July 22, 2018

2 Minute (ish) Video Recap: Syracuse

In the Tigers only loss on the season, there were plenty of highlights: Clelin Ferrell does Clelin Ferrell things, Feaster zooms for 6, Dorian O’Daniel registers another sack, Tanner Muse scoops and scores, Hunter Renfrow makes a “sick” catch, Travis Etienne goes the distance and the dreaded fake field goal.

The average drive against Clemson defense

I realize it’s only 2 games in, Kent State is a pseudo FBS team that played four corners and Auburn doesn’t light up the scoreboard.  That said, the numbers below are impressive.

Huge challenge this week with Lamar Jackson and Louisville.

Here is what the average drive for opponents have looked like in the first two games (24 drives):


Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com

Seldom Used Reserve of the Week

Early on I favored Tanner Muse, because of his partial block of an Alabama punt as seen below.  Alas, the punt still went 25 yards and the Tigers didn’t score on the ensuing drive, so it ended up being a nice effort by Muse.

https://streamable.com/hcd63

A 20 yard kickoff return doesn’t sound very exciting or important.   Then you realize that C.J. Fuller could have easily been tackled at the 17 or 20, forcing the Tigers to drive 80 yards, not 68 for the winning touchdown.  We’ll never know what would have happened if Fuller goes down early on this return – maybe the play calls are different, maybe the Tigers face a different urgency, maybe they run out of time – who knows – but what we do know is that this group of Tigers became “legendary” in those 2 minutes of game clock.

C.J. Fuller is our seldom used reserve of the week for the second consecutive game.

5 in 59 – Syracuse Edition

5 plays in 59 seconds from Clemson’s victory over Syracuse.
https://streamable.com/mpbn

The Aftermath: Clemson-54 Syracuse-0

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson helped Clemson get out to a fast start against Syrcause. Photo: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

 

The SUR Crew of Marty Coleman, Matt Wilczewski, and Chris Cox recap Clemson’s 54-0 win over Syracuse….

There were some indications coming into Saturday’s contest that Deshaun Watson could be in store for a big day. Talk about what you saw out of #4 versus Syracuse and what it could mean going forward for this team.

MC- First and foremost Deshaun was on target on the deep balls.  He came into the game at 32.6% on passes over 20 yards and was 2 of 3 for 88 yards and a touchdown at that distance and the one incompletion was a drop by Mike Williams.  Some of that may have to do with the competition, but either way he was on target.  He looked focused and decisive both when throwing and running.  He appears to be ready for an electric stretch run similar to 2015.

MW- He was dialed in and had the best touch on his throws that we’ve seen all season. Clemson’s offense goes as Deshaun Watson goes, and his ability to execute at that kind of level is terrifying to the opposition. One should be optimistic that he’s hitting his stride and putting it together at the right time in the season.

CC-I talked about him having a clean pocket to work with this weekend and it came to fruition. The result? One of Watson’s best performances of the year. Of his 3 incompletions one was a drop by Mike Williams and another came after injuring his shoulder.  He was also able to connect on a couple deep balls and avoid turning the ball over, which seems to be the missing pieces to the puzzle. Should be a fun ride for #4 down the stretch.

 

Let’s stay focused on the offense and discuss what you saw out of Deon Cain this weekend. Is he finally emerging into the dominant playmaker we’ve thought he could be?

MC- It’s been interesting seeing Mike Williams targeted on more short passes while Cain has become the gamebreaker.  The 10 yard loss was ugly, but the guy was trying to make a play.  He’ll learn from that.  Looking back you wonder if Cain’s absence cost the Tigers a national championship last year as it appears that he can’t be covered deep.  If Watson has found his touch on the deep ball and Cain comes to play, look out Clemson opponents.

MW- Well, he’s at least emerged as the best deep threat on the team. If anything he can run a fly, and the Watson/Cain deep threat is something that teams will have difficulty with and have to consistently honor. He still has some improving to do in the short and intermediate game, but that will come with time.

CC-Just real happy to see Cain going up and getting the ball. He seemed to have a bad case of the drops earlier in the season, but those days seem to be forgotten with his recent performances. The staff has pinpointed Deon as the Tigers primary deep threat, and he seemingly gets behind man coverage nearly every time he’s left one on one. 8 touchdowns on just 22 receptions is one hell of a ratio. Looks like he’s setting himself up to be the go-to guy a year from now.

 

I know Clemson decided to take what was given to them through the air, but what were your takeaways from the rushing attack? Thoughts on the offensive line and the pecking order behind Gallman?

MC- The running game is not the same as last year and at some point we need to realize that. Coming into the game Watson had 82 more pass attempts than through 8 games in 2015, more than 10 a game.  He’s thrown over 50 passes once and has multiple in the 40s.  The Tigers miss Eric Mac Clain.  I liked what I saw from C.J. Fuller Saturday, but didn’t see what the coaches saw earlier in the season.  Depending on the situation I would go Fuller, Feaster, Dye, Choice.  I believe Feaster is in line for more carries in the next few games.

MW – As Marty said, they aren’t on par with last season’s rushing attack, but have at least been serviceable, especially in big games. Thought Fuller and Feaster looked good. You can tell that the game is starting to slow down a bit for Fuller, who ran with better patience and vision than we’ve previously seen. I really thought Feaster was going to break a big one whenever he got a carry, and nearly did a couple of times. Tavien really has a quick burst once the ball touches his hands, seemingly gaining 2-3 yards before the defense really reacts. The remaining slate up until the ACC Championship game should provide opportunities for the backup RB’s to gain critical experience.

CC-Yeah color me surprised that Clemson isn’t just as successful, if not more, on the ground this year. Coming into the season I figured the stable of backs would allow the Tigers the luxury of implementing a physical rushing attack, but that just doesn’t seem to have come to fruition. Granted, Clemson did rattle off +200 yards on the ground against Syracuse but I think I speak for the majority of viewers that believes something is missing. Fuller runs hard, and I think he serves as a great short yardage back. You can see the light coming on for Feaster he just needs more reps to get comfortable. Looks like the ship is sailing on Choice, and Dye just seems to be the odd man out in the rotation.

 

After Schuessler’s surgeon-like execution, the separation between he and Kelly Bryant appears to be as big as it’s ever been. Talk about your confidence level in Dr. Schuess and share your thoughts on Bryant’s future moving forward.

MC-  It’s different when the score is 23 or 30 to 0 and starting the game or when playing an opponent that is not outmanned.  Schuessler’s a good backup quarterback and depending on the opponent, could get the Tigers a win or two.  However, without a consistent running game I think it’d be difficult to win a contest where the talent is more even. As far as Bryant goes, I think he’s always going to limited until, and unless, he becomes more consistent as a passer.

MW- Schuessler looked a like a solid, serviceable backup. He had some confidence in his game, and clearly knows the playbook well. Obviously a significant drop-off talentwise between he and Watson, as to be expected, but he had a fairly impressive showing on Saturday. The coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust Kelly Bryant to throw the ball, and that’s something that’ll need to quickly change if he wants to be the starting QB in 2017. Personally, I have a difficult time seeing him progress to QB 1 status between now and 2017 and foresee someone with more natural passing ability to get the nod.

CC-A couple things I really liked out of Schuessler’s performance were the zip on the screen passes and understanding of the playbook. Every time he dropped back it appeared he was comfortable with his first or second options. And when the coaches drew up a screen the ball was there on a line and in front of the receiver to lead him. While no one’s saying he’s DW4, I think there’s several folks wishing he had one more year of eligibility. Concerning Bryant I think the play calling when he’s in the game tells you all you need to know. A lot has to change between now and August 2017 for Bryant to be named starter.

 

Moving over to the defensive side of things, let’s talk about what you saw out of Venables game plan to thwart Dino Baber’s fast paced attack.

MC- Sometimes words don’t adequately describe how good of a coordinator Venables is and when you give him the arsenal he has at his disposal, well, you tend to get yesterday’s results.  Not sure what to say besides “A thing of beauty”.

MW- Venables just always has a plan and always has his boys ready. Interesting to see him line up his DE’s further outside essentially as LB’s to assist on the horizontal threats of Syracuse’s offense. It was a dominant performance all the way around against an above average uptempo offense.

CC-Matt alluded to it above, but I loved the 3-4 look with guys like Bryant and Yeargin dropping back into coverage. Both of those guys played linebacker in high school and I thought it was a wise move to utilize their versatility against Syracuse’s short, quick passing attack. The linebackers didn’t seem to get lost in coverage too, which was a concern of mine with a WR like Ervin Phillips on the other team. Dorian O’Daniel looks like a DB out there in coverage and he’s a guy that doesn’t get near enough praise for the things he’s able to do at the SLB position.

 

Yesterday was probably the best game of the year for the Clemson secondary, who posted 3 interceptions against the nation’s #5 passing attack. With the back end perhaps being the weakest link in the Tiger defense, could this week’s performance help build confidence moving forward? Also, Mark Fields found himself matched up against Amba Etta-Tawo for most of the game. What does that tell you about the staff’s increasing confidence in his play?

MC- Coming into the season the secondary was considered the weak link, but 9 games in I would argue the weakest link is the linebackers in coverage.  Considering the game flow and score, it’s difficult to make any grand conclusions on Fields play.  Etta-Tawo separated from Fields for a nice first down on a slant in the 1st and early in the 2nd he was open, but overthrown. Etta-Tawo got his receptions but his impact was limited, which is the ultimate goal.  There are playmakers back there if you think about it – Carter, Edmond, Tankersley and Fields.  In today’s football teams are going to get open, get yards and score (generally).  Limiting the big plays is the key and for the most part this group has done that.

MW- The secondary is coming along, and perhaps most importantly has continued to play smart, disciplined football, not allowing the busts and big plays that Clemson fans were accustomed to seeing last season. The staff clearly sees Fields as an elite cover corner talent, it’s just taken awhile for him to figure it out between the ears. The light is starting to come on, and thus his snaps have increased in recent games. It’s a very good sign moving forward, and you can see his confidence growing each week.

CC-While far from perfect I think something has to be said about the lack of big plays allowed this year. Jadar Johnson’s play this year has been nothing short of amazing and I’d opine that he’s the best safety the Tigers have had under Venables. A shame we really only get to see him for one year as the full time starter. It also appears the staff finally trusts Fields enough to give him extended reps. I think he possesses lock down corner ability and the only thing holding him back is the mental side of things. He didn’t lock Etta-Tawo down by any means, but the reps against a player of that talent level will pay dividends down the road for Fields.

 

Up next, Ben Boulware’s suplex and ensuing flag. Right call? Wrong call? Does he have a future in professional wrestling if the football thing doesn’t work out?

MC- Boulware plays with an edge and is the player you love on your team, but would be screaming at if he was on the other team. The game has changed though and anything seen as excessive or even looks like it might be excessive is going to be flagged (except for N.C. State hit on Gallman).  Arguing about whether the whistle blew or not is pointless.  The officials are more worried about how it looks than the actual legality of the play.

MW- It didn’t surprise me too much, looked like the refs simply felt like that had to call something because of how it looked. Boulware did appear to have exceptional technique, and may receive a call from Vince McMahon sooner than later.

CC-I don’t necessarily agree with the call, but I understand why they threw it. Boulware has built a reputation and you’re foolish if you don’t think the officials have a close eye on #10. The best comparison I can make is when DJ Swearinger played at South Carolina. Tiger fans certainly feel a certain way about him, but to fans in Columbia he represented their defense’s passion and tenacity. Boulware fills a similar role for the Tigers and I, personally, enjoy watching his brand of football.

 

In closing, feel free to share any other takeaways and/or observations from Clemson’s blowout win.

MC- This was the Clemson the nation has been clamoring for over the first 8 games.  Can they sustain it moving forward?  That’s what I’m interested in.  That and Watson’s health.  It’s notable he was injured running the ball and not being sacked.  I would guess his rushing attempts will be limited the next two games, at least. Also, a tad worried about Greg Huegel.  From the first kickoff he seemed to be off and he followed that a missed extra point and missed field goal.  A one game issue or something to worry about?

MW- Finally a complete game. The focus and execution were there, allowing Clemson to do what they’re supposed to do to weaker opponents. It’s a good sign moving forward, as you want to play your best ball at the end of the season. With the remaining slate of Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and South Carolina, this should not be a one time type of performance for this team.

CC-The three games Deshaun hasn’t turned the ball over? SC State, Boston College, and Syracuse. The combined score in those games? 169-10. Pretty telling if you ask me. The remaining slate offers up opportunities to put together similar performances and I’m curious to see if this team can peak at the right time. A couple other random musings: Tanner Muse is going to be a great player for Clemson. Despite an “off” day Huegel still drilled a 46-yarder. Maybe Michael Batson needs some more looks at punter after rattling off a 46-yard punt. No one does Military Appreciation Day better than Clemson.

 

Players of the Game (Offense & Defense)

MC- Deshaun Watson, Defense (would have given it to Venables for game plan if allowed)

MW- Deshaun Watson, Defense (Can’t pick just one)

CC-Deshaun Watson, The entire defense

 

Play of the Game

MC- Tanner Muse’s 64 yard pick six that was tipped 4 times, off a Syracuse players leg and then Muse’s speed.  

MW- 65 yard perfectly thrown deep-ball TD from Watson to Cain.

CC- 65 yard TD from Watson to Cain to cap a 2 play 95 yard drive

 

Seldom Used Reserve of the Game – Syracuse Edition

imageIn a game like yesterday’s there’s bound to be multiple candidates and someone has to get left out.

Tanner Muse was a demon on special teams early and often and then took a pass tipped 4 times to the house on a beautiful interception and pick six.  However, Nick Schuessler had a day going 11 for 17 for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Nick Schuessler is our seldom used reserve of the game.

Video courtesy ACC Digital Network

Clemson vs. Troy Preview & Prediction

Troy Preview

 

Fresh off a hard fought victory on The Plains, Clemson will return to friendly confines inside of Death Valley to welcome Troy to town. As we enter the second weekend of action I’ll pinpoint what to watch for as the Tigers and Trojans tangle for just their second ever meeting.

NOTE: Feel free to scan over the charts and graphics as some of them have user-friendly features that provide further insight.

 

 

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State of the Program: Safety

StateofProgramSafety

New starters Van Smith (Photo: Bart Boatwright/Greenville News) and Jadar Johnson (Photo: Gwinn Davis/gwinndavisphotos.com) will have some big shoes to fill

 

Returners
SR-Jadar Johnson: 15 tackles 0.5 TFL 2 INT
RS JR-Korrin Wiggins: Medical Redshirt
RS JR-Ryan Carter: 15 tackles 2 TFL 1 FR
SO-Van Smith: 19 tackles 1 TFL 1 INT
RS FR-Tanner Muse: Redshirted

Signees
Isaiah Simmons
★★★★ 6’3″ 210lbs (Olathe, KS)
What are the odds that Clemson would pull two 4-star prospects out of Kansas? The midwest isn’t known for producing premier football talent, but Kelly and Simmons will both be instant impact players when they step on campus this Summer. Simmons wasn’t really on Clemson’s recruiting radar until the middle of January, just a few weeks before NSD. Things got rolling quickly as Venables made a trip out west to lock up an official visit, but it appeared to be too little to late as many experts had Simmons pegged for long time suitor Nebraska. Simmons had different plans and took a chance on the Tigers instead. At 6’3″ 210lbs, Simmons is physically superior to both Kearse and Green coming out of high school. That’s good news for Venables and Reed who will likely rely on the true freshman to contribute right away in a depleted secondary. Another good indicator of Simmons’ athleticism is seen in the long jump where he has won back to back individual state titles. He also recorded a 22.59 in the 200m which is downright impressive for a guy his size. As you can see the only hurdle that would keep Simmons off the field this Fall is whether or not he can learn the playbook.

Nolan Turner
★★ 6’2″ 180lbs (Birmingham, AL)
Here’s a kid that not many people knew about when he committed to Clemson, including myself. But a in person offer from Dabo himself assures you that this was a legitimate offer. And as many of you know Nolan’s father Kevin Turner, a former NFL fullback, recently passed away from ALS. Before his passing, Dabo assured him he would watch over Nolan at Clemson. Pretty special moment. Although the recruiting services didn’t give Turner much recognition, a brief look at his film is enough to convince you that he isn’t just an average high school football player. The 6’2″ Turner played, and starred, at both wide receiver and safety for Vestavia Hills, a 7A school in the toughest region in Alabama. One thing that stands out on Turner’s tape is his physicality. The kid flat out likes contact, and that’s a big asset at safety. He’s also got a nice frame to work with, which is something Brent Venables has identified as a desirable trait for his safeties. Looking back a couple years, you may recall Clemson taking another unknown safety late in the cycle from the state of Alabama. That kid just got drafted in the 2nd Round of the NFL Draft last month.

Commitments
None

Board Overview
For the second straight cycle safety is a position of immediate need and Clemson intends on taking at least one, maybe two, elite prospects. The board at safety is pretty big, but Mike Reed has narrowed his efforts on a few top notch talents like Devon Hunter (Chesapeake, VA), Tank Robinson (Santee, SC), and Alabama commitment Xavier McKinney (Roswell, GA). From what I can gather based on various resources, Hunter is the top target and would be an oversign candidate if it came down to that. Clemson currently resides in his top group with Virginia Tech and Florida presenting the biggest threats down the road. On Robinson, it’s no surprise that the lone instate target appears to be a Clemson/South Carolina battle with both teams in good shape at this time. Robinson doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to make a decision so getting him back on campus for more visits is a must for both Palmetto State schools.  McKinney is the wildcard here, and Clemson continues to recruit him despite his longstanding pledge to the Crimson Tide. McKinney fits the mold of the bigger bodied safeties that Clemson fans grew accustomed to last year with Kearse and Green. The Tigers also have plenty of help at Roswell High with LeAnthony Williams (’17 commit) and Tre Lamar (’16 signee). Some other prominent names on the board behind those three include Hamsah Nasirildeen (Concord, NC), Grant Delpit (Lamar, TX), Amari Carter (Palm Beach, FL), Markquese Bell (Bridgeton, NJ), Brelin Faison-Walden (Greensboro, NC), and Lummie Young (Anderson, SC). Young is the only player listed that doesn’t have a Clemson offer to his name, and he’s been pretty adamant that he would be willing to hop on board with a commitment should the Tigers decide to move in with one. With only one scholarship coming off the board and two signees set to enroll this Summer the staff could very well settle with one safety for this cycle, but you can bet they will be pretty selective with who they take if that’s the route they decide to go. Looking ahead to the 2018 cycle, Clemson has dispersed four early offers to four elite prospects: Tyreke Johnson (Jacksonville, FL), Anthony Lytton (Upper Malboro, MD), Atanza Vongor (Grand Prairie, TX), and Myles Sims (Atlanta, GA). Just like this go round the Tigers will take 1-2 prospects at safety for the 2018 class as well.

Previous Articles:
Quarterback
Running Back
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Tackle
Defensive End
Linebacker
Cornerback

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Spring Questions: Defensive Backfield

Editor’s Note: The 6th and final post in a series examining the biggest question marks for Clemson spring practice.

No position was hit as hard, at least numbers-wise, than the defensive backfield which lost 3 of the 4 starters.  There is some experience here in Adrian Baker, Jadar Johnson and Ryan Carter and to a lesser extent Mark Fields and Van Smith and the unit looks a lot better with the additions of Isaiah Simmons, Trayvon Mullen and K’Von Wallace.  How and with who do you see the coaches filling these positions?   

CC:  I honestly don’t think the secondary is as big a concern as many think. Obviously Tankersley is locked in as the #1 corner. On the backend of the secondary Jadar Johnson (SR) should slide in as the starter at strong safety and Van Smith (SO) at free safety. That leaves one spot WallaceNSDto fill opposite of Tank. Adrian Baker (RS JR) is the most experienced candidate, but he’ll likely be pushed by Ryan Carter (RS JR), Mark Fields (SO), and Trayvon Mullen (FR). I have my doubts about Mullen contributing as a true freshman given his lack of strength, but his ball skills may be too good to leave on the shelf. Based on what I saw on film there’s a chance K’Von Wallace (FR) could play early as well. Ideally, the staff would prefer to redshirt at least one of the two.

Looking at the grand scheme of things, there should be enough competition at corner for Clemson to be competitive without Mackensie Alexander. If there is an area of concern in the secondary it’s the depth at safety. I feel good about the aforementioned starters, but behind them is quite dicey.  The staff will have the ability to slide SLB/Nickel Korrin Wiggins (RS JR) back to safety if they deem it necessary, but I’d expect him to stay put. That leaves Tanner Muse (RS FR), Denzel Johnson (RS FR), and Isaiah Simmons (FR) as the backups. Muse is a “tweener” that could eventually transition to the SLB/Nickel role due to his size. Johnson came in as a corner, but starred as a safety in high school. Simmons is a physical specimen and chances are he’ll be thrown into the 2-deep as soon as he steps on campus this summer. Safety will definitely be a position to keep a close eye on.

MC: Tankersley’s decision to return was huge as he’ll be the only returning starter in the defensive backfield. I’ll go with Baker at the other corner.  Jadar Johnson, who seems like he’s been at Clemson for 10 years, will get the nod at strong safety, though it’s been reported that Ryan Carter has been working at this spot also. I’ll say Van Smith gets the first shot at free safety, but I’m not sure I’m sold yet.

Depth-wise I’d keep an eye on K’von Wallace as someone to avoid a redshirt, though he’s not an early enrollee so he’ll have to impress quickly, but I agree with Chris that Isaiah Simmons will play.  Simmons has the size and skills that the staff covets and there’s a need for depth.  I think Korrin Wiggins stays put at SLB/Nickel, but if need be could be moved back to safety.

In the big picture, I think this group misses the cover skills of Mackenzie Alexander and believe we’ll see a higher completion percentage against this defensive backfield, but there’s also a potential for less big plays to be given up as well.