Sometimes a win can feel like the chocolate Easter bunny one gets at Easter – it is chocolate, but instead of it being full of chocolate, the middle of it is full of air. That describes the general feeling around this win – a win that you aren’t allowed to celebrate. At least last week Clemson was on the road against Auburn which is a team with excellent talent. This was Troy… or so fans thought.
It is reasonable to expect a Group of Five team to hang around for the first half because they do bring in good players (there could be future NFL players on said rosters) and they are well coached. But when you have to escape with a win inside your own stadium, something is wrong.
Offensively, the Tigers passed the box score test but failed miserably in the eye test. The Tigers gained 414 yards of offense, but behind that were lots of nerve-wracking statistics. The Tigers were 40% on third down (8 for 20) and failed on their lone fourth down conversion. Deshaun Watson passed for 292 yards, but he averaged a paltry 5.5 yards per attempt and threw two picks. This tells the true story, a game in which most of the passing consisted of fast (bubble) and slow (tunnel) screens throughout the whole game. The short passing numbers would not be concerning if the offense was surgically efficient, but instead it was like a kid playing Operation – Watson only completed 51 percent of his passes. The offensive line struggled in pass protection, Watson stared down his primary reads, there was miscommunication between Watson and the pass catchers, and sometimes Watson was plain inaccurate. Ray-Ray McCloud and Artavis Scott are similar players and they were Clemson’s only significant pass catchers of the day as McCloud caught seven for 86 yards and Scott caught seven for 71 yards. This is due to drops by other players and the extensive usage of the screen game. If the ground game was able to pick up the slack, I wouldn’t be as concerned. But 32 rushes for the Tigers only gained 122 yards for a mediocre 3.8 yards per rush. At the collegiate level, that is a disappointing statistic. Another concern is that Deshaun Watson gained 55 yards on ten rushes, almost double that of Wayne Gallman’s 34 on nine rushes. One would conjure that Gallman had a bad day, but he was actually performing well. The offensive line was the culprit of the struggles, as Dye had six runs for nineteen yards and Choice had three runs for ten yards. Three turnovers were the icing of a mediocre performance that the Tigers must correct if they want to beat FSU or Louisville.
Defensively the Tigers were average by the box score but excellent in person. However, it must be noted that the Tigers gave up two touchdown drives within the last ten minutes of the game, making the score look worse than it was. Those two drives were a 14 play five-minute march for 86 yards at first and then an eight play 68-yard dash in less in the final two minutes of the game. Other than that, the Tigers had few blemishes. One sixty-six-yard dash on fourth and one by Jabir Frye was disappointing to see, but it is much more encouraging than death by a thousand short plays. The Trojans were 2-15 (13 percent) on third down and made two out of three fourth down conversions. While the Trojans are an Air Raid team, they only threw for 245 yards on 45 attempts for a 5.4 YPA. Their rushing game was only slightly better than the Tigers as 33 rushes gave them 141 yards (4.3 per attempt). A trio of picks went to Clemson linebackers Jalen Williams, Dorian O’Daniel, and Kendall Joseph – which is an unusual statistic that happens once in a very blue moon. Sophomore free safety Van Smith led the Tigers with 14 tackles (seven solo and seven assisted). Many times the things a defense does don’t show up on a stat box, and many defensive players had good outings today. The entire defensive line looked excellent, and freshman Dexter Lawrence continues to amaze me every day. The linebackers had an incredible performance against the pass and looked solid against the run. The secondary had a good day as they were tasked with defending skill players in space, something hard to do. Of course there are things to clean up, but right now it looks as if Brent Venables is worth every penny he makes and more. The ‘drop off’ isn’t there.
The special teams were bad once again, with the exception of Greg Huegel. He was three for three on field goals with a long of 34, and if he had missed any of them the game could have been totally different. Teasdall struggled punting, as he had one bad shank and a couple of other mediocre punts combined with one good punt. While Clemson’s special teams were bad, Troy’s were atrocious and potentially cost them the game. Their long snapper snapped high consistently and the recipient struggled to catch it. It ended up costing them a field goal try, and that along with Kay’s missed 48 yarder at the end of the first half costs the Trojans more than they could imagine. On the bright side, Clemson’s return and coverage teams were adequate. Ray Ray McCloud showed stellar vision, agility, and acceleration on a 74-yard punt return only to fumble the ball in celebration and give the ball back to Troy.
More players and freshman saw game action today. Dexter Lawrence was excellent as usual. John Simpson saw time at left guard. Cornell Powell had one catch for five yards.
Against Auburn, it felt like the offensive play calling was shot Clemson in the foot and that the players were playing well. This time, it felt like the play calling was solid but the lack of focus by the team (especially the offense) hurt the Tigers.
Clemson is loaded with talent and could make a national championship run, but not with the way the team is playing right now. On one hand, there is a reason conference play does not start for a while – so a team can correct problems and gain their sea legs. On the other hand, the defense whom was disrespected and bringing in eight new starters is performing and the vaunted offense returning eight starters and only losing two key contributors (Eric Mac Lain, Charone Peake) is performing miserably. While the nation can see what is happening, only the organization knows why it is happening. These Tigers can be one of the greatest teams ever or one of the greatest letdowns ever. It is up to them to decide, and we will see what they choose this fall. While this is the ugliest 2-0 I have seen, lets embrace the 2-0 and try to become 1-0 next week against S.C. State.
There is no player of the week this week.