We are very fortunate to have an excellent network of team-specific blogs to talk with during game weeks. This week's edition of our 2011 opposing blogger Q&A feature is a chat with one of the best sites on the network, Shakin The Southland. Blogger FIGUREFOUR was kind enough to answer our inquiries regarding the 2011 Clemson Tigers.
TN: Clemson's offense has been re-vamped by former Tulsa OC Chad Morris. How has quarterback Tajh Boyd taken to the new system thus far? Does Morris ask his QB to be a part of the running game, and if so, how much of a threat is Boyd carrying the ball?
STS: Tajh is getting more and more comfortable as the season progresses. The coaches said that the "light bulb went off in the latter part of the Troy game" and that he has been getting better and better. Morris does use the QB in the running game, but much more sparingly than he did at Tulsa. Boyd gains yards on designed runs which consist mostly of draws and zone reads but can scramble on non-designed carries to pick up 8-10 yard chunks. While Boyd is a threat, he hasn't been the main weapon on the ground to date and I would expect him to be used rather sparingly running the ball, probably to the tune of half a dozen or fewer designed carries per game.
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TN: The first three games of the 2011 season have seen Clemson's defense give up a total of 674 rushing yards and an average of 419 total yards per game. What factors have contributed to this lackluster start for the unit and how will Clemson look to turn it around against Florida State?
STS: Clemson is very thin on the defensive line. This lack of depth played a big part in Clemson's inability to stop the opposition. Clemson's best defensive lineman is Brandon Thompson, who routinely disrupts opposition offenses, so he is the one to watch up front. The Tigers have had issues all year setting the edge with the opposition killing Clemson on the perimeter. Clemson's poor tackling has not helped the cause. This really hurt CU early in the Auburn game and throughout the Wofford contest.
Through the air, Clemson's secondary has had its disturbing moments this season. Rashard Hall experienced a knee injury against Troy and appeared to be less than 100% last week against Auburn. Auburn was able to get Clemson to bite on pump and go routes several times on Saturday along with other routes and, fortunately for Clemson, AU wasn't able to complete all of these passes. Long and short, this group is still trying to get comfortable and has made mistakes that resulted in the opposition scoring after defeating the secondary for big plays
TN: Shakin' The Southland has repeatedly referred to the Clemson offensive line as "soft" and in need of improvement. Did the line take a step in the right direction against Auburn last weekend, or was that more of a product of a depleted Auburn defense?
STS: Clemson's line was impressive pass blocking and did a good job protecting Tajh Boyd. Clemson's run blocking, however, was not impressive and the Tigers struggled until late in the contest on the ground. Clemson had no success running A-Gap to A-Gap which is a very important key to Morris' philosophy. All in all, Clemson is not tough enough at the present time to line up and punch the opponent in the mouth for a full game running the football.
As mentioned before, we have not seen Clemson successfully run the ball inside. With the athletes and speed that FSU has on defense, I am concerned that Clemson will not be successful with their perimeter rushing game either.
TN: Continuing on that thought, how will Clemson's offense look to contain FSU's defensive line, considered the strength of the team by many?
STS: Clemson is not tough enough to date to take it to FSU on the ground, (especially early) and I fear the Tigers will be relegated to jet sweeps, screens, and the passing game to move the ball. I am not sure Clemson will not be successful at all on the ground this weekend because of FSU's great defense and CU's susceptible offensive line.
In the passing game, a big concern is lack of experience at the running back spot in addition to the lack of depth Clemson has on the offensive line. Lack of depth emerged at the guard position as both David Smith and Mason Cloy have missed time due to injury this season. At running back, Andre Ellington had a leg injury against Auburn and we're not sure how many snaps he'll take. Obviously, the running back position is important in max protect and blitz situations and Ellington is the only player with significant playing time before the 2011 season. Freshman Mike Bellamy will see playing time and is very talented but I am not certain he has the necessary blocking skills needed to protect Tajh Boyd if he is asked to do so.
TN: The young offensive talent of the Tigers has been very impressive in the early weeks of the season. Are you concerned with their ability to handle their first real test in the FSU defense? Which specific guys should ‘Noles fans watch out for when CU has the football on Saturday?
STS: Sammy Watkins is the phenomenal freshman who had a huge game last week against Auburn. Watkins was highly praised out of high school for his speed and excellent hands and has not disappointed. He is the real deal and, if he continues the play he has shown to date, will likely only be at Clemson for three years. You will see him touch the ball on kick returns, receptions, and on designed runs.
Obviously QB Tajh Boyd will be in the spotlight. This will be his fourth start and the best defense he has faced in his Clemson career. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the big challenge in front of him.
Nuk Hopkins is a Sophomore who made a name for himself last season at the receiver spot. He is extremely dependable and flat out makes the tough catches. I have been impressed with his work ethic and effort over the past two seasons and particularly enjoy watching Hopkins block in the open field and down the football field.
Dwayne Allen is a very talented tight end who has all the skills needed to take his game to the next level. He will provide match up problems because of his unique combination of size, athletic ability, and excellent feel for the game. Allen had quite a few highlight catches last week against Auburn and could have a great year if he puts forth the effort.
Mike Bellamy is a talented freshman who will be featured more if Andre Ellington is still reeling from his AU game injury. Bellamy is lightning quick but really scares me with his loose ball security and relative lack of knowledge of this offense.
I am confident in all the youngsters except Bellamy. He is very, very talented but concerns me for the reasons mentioned above.
TN: Let's talk about offensive pace. Last week Florida State played against one of the fastest (if not THE fastest) tempo offenses in the country, that of Oklahoma. Clemson's game against Auburn saw an absurd amount of plays run on offense, but in watching it didn't seem that CU was overly quick in getting to the line and snapping the ball. As one of our readers put it, there seemed to be a lot of no-huddle, but not much hurry-up. How quick will Clemson try to be on Saturday?
STS: Clemson will maintain a similar pace as last week. Their goal is 85 plays per game which keeps things moving fairly briskly. (As a side note) I thought, at times, Oklahoma's offense was slowed because of the crowd influence last week. Nevertheless, this football team and Coach Morris have emphasized the need for more plays and have repeatedly discussed their desire to play as fast as possible.
Thanks to Shakin The Southland for answering our questions! Our answers to their questions are here.