Tuesday, November 26, 2013

5 Keys for a Clemson Win

For the first 100+ years of this rivalry, the feeling was Clemson can just play their game and win. To South Carolina's credit, that feeling has changed over the past four years. Is it fair? Probably not, but Clemson fans could use a little support in this argument. A win over South Carolina this Saturday would go a long way to reestablishing control (at that point, the four game winning streak is in the past - and the past has no bearing, right USC fans?).

So, here are five keys to a Clemson win and the first step in setting the world back on its axis:

Tackle, Tackle, Tackle
The defenses with the most success against South Carolina have done one thing well: tackle. You saw it against Florida, Tennessee, and Missouri (for three quarters). In all three games, the defense was able to minimize additional yards by making sure the first contact brought down the ball carrier. Clemson needs to do the same, especially with Shaw. Unfortunately, tackling has not been Clemson’s calling card.

Additionally, South Carolina uses the screen pass as a primary downfield weapon, which doesn’t sound logical. But ask Missouri how effect the screen game can be. Again, the Clemson defense has been susceptible to screens, so it will be up to the pursuit of the down lineman and the ability of the linebackers to shed blocks.

If you’re a Clemson fan, the Georgia Tech game may bring comfort, seeing how Clemson defended the option and kept pursuit angles. A defensive first quarter similar to the Tech game would do wonders for Clemson to break the streak.

Solid Defense
Two primary factors have contributed to South Carolina’s current thumb drive: The ability of the South Carolina offense to control the game and turnovers.

Last year, South Carolina ran 86 plays to Clemson’s 59, and controlled the ball twice as long (40 minutes to 20). Those 86 plays consisted of a 15 play drive (ended in INT), 13 play TD drive, 12 play FG drive, and a 10 play TD drive. In 2011, South Carolina ran 13 more plays than Clemson and kept the ball for nearly 15 minutes more than Clemson. In 2010, four more plays and almost 10 minutes more possession than Clemson. 2009: 19 more plays and 14 more minutes of possession.

With South Carolina nursing a 3 point lead, Clemson finally made a defensive play as Xavier Brewer intercepted a pass in the end zone to stop a 15 play drive. On the ensuing possession, Clemson has moved into South Carolina territory with a chance to tie or take the lead. The result a Tajh Boyd interception. South Carolina takes the ball and drives 13 plays for a touchdown and the celebration in the armpit begins. That was Clemson’s second turnover of the game and marked the fourth straight game against South Carolina where South Carolina won the turnover battle. Coincidence? Probably not. In fact, in each of the last six Clemson-South Carolina games and nine of the last ten, the team that has won the turnover battle has also won the scoreboard.

Run, Run, Run
During Morris’ tenure, each loss features one similarity: lack of a commitment to the running game. In Clemson’s 30 wins during the Morris tenure, only twice have the Clemson running backs carried the ball fewer than 25 times: last year’s Peach Bowl when Boyd had 29 carries to the backs 21 and this year’s Georgia Tech game when the quarterbacks had 22 carries to the backs 15. To offset the two diminished run games, Boyd combined to throw for nearly 700 yards with 8 total touchdowns.

Conversely, in Clemson’s seven losses during the Morris tenure, only once have the Clemson running backs eclipsed 20 carries: this year’s Florida State game, which was over by half time. In the other six losses, Clemson failed to commit to the run, including 24 total rushes for only 95 yards in Clemson’s first loss under Morris (GT ’11), 28 for 34 (NCSU ’11), & 30 for 70 (USC ’11), all three of which represent Clemson’s fewest rush attempts and rush yards of any games in the last three years.

For Clemson to win Saturday against South Carolina, they must commit to the run.

Clown Clowney
While most Clemson fans enjoy taking the occasional potshot at Jadeveon Clowney (present company included), we do it as a defense mechanism knowing full and well what he has accomplished against this Clemson team in season’s past.

In this game, Clemson mustn’t be afraid of Clowney and should do whatever is necessary (sans injury) to remove the doubt that has crept into Morris and Boyd’s head. If he comes out making plays, his confidence will only rise as that of Clemson’s will drop, and Clemson can’t afford to operate at less than 100% confidence

Look for Clemson to focus on him in both the run game and passing game, including extra blockers, chips & rubs by releasing tight ends and backs, and plays designed to avoid him. One thing Clemson can’t do is leave him unblocked like previous teams have tried to do. It won’t work – Clowney is the greatest unvlocked player in the world. Just check Youtube to confirm for yourself…

Have Fun
Dabo has consistently preached “The Fun is in the Winning”, yet it doesn’t feel like Clemson has taken that approach into this game. They’ve been into the game (see last year’s start by Tajh), but they haven’t kept that focus for the entire game.

To South Carolina’s credit, they’re offense has controlled the tempo of the game, which limited the Clemson’s offense ability to find a consistent rhythm. However, the Clemson offense must bear a portion of that burden as they felt pressured to score or make a big play when what was really needed was a decent drive and some positive momentum.

This year, the pre-game feels different, the words from the coaches feels different, but the stakes are higher than ever. Will the fun, confident Clemson team that faced Georgia show up, or the one that cowered under the bright lights of Florida State?

I think we’ll know before the big screens start showing the MIzzou-A&M game...

While there are few positives to take away from the last four years, one thing Clemson can look to is the fact that they’ve played well early. They’ve held touchdown leads in three of the four games, and in the fourth they scored 10 quick points to draw even late in the first half. Clemson will need to have a similar start in this game, but also continue that effort throughout the full 60 minutes.

In the end, it will come down to two items: the play of the Clemson defense and the play of Tajh Boyd. Both have struggled the last three years, though there were signs of a breakthrough in last year’s game. While this Clemson team lacks the consistency of Nuk Hopkins, they tend to have a better grasp of themselves and what they do. But more importantly, the Clemson defense is improved. If both the Clemson defense and Tajh Boyd play to their typical 2013, then Clemson has a legitimate chance at seeing “Nothing but Taillights” – the USC kind…

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