Over the course of the last few months I've seen some things written about Clemson on this website and others that I would like to discuss here. Let me preface this however by stating that this is NOT meant to bash Clemson or anything like that (for all of the guys from STS that read over here because I love that site).
Anyways, lets take a quick look at the 10 year most-recent stretch of games between FSU and CU.
2010 (in Tally): FSU 16-13
2009 (Clem): Clem 40-24
2008 (Tally): FSU-41-27
2007 (Clem): Clem 24-18
2006 (Tally): Clem 27-20
2005 (Clem): Clem 35-14
2004 (Tally): FSU 41-22
2003 (Clem): Clem 26-10
2002 (Tally): FSU 48-31
2001 (Clem): FSU 41-27
What does this tell you? We are 5-5 against Clemson in the last 10 years with an average score of FSU 27.3 - Clemson 27.2. So needless to say, these two teams have been pretty evenly matched in the last 10 years.
It's kind of funny too, that Clemson keeps up with us this well when you look at recruiting rankings (which I know don't mean everything!).
Since 2006, ESPN has FSU ranked (from most recent to oldest) #1, #6, #8, #12, #25 (disaster of 2007) and #6 for an average of 9.67. During that same time, ESPN ranked Clemson's classes #8, #19, #19, #2, #18, #13 for an average of 13.16.
Rivals had FSU ranked #2, #10, #7, #9, #21 and #3 for an average of 8.67. They ranked Clemson #8, #19, #37, #12, #16 and #16 for an average of 18.0.
The last four years however, are the best classes we've had recently (thanks to Jimbo) and we are 2-1 vs. Clemson in the last 3 years (not inferring that there is a causation here, but moreso a correlation because coaching has likely been the biggest difference). Meanwhile, Clemson picked up an EXTREMELY impressive top-heavy class last year but did just so-so in '10 and '09 and impressed again in '08. So, Clemson has undoubtedly brought in talent, but I would take our recruiting classes between '08 to now over theirs.
I don't even think I need to say who's coaching staff I would rather have as of now, but I can say for a fact that before Fisher took over with HIS staff, I would undoubtedly take Clemson's defensive staff, especially with Kevin Steele over ours (Jody Allen, Mickey Andrews and company). So, in short, I'd give us the offensive advantage via Jimbo and them the defensive advantage in recent years.
So here is why I'm writing this piece. I've seen a lot of things written about Clemson, but the main thing that keeps coming up (probably rightfully so in fact, due to the closeness of the two teams in the last 10 years), is that people are expecting a close game this year (Bud tweeted that he would take Clemson +7). Let me tell you while I disagree wholeheartedly.If you don't know who Da'Quan Bowers is, stop reading this and don't watch college football ever again. The man was a terror and despite being picked 51st in the most recent NFL draft, his absence will have an ENORMOUS effect on this Clemson team. This is reason number ONE why I believe that we will have an easier go of it this year against the Tigers. You don't replace a Da'Quan Bowers. In fact, if you can insert a guy that can match HALF of his performance, you might be striking gold. If you ask anyone that knows football where the game is won, they will tell you first and foremost that it is in the trenches (offensive and defensive line).
Bowers won the Nagurski Award for being the nation's best defensive player en route to leading the nation with 15.5 sacks and when he wasn't terrorizing backfields, you can bet he was in the mind of the two people that didn't want him there most - the opposing quarterback and the opposing offensive coordinator/coach. You have to gameplan specifically for a player that impacts the game as much as Bowers. You have to double team with your offensive line; you have to chip with running backs and fullbacks; you have to run plays that get the ball out of the quarterbacks hands quickly; you have to play to one side of the field more. The point of all of that is that you have to CHANGE YOUR GAMEPLAN in ways that are often not most beneficial to your team.
What happens when you have two offensive lineman occupying a single defensive lineman? Well, in a typical 5 man protection set for the offense and a 4-3 set for the defense, any one of the linebackers could blitz and run through unprotected. So then, say you keep a tight end or running back in to help protect up front when you have two lineman assigned to Bowers. In this case, the defense can drop 7 into coverage and even double team receivers (on top of a whole variety of other blitz and coverage options). Th point is, this is just one VERY simple illustration of the impact that a guy as important as Bowers had on the Clemson defense. Perhaps opponents won't attempt over 100 more rushes than passes on the Clemson defense this year. But there may be another reason for this.....
DeAndre McDaniel's departure. Another thing that I believe people may be overlooking in regards to the Clemson defense is the departure of safety DeAndre McDaniel who you may remember for this pick and hit on Christian Ponder than anything else. But that's not all you should remember him for - This past season the safety led the Tigers in total tackles (84) and interceptions (4) while recording an impressive 5.5 TFL. Despite not being drafted due to questions about his deep coverage ability and top-end speed, McDaniel was a FORCE for Clemson and Phil Steele agrees, having named him a third-team All American this past season. Will opponents be able to open up the playbook more without the First-Team All-ACC safety roaming the field?
My number three reason why I refuse to believe this year will be a close game - Chad Morris. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Chad Morris is a bad coach, nor am I saying that he won't have success coaching at Clemson. But the former Tulsa coach who takes after Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will be implementing an offense VERY dissimilar to what you're used to seeing from the Tigers. Instead of the pro-style Kyle Parker offense, you'll be seeing a team that will attempt to run 80 plays per game. But with Clemson consistently sucking on offense, Dabo Swinney was basically forced to mix things up or walk the plank, so he did just that by switching to the new spread coach. Morris had success at Tulsa, but was that due to implementing a system that conference defenses couldn't handle? I believe so. Our new multiple-zone based defensive scheme - now in year two under Mark Stoops - is basically BUILT to handle the new, modern spread offenses. With the kind of athletes that we possess on defense (Rhodes, Reid, Jones, Joyner, Harris, Bradham, etc.), handling a quick paced, spread offense should be FAR less of a problem than under Andrews and co. The 2010 Oklahoma game was the result of a group of players trying to migrate from an outdated scheme in which there LITERALLY were no playbooks, to one of the most complicated systems around. Come year two, I believe the defense will be able to handle fast paced, spread schemes like Oklahoma and now Clemson FAR better. And there is a fundamental difference between Oklahoma and Clemson in talent level, players recruited for their system and most importantly - FAMILIARITY AND PRACTICE WITH THE SYSTEM). Rome wasn't built in a day and you can bet Clemson's offense won't be either. As quickly as Jimbo has morphed FSU's offense in his time here, and even though it is easier to teach a new offense than a new defense, don't expect Clemson to give us fits this year with their new scheme as they will still be learning, getting comfortable and finding players that best fit into their scheme/take to it quickly. There will be growing pains.
Clemson finished 63rd in offense according to the S&P+ while finishing 14th in defense. Do you really think the defense can keep it up with the departures of Bowers and McDaniel? How much will the offense improve in year one of the system? Will the players even take to/suceed in the breakneck-paced system, let alone in year one? FSU posted the 8th best offense and the 32nd best defense according to the S&P+ and will UNDOUBTEDLY improve on defense with most of the key players returning/maturing and having not lost any major players like Bowers/McDaniel. The offense shouldn't see much of a dropoff in the transition from Ponder to Manuel and if the receivers can become more consistent, you may even see a more explosive/dangerous offense for the 'Noles. There are FAR more question marks around the Tigers and while FSU may not quite yet be a powerhouse, we are without a doubt BETTER than Clemson in 2011. These are a few of the reasons why I believe FSU will not have a problem with Clemson.
PS. A lot of people say the game against Clemson will be more difficult due to the extremely physical and challenging game the week before against Oklahoma. Well, not that it will present an equal challenge, but Clemson hosts Auburn the week before their game with us and plays @ Virginia Tech the following week while we have a BYE. Even thought the Tigers have beat us the last four times in Death Valley, THIS is the year this changes!
I look forward to your comments!
PSS: the Clemson defense also loses the following --
A) They lose a VERY talented cornerback in Marcus Gilchrist who did a lot for the Clemson defense (and special teams) including being the teams 4th leading tackler. According to the Clemson website, in 2010 “had 66 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception, a team-high 10 pass breakups, 639 yards (eighth-most in Tiger history) on 27 kickoff returns, and 233 yards on 23 punt returns; his 639 kickoff return yards were fifth-most in school history…played a team-defensive- high 790 snaps…third in the ACC in punt returns (10.1) and sixth in kickoff returns (23.7)…27th in the nation in punt returns…had 23 punt returns and 27 kickoff returns for 50 total returns.”
2) They lose their 6’4" 315 pound starting defensive tackle in Jarvis Jenkins, who finished 9th on the team in total tackles (53), 3rd in TFL (9) and tied for second on the team in quarterback hurries with 16 (Bowers had only 4 more with 20). I’m not saying he was the best player ever but a 6’4" 315 lb. senior DT with that kind of production is very solid.
D) A solid, seasoned cornerback in Byron Maxwell who finished 10th on the team in total tackles (48), t-2nd in INT (2) recorded 3.5 TFL and tied for 2nd in the ACC in forced fumbles. Apparently, he would’ve started every game but suffered from turf toe his senior season. Apparently he was a really good special teams player as well during his career, even earning special teams player of the game against us in 2010.
¿) 6’5" reserve DT Miguel Chavis who started a couple of games and recorded 27 tot tackles.
So, in total, Clemson loses its’ top defensive end (Bowers), its’ top defensive tackle (Jenkins), its’ top safety (McDaniel), its’ top cornerback/kick returner/punt returner (Gilchrist), a good, veteran CB who started more games than not (Maxwell) and its’ 2nd string DT (Chavis).