December 13, 2018

Close wins in September are just that….wins

Coming into the season Clemson got a decent amount of support as a team that could win the National Championship.

It certainly wasn’t unanimous, but the Tigers got their share of props from the media and coaches in the various polls, prognostications, algorithms and TV and radio shows.

But here we are headed in to game 6 and the Tigers have become almost an afterthought to the SEC and Ohio State.

Some preseason concerns have reared their ugly heads – special teams and the back end of the defense among them, but also some things never even considered preseason – like quarterback depth – have appeared out of nowhere.

Almost all of those supporting Clemson in the preseason have now moved their check marks to Alabama, not without reason I might add, as the Crimson Tide have obliterated every team in their path to date.

Some Tiger fans are in a panic and I admit to moments of doubt, too.

When times are troubled (5-0 and close games are Clemson-world problems), I look back to 2016 and say, what lessons can we learn from that team?

What I learned is when you’re at Clemson’s level close wins in early games don’t mean a thing come January.

2016 2018
Game 1 – at Auburn, win 19-13 Game 2 – at Texas A&M, win 28-26
Game 2 – Edge Troy 30-24 as a 35 point favorite Game 5 – Rally to beat Syracuse as 25.5 point favorite
Game 3 – Blowout S.C. State 59-0 Game 1 – Blow out Furman 48-7.
Week 4 – Solidly defeat Georgia Tech 26-7 Game 4 – Solidly defeat Georgia Tech 49-21

The weeks don’t match perfectly, but the results are amazingly similar to 2016.

This is a different team for sure, but in 2016, the questions started after an early road test (Auburn, a 19-13 win that the Tigers had to bat a Hail Mary down to hold on to win). Then came a much closer expected win over a team the Tigers were heavily favored over (Troy 30-24, with a huge special teams gaff), a comfortable win over Georgia Tech (26-7) and a blowout.

You also might remember all the talk about how Deshaun didn’t seem like he was having fun and appeared to be under immense pressure early that year.

It’s a little eerie.

This year, after a blowout of Furman, there was a close win on the road against an SEC team (Texas A&M), a comfortable win over Georgia Tech and a closer than expected win at home with a huge special teams mistake (Syracuse).

And quarterback drama? Yeah, that exists in 2018, too.

Same story, different order, different year.

It didn’t end there in 2016 though. There was a last second win against Louisville and later a game the Tigers had no business winning – N.C. State – a nail biter in Tallahassee, a loss to Pittsburgh and a close ACC Championship game that the Tigers were highly favored in.

Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) hauls in a pass. Photo: Gwinn Davis

How could that team ever win the National Championship?

By the time the playoff rolled around they were a different team. They would start by blasting and shutting out Ohio State, then follow that up by going toe to toe with the dynasty from Tuscaloosa and coming out on top by being clutch when the title was on the line.

This year, like 2016, there’s an explosive offense and an uber-talented defense that makes it possible to win without bringing you’re “A” game.

It’s true there are issues to be concerned about. The quarterback depth being first on the list, but also inconsistent special teams play, the back end of the defense and pass protection to name a few.

It’s also true that 2016 was led by the greatest quarterback in Clemson history, while this year’s team will be led by a freshman, albeit one that broke some of Watson’s high school records.

On the other hand there are other positions that may be even stronger and deeper than the 2016 team.

College football is unpredictable, but it appears that the Tigers margin of error is smaller this season.

The good news is the Clemson team you saw in September won’t be the Clemson team you see in January.  You won’t recognize this team in January as the one that edged Syracuse and barely beat a middling Texas A&M team in week 2.

The close games aren’t over and if the Tigers trip up it’s likely they won’t make the playoff, but close wins are just that – wins.

The issues the Tigers have won’t be fixed overnight.  But a few closer than expected wins in September, some close games during the season and a little controversy along the way might not be such a bad thing and could even bring this team closer together.

After all, 2016 showed closer than expected wins in September aren’t the way National Championships are decided any longer.  They’re decided on the field by teams that have thrived and survived in close games.

CU in the NFL – DW4 & Nuk light up Legion of Boom & other stats from Tigers in the league

A look at the stats for Clemson players in the NFL.

Please let me know of errors and omissions.

CU in the NFL – Watson leads league in TD passes, Mike Williams with 1st catch, Goodson pacing defenders

Current stats for former Clemson Tigers in the NFL.

C.J. Spiller has been signed (again) by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Offense (Skill Players) and Special Teams

Defense and OL

As always, please notify me of errors, omissions and changes.

CU in the NFL – Offense – DW4 goes wild, Catman hits from Long Island & 134 receptions

The Clemson offensive players (+kicker and punter) in the NFL are done for the week and the numbers are staggering. Five TD passes from Watson, 29 receptions and a 57 yard field goal are among the highlights from Clemson in the NFL.

Featured image courtesy: USA TODAY

CU in the NFL – Tying records, game winning field goals, 105 receptions (#WRU) & 119 tackles

Stats for former Tigers through week 4 of the NFL season.

 

CU in the NFL – Tigers making their mark through week 3

Through 3 weeks, former Tigers have contributed over 1,500 yards, 9 touchdowns, 66 receptions, 87 tackles and 3 forced fumbles (doesn’t count kicking and punting) to NFL teams.

Updates/corrections appreciated.

CU in the NFL – Stats for Clemson players in the NFL through week 2

Stats for Clemson players in the NFL through week 2.

Stephone Anthony has been traded from the Saints to the Dolphins.

Please let me know of errors and omissions.

CU in the NFL – Week 1 stats for Clemson players in the league

Please let me know of errors and omissions.  Tried to keep up with all the cuts/adds/transactions last weekend, but was in Houston watching DW4 and sixtyelven other Tigers play.

Burgeoning Clemson – Louisville rivalry is what makes college football greatest reality show ever

I was one of the few in my circle who thought Louisville joining the ACC was a good thing for the conference.  My reasoning was simple and strictly about what was happening on the field (or court), not academics or off the field transgressions of varying degrees.

This week, Clemson and Louisville face off for the fourth time with the first three having been drama-filled, edge of your seat, what-college-football-is-all-about games.

A refresher: In 2014 freshman sensation DeShaun Watson was injured early, the Tigers struggled offensively and never scored an offensive touchdown.  Yet Adam Humphries returned a punt for the Tigers first score, Grady Jarrett (interesting aside, Clemson shows Tavaris Barnes scored, ESPN says Garrett) recovered a fumble for the second and Ammon Lakip kicked 3 field goals for 23-17 Clemson lead late in the fourth.  With the Cardinals 81 yards away from the goal line with 1:20 to go things were looking good for the orange and white.

That changed in one play as Will Gardner found James Quick (who has played a huge part in two of the three games) who quickly headed for the Tiger end zone and a certain game-winning touchdown. Enter Jayron Kearse who tracked Quick down at the Clemson 8. Four plays and a DeShawn Williams hand later, Clemson had a goal line stand and a win. A rivalry was born.

The 2015 season found Clemson travelling to Louisville on a Thursday night on the Tigers run to the title game.

A low scoring first half turned into a battle to the end as Clemson nursed a 20-17 lead late into the game.  The Cardinals drove the field, but missed a 38 yard field goal that would have tied the game with 2:28 to play.  On the ensuing possession the Tigers couldn’t move the ball, were forced to punt and Louisville had one last chance. A last gasp Hail Mary was intercepted by Jadar Johnson and round 2 belonged to the Tigers.

The 2016 version was a high scoring affair as eventual Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson led his team back from a 28-10 halftime deficit to a 4th quarter lead, only to be outdone by Clemson’s own Heisman candidate who found tight end Jordan Leggett, who then wound his way through the exhausted Cardinal defense for the go ahead score with 2:14 left.

It wasn’t over yet, though as Jackson and Louisville found themselves facing a 4th and 12 at the Clemson 14 with 33 ticks left on the clock. A wide open James Quick (the same James Quick that Kearse tracked down in 2014) sprinted toward the first down marker, only to be sidetracked and waylaid by Marcus Edmond a yard short of the marker.

Three games, three fantastic finishes, three Clemson wins.

The tradition and history of Clemson vs. Florida State resides at the top of ACC rivalries and the Clemson schedule as a whole, as it should.  You don’t erase decades of joy, frustration, rivalry and football lore with three compelling games and no idea of how long it will continue, and it’s not like the last three Florida State games haven’t been classics in their own way.

Perhaps my appreciation for this game is colored by it being next in line or Clemson winning all three games. Maybe I’d feel differently with different outcomes, but this game has become one of my favorites on the schedule.

Sure, 56-3 games are part of the season and playing traditional rivals is a huge part of what makes college football what it is, but the 3 Clemson-Louisville finishes are what makes college football the greatest reality show ever invented.

Episode 4 airs Saturday night.

Former Tigers in the NFL – Final Preseason Stats – Cuts Loom (1 Tiger cut today)

Brandon Thompson’s contract with Browns was terminated today.