Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Feat So Rare

For many Clemson fans, it seems like the tides have turned.  It seems like USC is taking ownership of this series.  It seems like what has happened in the past may not matter any more.  But have the tides turned?  Will the past be long forgotten?

To better understand the impact of this four game winning streak, let's take a look back to USC's only other four game winning streak: 1951-1954, and see if we can find any similarities between the two.  And in doing so, let's see if this streak really is a game changer, or just a blip on the radar.

Here are 10 things USC was dealing with in 1954 and 10 things they're dealing with in 2012:
  1. In 1954, USC fans were buying jorts at their local department store, seeing as the first Wal-Mart wouldn't open for another 8 years
    1. In 2012, USC fans were the guests of honor as Wal-Mart celebrates their 50th anniversary and $400B in sales
  2. In 1954, USC fans were having the inaugural issue of Sports Illustrated read to them
    1. In 2012, USC just had their 3,357th issue of Sports Illustrated read to them
  3. In 1954, USC fans were hoping Senator McCarthy wouldn't think they were Communists
    1.  In 2012, USC fans are hoping Borat won't attempt to be another foreign character
  4. In 1954, USC was sporting a 45.5% winning percentage in the ACC, though it was only in its second year of existence
    1. In 2012, USC is sporting a 40.1% winning percentage in the SEC, even when you factor in them being +10 over the last three years
  5. In 1954, USC fans were pumping $0.22 cent gas
    1. In 2012, USC fans are pumping $3.42 gas
  6. In 1954, USC fans were falling in love with a new singer named Elvis Pressley, unaware they would later be his inspiration for "Jail House Rock"
    1.  In 2012, USC fans are petitioning Rebecca Black to create a new song called "Saturday", in honor of their new-found football prowess
  7. In 1954, USC fans were the official taste testers for Swanson's new tv dinners
    1.  In 2012, USC fans travel the country taste testing new creations for state fairs
  8. In 1954, USC fans were trying to find new work due to the first automatic toll machine being used
    1.  In 2012, USC fans are trying to find work now that Hostess has shut down its factory
  9. In 1954, USC fans were hired by Eisenhower to hep crunch the numbers to support the new Social Security Bill
    1. In 2012, USC fans have been hired by Obama to help crunch the numbers to support the Administration's "balanced" budget
  10. In 1954, USC fans watched the four game winning streak propel their winning percentage against Clemson from 35.4% to 38.9%
    1. In 2012, USC fans watched the four game winning streak propel their winning percentage against Clemson from 34.9% to 37.3%
As we can see, things aren't all that different from 1954.  If anything, it shows us this is the peak for USC football and things will return to normal, soon enough.

While it may be a great time to be a Gamecock, it's still a long way from being a Tiger!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rankings: Week 13

RANK PRV Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 AVG
1 1 Alabama 21.0 14.4 33.0 14.4 16.2 -- 26.4 26.4 21.6 22.0 -5.6 8.1 24.3 18.52
2 2 Notre Dame 16.0 16.5 16.2 13.5 -- 21.6 18.0 9.0 26.4 13.5 19.8 21.6 16.5 17.38
3 4 Oregon 12.6 10.8 8.1 24.3 -- 23.1 21.6 23.1 9.0 19.8 29.7 -5.5 30.8 17.28
4 6 Georgia 12.6 23.1 14.4 24.3 13.5 -6.4 -- 16.5 20.0 18.9 26.4 7.2 21.6 16.01
5 9 Florida 10.8 22.0 19.8 21.6 -- 18.0 19.8 28.8 -5.0 13.5 9.0 6.3 26.4 15.92
6 8 Kansas St 8.1 21.6 10.8 22.0 -- 14.4 16.5 29.7 21.6 16.2 19.8 -12.7 -- 15.27
7 3 Florida St 9.0 9.0 27.0 21.6 19.8 -9.1 24.3 19.8 24.3 -- 16.5 23.1 -6.7 14.89
8 7 Ohio St 12.6 10.8 13.5 5.4 16.5 25.2 16.5 13.5 19.8 12.6 -- 16.5 13.5 14.70
9 10 Texas A&M -- -5.6 19.8 9.0 24.3 16.5 11.0 -5.6 29.7 23.1 22.0 5.4 18.9 14.05
10 5 Clemson 15.0 12.6 7.2 -5.5 19.8 16.2 -- 18.9 23.1 26.4 21.6 16.2 -5.6 13.83
11 12 Stanford 9.0 21.6 13.5 -- -9.1 13.5 -4.5 19.8 13.5 19.8 18.0 22.0 26.4 13.62
12 11 Oklahoma 13.2 9.0 -- -5.6 -- 23.1 27.0 16.2 -6.7 19.8 13.5 16.5 13.5 12.69
13 16 So. Carolina 16.5 14.4 7.2 18.9 23.1 25.2 -4.5 -7.3 13.5 -- 16.2 5.4 22.0 12.55
14 15 LSU 12.6 21.6 8.1 16.5 5.4 -4.5 18.0 22.0 -- -5.6 21.6 13.5 13.5 11.89
15 13 UCLA 15.4 18.0 14.4 -4.5 15.4 -12.7 16.5 -- 16.5 27.0 16.5 13.5 -6.7 10.77
16 14 Oregon St -- 13.5 -- 22.0 16.5 16.2 13.2 16.2 -9.1 13.5 -4.5 24.3 -7.8 10.36
17 20 Nebraska 6.3 -4.5 12.6 9.0 13.5 -12.7 -- 16.5 16.2 16.5 13.5 18.9 16.5 10.19
18 22 Northwestern 16.5 13.5 13.5 7.2 16.2 -5.5 16.5 -5.6 16.2 -- -9.1 16.5 14.4 9.20
19 17 Texas 10.8 16.2 26.4 -- 16.5 -11.1 -9.0 13.5 11.0 16.5 18.9 -- -11.1 8.96
20 18 Michigan -7.0 9.0 8.1 -4.5 -- 26.4 16.2 13.5 -5.5 23.1 13.5 18.9 -4.5 8.93
21 25 Kent St 5.4 -14.5 13.2 -- 9.0 7.7 6.6 10.8 26.4 5.4 13.2 11.0 12.6 8.90
22 31 Vanderbilt -5.6 -9.1 9.0 -8.2 -- 16.5 -6.7 13.5 8.1 26.4 16.5 18.9 26.4 8.82
23 26 No. Illinois -10.0 6.3 5.5 9.0 14.4 13.2 16.2 7.7 13.2 9.0 -- 9.0 11.0 8.71
24 23 Penn St -16.7 -9.1 12.6 16.2 15.4 16.2 -- 23.1 -6.7 23.1 -4.5 18.9 13.5 8.50
25 19 Louisville 16.2 6.3 13.5 5.5 5.5 -- 16.5 13.5 13.5 18.9 -10.9 -- -11.1 7.94

One thing Clemson & USC fans will immediately notice is Clemson being ranked higher after just losing by 10 to USC at home. Keep in mind the rankings are mathematical and do not take into account who the opponent is, only how they're categorized. Also, both teams have identical records, and while USC has the better wins, their blowout loss to Florida, along with playing UAB & Wofford hurt. Additionally, mediocre performances against Vandy, Kentucky, & Tennessee are a factor.

Also, notice Alabama is #1 rather than Notre Dame. This is where Notre Dame's performance against mediocre teams hurts. Also, Oregon is 3rd rather than Georgia; however, a Georgia win over Bama would probably vault them back ahead of Oregon since Oregon is finished.

Sunday Afternoon Thoughts: USC

The good news for Clemson fans is you saw it coming. From the 2nd quarter on, you realized things weren't going right for our club. You maintained hope, even swung the hat around "Over the Top" style, but the feeling of here we go again began to sink in.

In honor of South Carolina's win, I am hereby banishing the use of UCS or any other form of acronym for South Carolina. At least until we win head-to-head in a major sporting event...

As such, here are first impressions of USC's win:

  • Knew Clemson would not have the same offensive success they've had in recent weeks, and knew there would be lean times. Did not expect Clemson to be completely knocked off the rails, especially after their early success
  • Underwhelmed by the play calling. Was expecting a more creative or ingenious gameplan, similar to what we saw against FSU. Thought we'd see Watkins on jet sweeps, or even lining up in the backfield. No trick plays and very little misdirection.
  • Offensive line started well as Clemson was 4-4 on third downs on their first touchdown drive
  • Knew early on we would not be able to rely on 3rd down conversions. After starting 4-5, they converted only 1 more all game to finish 5-12.
  • Ellington ran well, but needed more touches.
  • The pressure really began to get to Boyd. He started dancing and no longer leaned into his throws.
  • Play that epitomized the night offensively? First drive of the second half. Clemson faces a 3-19 and Boyd runs for 10 yards. On more than one occasion, he never gave the Clemson offense a chance to move the chains.
  • Play that epitomized the night, overall? Last drive of the first half. Clemson tries to spike the ball, only to be called for a false start and 10 second runoff. Next play, Boyd ends the half by throwing the ball away.
  • There is plenty of blame to go around, but I don't put as much blame on the offense for the loss. Yes, the only put up 17 points; however, it's not easy to wait around 10-15 minutes between possessions. This offense makes it money on tempo, and it never really got a chance to get into a solid rhythm.
  • Understand Dalton Freeman spent some time on the sideline. Wonder the level of impact losing him caused. He is the leader and signal caller for that unit.
  • Passed by Tyler Shatley's family on I-85 Saturday. They had a sweet tailgating setup. As a father, made me proud to see the support they have for their son.
  • Offensive player of the game: Jaron Brown. Fast becoming my favorite player with his unselfish play, downfield blocking, and big catches. Only one to really show up for more than one play.
  • I will touch on it again in the coaching review, but thought starting Dylan Thompson was a smart move. Not sure how much Clemson prepared for him, or if it would have even mattered.

  • Similar to the offense, thought the defense looked solid early. A couple of early sacks and decent pressure by the front four.
  • After the early success, Clemson was not able to get any pressure without blitzing. The blitzes, and timing of the blitzes, were too obvious and easily picked up by the offense.
  • After halftime, no three and outs, with the shortest possession by USC being their last.
  • The back to back phantom interference calls hurt the Tigers by extending drives that should have been over. Didn't cost us any points, but may have cost an offensive possession.
  • Defense would have looked even worse without 4-5 holding penalties.
  • Secondary needed to catch at least 1-2 of the easy interceptions, even if it's just to get off the field.
  • 3rd down defense was the one area Clemson had performed well. USC was better than 50% at 11-21. They were 1-1 on 4th downs.
  • While the stats show Clemson holding the USC running game in check, a few big plays spelled the difference, including not being able to stop USC on their last possession.
  • Play that epitomized the night defensively? With USC leading 20-17, they have a 3rd and 19. A stop forces a long field goal attempt and keeps Clemson within one possession. The result? Thompson scrambles for 20 yards. 3 plays and nearly 2 minutes of game clock later, USC scores a touchdown to go up by 10.
  • Defensive Player of the Game? Jonathan "Tig" Willard. Played great at the line of scrimmage, and even had a pass defense. Honorable mention to Xavier Brewer, but no way anyone from our secondary should win an award.
Special Teams
  • USC broke a couple of early returns, on both a kickoff and a punt.
  • To Clemson's credit, following the first punt return, they began angling the punts and limited the USC field position.
  • Once again, Clemson made little noise in the return game.
  • Was really hoping to see USC's onside kicker, just to see if he's wearing metal frame glasses again.
  • Catanzaro not being included in any of the post season awards is a shame. He is the best kicker to come through Clemson since Treadwell and Gardocki.
  • If we're being completely open and honest, the entire Clemson sideline got schooled:
  • After watching Mike Glennon absolutely carve up Clemson's secondary, the move to play Thompson was an easy, yet brilliant, call.  Thompson is a much better passing qb than Shaw, and with Shaw unable to scramble, the USC offense would have little to no success against this porous defense. 
  • The USC offensive gameplan was to keep Clemson off the field. It worked as Clemson only ran 39 plays over the final 3 quarters. Of those 39 plays, seven of them were run against the end of halves, meaning Clemson only ran 32 plays with a legitimate chance to score. Total points over those 3 quarters? 3
  • Clemson's offensive game plan against Clowney was feast or famine. They ran his way with the read option a few times to great success. They singled blocked him early and Clemson scored two rather easy touchdowns. They kept that same approach throughout the rest of the game and now Clowney has a stadium record for most sacks.
  • USC's defensive game plan was to put pressure on Boyd and make him settle. He continually looked for the homerun. He was able to hit one, but ended up under 50% completions with 1 touch and two picks.
  • In the last 6-7 USC games, Clemson seems enthralled by the big play. They hit a few in 2006, only to lose by USC marching the field 3 yards at a time. Clemson's win in 2007 is the only game I can remember without huge offensive plays from Clemson. Even the 2008 win saw a few big plays. Luckily in this one, the defense came away with 4 interceptions.
  • Clemson has played as tight as any team I've ever seen in the last four USC games, which is uncanny because you see how well they've played in other big games: FSU, Miami, Auburn, & ACC Championship. Even in the Orange Bowl debacle, we were playing well until the long fumble return TD.
This was Clemson's chance to take back the rivalry. A win this year restores order, puts USC back in their place, and sets Clemson up for another BCS Bowl. Instead, the streak reaches four and Clemson must win in Columbia to stop it from reaching 5. The good news is Clemson will return many of the offensive weapons, including Boyd, Watkins, & four of the five offensive lineman. Hopkins should go pro & Ellington is out of eligibility, but there is more skill talent coming in. The issue is on the defensive side. We lose a few of the better players, with no major D-line help coming. Clemson needs vast improvement from the defense before they are ready to be a mainstay in the Top 10.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Clemson-Carolina Prediction

In our previous article we laid out five keys to Saturday night’s game:
  • Get in an Offensive Rhythm Early
  • Win Defensive 1st Down 
  • Break Even on Special Teams 
  • Don’t Get Too Emotional 
  • Protect the Football 
And while we spent a number of words telling what Clemson needs to happen, we didn't go into what would happen. To determine how Saturday night will play out, let’s analyze each of the five keys.

Get in an Offensive Rhythm Early
After failing to score on their first two possessions against Wake Forest, Clemson scored touchdowns on their next five to take a commanding lead. The following week against Duke, Clemson scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and six of their first eight. One week later, three out of five and four out of seven possessions (with a defensive score added in). And last week, Clemson scored two field goals and a touchdown on their first three possessions, then stalled for three possessions, then scored touchdowns on six straight possessions, not counting a kneel for the half.

Against UCS, Clemson needs to find that offensive rhythm early to allow the team to relax, put pressure on Carolina’s offense, and keep the crowd engaged. And while I don’t expect the same level of success Clemson had against the previous four opponents, I do expect them to have success. The key will be to see if they can manufacture points if yards don’t come as easy. I think we’ll see Clemson score in spurts, followed by USC defensive success as adjustments are made. The two units will trade positive impacts until the USC defensive begins to wilt.

In the end, I expect Morris to empty the kitchen sink with plays, formations, and motion; and for Clemson to hit the 30 point mark. The question is will it be enough to win.

Win Defensive 1st Down
Last year, Connor Shaw absolutely killed Clemson, by foot and by air, and one of the big reasons was USC was ahead of the chains. Clemson needed to look out for runs by both the quarterback and running back along with the passing game. In the end, they didn't defend any of it very well.

This year, UCS feels different. Their offense doesn’t seem to be in sync and Shaw isn’t 100%. That doesn’t mean they won’t score, because they will, but it does make them slightly more predictable. And every little bit helps.

Look for Clemson to play the rush first, apply pressure from multiple positions and blitzes, and force Shaw to beat them from the pocket. UCS will have some success, but not enough to outpace the Clemson offense.

Break Even on Special Teams
The biggest difference between units on Saturday won’t be between either team’s offense and defense, but between Clemson’s coverage units and UCS’ return units.

Of all the keys, this seems to be the easiest to control. On kickoffs, make sure to get the ball in the end zone or squib it to an upback. For punts, kick the ball out of bounds or super high to prevent returns. At this point, just don’t muff any catches and you should be good.

Clemson may try once or twice to pen UCS deep on kick-offs, but as we saw against FSU & NC State, one mistake and the defense will be placed in tough positions.

Don’t Get Too Emotional
Dabo – this one’s on you. There will be times of great joy following big plays, and great lows following blown coverages and UCS touchdowns. Let’s have fun, have success, but keep things in check. If the FSU or NC State game taught us anything, it’s the game is never over. Dabo’s famous for post-game celebrations, but let’s keep the in-game celebrations to a minimum. But due to the stage and opponent, I’m not so sure he or any of the other players and coaches will be able to stay even keeled.

Protect the Football
Of all the keys, this may be the most important. In UCS’ last three wins, they’ve won the turnover battle. In Clemson’s last win, they got four interceptions. Turnovers will tell the tale.

This key may also be the toughest for Clemson to win. Part of being aggressive means taking chances, and chances don’t always go your way. Because of their offensive style, I don’t expect Clemson to win this key, but if they can create a turnover or two, which  they should, it will make a huge difference. Enough to separate winning from losing.

Death Valley will be electric Saturday night, and the team will feed from it. Look for Clemson to jump out to an early lead, only feeding the frenzy further. At some point, the tide will begin to turn back in the favor of UCS, but only for a series or two as the UCS offense is unable to sustain success and the Clemson offense regains its momentum.

Clemson maintains a 7-10 point cushion until UCS gets the ball back with one final shot to draw even. The Clemson defense makes a final stop and Clemson ends a three year drought.

Clemson 30
UCS 23