Sunday, November 25, 2012

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:

Offense
  • 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.
Defense
  • 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.
Coaching
  • 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.
Summary
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.

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