Game Preview 8: Clemson Welcomes FSU Outbreak

Sometimes I hate to be right. Everything I feared came true in Pittsburgh. The offense, unable to take advantage of an excellent defense at the start of the match and a position on the field, could not take more than a score in advance. Kenny Pickett then did what very, very good QBs do and started playing with his arms and legs.

Pitt’s attack has only managed 20 points yet, but that was more than enough to overcome what is a pathetic Clemson attack. Before, you couldn’t dream of a victory over Clemson without breaking 30 points, but this season has been very, very different.

It was an insult to other injuries, namely main guard Matt Bockhorst and his right ACL. While Bock’s turn down the center wasn’t very good, he was playing good football at his natural guard position, and that doesn’t help the team lose their serves on the weaker side of the ball. You can only hope that the terrible injury of luck will take its course on what is quickly becoming a totally lost season.

However, there are still a few things to achieve and protect for this team. The home winning streak is one and the U of SC streak is the other. At the start of this season, I like a lot of others worried about the UGA game and maybe another on the schedule as a potential slip. Now almost all of the remaining games are dangerous, especially if the opponent has a noteworthy offense.

Florida State is a dangerous opponent despite being the laughing stock of September nationally, blowing up a game against Jacksonville State among other misfires in a 0-4 start. It’s a lesson you don’t have to sit in the mud or accept being bad and hopefully the Tigers find a new spark in this one that can move this season forward in the right direction.

Clemson attack against FSU defense: Oh man. I will start with a few positive points. I felt that OL had played well enough to win last week against a capable forward-seven Pitt with an attacking pattern. To be fair, there were a couple of Shipley races that really should have made some monster wins, if not touchdowns, if he had been able to keep the balance as he accelerated. These were well blocked and all the full backs ran more than 5 meters per race. I’ll take this every week. The running backs play well as a positional group, with Shipley’s big pass being the only real black eye in the Pitt game.

Now let’s move on to at least positive. WR play continues to be very poor. Clemson had only Ross, Ajou, and the Collins towers as fellows ready to go. Ross has had a few more forgettable moments and still looks like a shell of himself. I can’t begin to imagine what he’s been through with his operation and recovery, so it’s hard for me not to give him some sort of a break, but at the same time, this team just can’t win some matches like last week. if he doesn’t play like he’s shown in the past, he can. Expecting Ross 2018 is probably unfair and expectations should be tempered accordingly.

Ajou Ajou made me a little angry when he continued to blow blocking homework that condemned screen games. He pulled off a big game, but failed to produce what this type of size and athleticism can potentially produce. Clemson simply cannot afford the learning curve due to injuries at the post. Will Brown is small but tough and has had one of the best streaks in the WR group this season. I’ll take tenacity out of the measurables at this point. It would be nice if these two things could be brought together in the same package.

It’s a good thing Marcus Tate has gained a good experience because he’s the guy who has to step up with Bockhorst falling. Clemson should have Rayburn and Trotter to run the center and hopefully we’ll see some continuity from that point on. Florida State has been a boom or bust type defense for much of the season, but at this point I just want to see Clemson run where Jimmy vs. Joe becomes the deciding factor and drop the chips where they can. Drops, penalties and “missed layups” need to stop before worrying about 3- or 4-man fronts and cover styles.

I thought it was good for DJs to sit down for a few shows last week. He played better when he came back. Sometimes a guy needs that to happen to take a turn. I don’t know if that’s what will happen here, but Clemson needs DJU and I’m okay with giving him every chance to do it. It just needs to be less robotic, like throwing that shovel pass without really reading it. I actually liked one of his throws at Ross even though he was pretty misguided just because he showed a willingness to give his guy a chance rather than eat a sack. These are calculated risks, but think of all the great pieces of the great Clemson run that were calculated risks.

Kobe Pace is the next guy in the long line of guys who have to run out of time this season. Luckily, Will Shipley is back and Mafah has had time to get used to it. We’ll probably see Darien Rencher for a few shots here and there as well. Shipley has been about to make some big, explosive plays and hopefully this will be the week he really lets go.

Clemson should have led 17 or 21 against Pitt in the first half. The pick in the red zone when DJ didn’t throw him to the back shoulder and Ross didn’t compete for the ball and Shipley’s fall was at least 10 points missed there alone. The Tigers have to play these games or these struggles won’t go away. Clemson’s defense is good enough to keep the team in the game, but not good enough to win if the offense can’t break 20 points. Florida State is a running based team that getting ahead of them and forcing them to pitch to catch up is the best route to victory. But, like a line in Young weapons says, “There is a lot of slippage between the cup and the lip.”

Clemson Defense Against FSU Attack: Clemson’s defense did everything you could hope for in the first quarter and a half of the game last week. They forced punches, got a turnover and kept Pitt out of reach. The offense was only able to take a 7-0 lead after all that, and then Kenny Pickett started playing.

Their first touchdown was one of those ‘tip your cap’ games. Some people will lament that Nolan Turner is paired with Addison, but it took a perfect throw into a tiny window to complete this piece. Addison was essentially concussed after a previous capture where Phillips returned him, but it had not yet been diagnosed and he played this game anyway. The biggest problem on this game was Clemson’s defensive front inability. reach Pickett or prevent him from escaping to his right hand.

That last point led to future problems, such as a blitz on the 4th and 5th that left Barrett Carter isolated on a WR lunge where he was desperately burned for a TD. Clemson had to blitz to get more and more pressure as the game progressed, as the Clemson forward, especially the defensive ends, couldn’t create adequate pressure on his own. Have there been any catches? Yes, but at the end of the day if you beat guys bad enough, those catches will be so blatant that most will be called. I said in my preview that if Clemson wins this game we would probably be talking about huge impacts from Xavier Thomas or Myles Murphy or both. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

Clemson’s corners were healthy, but Pitt was able to find and attack Clemson’s safeties and linebackers in cover situations. The pass rush was unable to compensate for these situations. It didn’t help that Clemson couldn’t take a big enough lead that Pitt was in all-pass mode. They were close even at 0-7 as they chose to use a lot of empty sets and let Pickett try to move them. In the end, Clemson couldn’t even stop Pitt’s running game as the Panthers converted 10 third downs and that fourth pivot. You’re just not going to beat a good team by giving up so many conversions.

Tyler Davis shocked me and I’m sure many more coming back last week. He was a mailman when he was there, but they limited his shots and he wasn’t there when Pitt really started hurting Clemson with their running game. It’s supposed to be full this week and that’s great news. Davis is a difference maker and Clemson needs to have someone up front to destroy some games to get FSU off the schedule. I would love to see a painting of Pitt’s production of the plays Davis was in versus those he wasn’t.

Jordan Travis isn’t Kenny Pickett as a passer, but he’s a very dangerous runner. Florida State also has one of the best full-backs in the ACC at Jashaun Corbin. They present problems similar to those of Syracuse. Clemson did a great job keeping Shrader from throwing the ball in this game, but was nicked a few times by Tucker. It is absolutely essential that Clemson stop FSU’s ongoing attack and get Travis (or if they are replacing at Milton) throwing to win. If FSU gets to 150 yards at the fastest, it’s likely to be another long day at the office. Anything below it should mean Clemson is in pretty good shape, at least on this side of the ball.

I think this week we should see more Lavonta Bentleys. I didn’t think he would be used much against Pitt’s offense and I was right, but Florida State’s heavy approach suits his style of play. I want to see Clemson punish the FSU full-backs and in particular Travis when he’s looking to run and Bentley brings the wood along, if not better, than Spector and Skalski. We will see how it goes.

Special teams: It’s a little shocking to think of how perhaps the most consistent this unit has been on the team. The defense has had a disappointment here and there, but this unit, with the exception of a blocked punt, has been strong. BT Potter continues to hit kicks, albeit with limited opportunities, and Spiers kicked the ball well in addition to his false punt success against Syracuse. The return leg has been fairly calm since Will Taylor got injured. I always wonder why we seem to never make a real effort to block a punt, especially if the majority of our returns are fair catchers. Clemson has too many great athletes not to be more disruptive in this phase, and this year’s attack could really use the help.

Globally: I would be really, really concerned about this game if it was in Tallahassee. We should definitely see that there are very few easy wins on this calendar. I was as angry with Norvell for dodging that game last year as anyone, but I have to pay tribute to him and his coaching staff for allowing this FSU team to playing much better football after a disastrous start. It gives me halfway hope that Clemson might find his way. The ‘Noles got their spark when they won a narrow victory over Syracuse. I think this week we see Shipley breaking some big plays to help the lame offense do just enough.

Clemson 23-FSU 17

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