin to accept mediocrity.
Thanks again to Dr. B and FIGUREFOUR for answering out questions today.