Tuesday, November 20, 2012

5 Keys to a Clemson Victory Against UCS

When Clemson welcomes UCS to the real Death Valley Saturday night, a few keys will decide the outcome of the game. For Clemson, they need to make sure at least 3-4 of these keys go their way for them to send their feathered friends back to the armpit with an L.

Get in an Offensive Rhythm Early
Clemson has the ability to score from any position, on any down, at any time, on anybody. But what makes this offense potent over 4 quarters is rhythm. Clemson plays at a high tempo, which makes finding a rhythm so important. As we saw in the NC State game, when Clemson has that rhythm, they can score in bunches: e.g. 42 straight points.

But also, as we saw in the FSU and NC State games, when Clemson loses that rhythm, they get off the field in a hurry, forcing their defense into precarious positions: 35-3 run by FSU and 24-0 by NC State.

Win Defensive 1st Down
With Lattimore out, the UCS run game is suspect. But it’s still strong enough that it must be respected, and it’s still the linchpin to this offense. If UCS is able to get 3-4 yards on the ground, then it opens up their. It allows Shaw to roll out and forces the defense to react. And the more the defense reacts, the more opportunities UCS will have to hit the big play.

On the flip side, if Clemson can win 1st Down, it forces Shaw to stay in the pocket and UCS to rely on the pass. It also allows the Clemson defensive line to focus on going after Shaw while the secondary can focus on the receivers rather than what’s going on in the backfield. And if Clemson can stop and/or slow down the UCS offense, it only gives the Clemson offense more opportunities to put points on the board.

Break Even on Special Teams
Against Virginia Tech, Clemson looked like a prototypical Frank Beamer team. Against NC State, they looked like a high school team. For Clemson to win Saturday night, they don’t need to go all Frank Beamer; they just need to break even. That means no blown assignments while blocking/covering, solid coverage during kicks & punts, and no major mistakes fielding kicks.

If Clemson can break even on special teams, it means it didn’t make any major mistakes or turnovers, and it means that UCS didn’t break any long runs. And it means UCS must earn their points rather than Clemson giving them cheap ones.

Note: Clemson seems to have more success blocking kicks against UCS than they do any other team, including last year, 2008, & 2004.

Don't Get Emotional
This game naturally brings out the emotion in the players and coaches, and when you combine that with Dabo’s natural excitement level and Venerables insane intensity, there is a chance to become too emotional. And when Clemson gets emotional, they seem to lose intensity, which leads to silly mistakes and lost focus. And losing focus for a play or two against this defense can cause serious momentum swings.

I don’t blame Dabo for being so emotional, I actually wish other coaches would show more emotion, but there are times when he enjoys the game so much Clemson seems to take their foot off the gas, thinking the game is too easy. One instance is the FSU game, when Watkins hit Ellington for a long touchdown to take the 14 point lead. Following the play, Dabo is chest bumping players, giving hugs, and generally enjoying life. Clemson was then outscored 35-3 to go from being up 14 to down 18.

As we’ve seen in past Clemson-UCS games, there will be massive momentum swings, and the team that stays focused will have a better shot at winning. Clemson showed a lot of poise last week after giving up 24 straight points, but I don’t think the UCS defense will be quite as hospitable as the State version.

Protect the Football
Over the last three weeks Clemson has scored an average of nearly 55 points per game; however, during that span they are averaging three turnovers per game. Against UCS, the former won’t happen and the latter can’t.

If Clemson remains laissez-faire with the ball, they will lose. UCS has a great nose for the football, especially DJ Swearinger, and they can convert any Clemson turnover into quick points.

Three years ago, a Jaime Harper fumble while Clemson was driving to go up two scores completely altered the game. Two years ago, a fumble set UCS up for a touchdown while a pick-six effectively ended the game, and Kyle Parker’s career. Last year, a Sammy Watkins drop changed momentum and a Tajh Boyd interception killed any hopes of a comeback.

This year, if Clemson wants to win, they need to protect the football. They need to make the catches they should make, including fielding punts, and they must keep the ball off the ground. If they do, they will stay out of the offense’s way, allowing them to put up points. Hopefully enough points to win.

Clemson does not need to have each of these five keys go their way to win, they just can’t lose all five. If Clemson gets all five keys, then they’ll win – comfortably. If they get 3-4, they should win. If they get 2-3, it will be anyone’s ballgame. If they get 0-2, they WILL lose.

UCS is too good of a football team to sleepwalk to a win. They must play within themselves, find a rhythm, make some defensive stops, have no major gaffes on special teams, keep their wits, and protect the football. If they do, hello Sugar Bowl. If not, Spurrier may never shut his mouth.

Check back later as we make our prediction of what will happen.


  1. Great article and I agree with most of what you wrote.

    Go Tigers!!!


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