Sunday, November 30, 2014

Streak Snapped!

Five years of anger, frustration, annoyance and repeatedly hearing chants of "GAME.....COCKS!!" after I walked out of both Death Valley and Williams Brice FINALLY came to an end Saturday afternoon. Deshaun Watson and his host of outstanding freshmen along with the #1 defense in the nation finally got back on the winning side of the Palmetto Bowl, knocking off Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks 35-17. In the process they gave South Carolina their 6th loss on the season and snapped the five game losing streak in the annual rivalry game. Behind yet another impressive defensive performance and a record breaking day from Clemson freshmen Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott and Wayne Gallman, the Tigers ran past Carolina and celebrated their first win in the series since 2008 in exciting and convincing fashion.

"Clemson was better than us.
"They were better than us today. They played better, they coached better...and we got beat. Simple as that. They are a real good team...give those guys credit, they were just better than us, " a clearly frustrated Spurrier told reporters following Saturday's loss which might keep the Gamecocks home for the holidays. It just seemed to be the Tiger's day and turn to get back on the winning side. They came up big time after time on 3rd down holding the Gamecocks to 6-15 on 3rd down and 1-3 on 4th down while also forcing a turnover which was turned into a touchdown for the guys in orange. A switch of roles to what has been the story of this game in the five previous meetings. Dylan Thompson had pressure nearly every snap he dropped back to pass and the defense just played relentless and simply would not be denied Saturday. The coaching staff put together and executed a great game plan and set the tone for a big day for the ACC which went 4-0 against its SEC rivals Saturday.

Watson came up big for his team playing on what we later found out was a torn ACL the entire game. You surely couldn't tell and his teammates did their part to help him out and take the pressure off. Artavis Scott finished the day with 7 receptions for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns, both went for over 50 yards. Wayne Gallman continued to be a force in the running game accounting for 191 yards and 1 touchdown on 7 carries. You can't say enough about the offensive line that paved the way for 491 yards of total offense on the day and didn't give up a single sack on the afternoon. Not sure the last time that could be said about the Tigers. Watson was all smiles after the game "It feels good to be State Champions," he said. Behind the performance of  the freshmen trio of Watson, Gallman and Scott the future looks bright for the Tigers and they could be gearing up to rattle off a little win streak of their own in the rivalry.

Clemson held the Gamecocks to their lowest point total this season...the same offense that dropped 35 against both Georgia at home and on the road at Auburn. It was an all around team effort that led to a dominating outcome and satisfying win to stop the bleeding and nightmares that have haunted the Tigers the past few years. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Tigertown and it was quite the electric atmosphere in a packed-out Death Valley. It wasn't all great news Saturday though. With the ACL injury, Watson will need surgery once the season is over and will be out until Summer Camp however he should be okay to play for the bowl game. He will again have to wear a brace but has been told he can't cause any more damage so as long as he can play through the pain, he should see the field when the Tigers head to their bowl game destination. That location is to be determined but will likely be in Orlando.

In addition, Chad Morris is expected to take the head coaching job at SMU and be officially announced as the new coach sometime Monday according to reports out of Dallas Sunday afternoon. That means that Jeff Scott will likely serve as the offensive coordinator for the bowl game and possibly moving forward. He has been Morris' understudy the past few years and has been prepared to run the system as we all knew that this day was coming. It looks like it has arrived so it will be interesting to see if Dabo looks internally to fill the position or makes it a national search. While Morris will be missed he opens up A LOT of money for the Tigers to go make another home run hire and hopefully keep their top ten ranking recruiting class in-tact. For now its time to enjoy this win and celebrate beating the Gamecocks in dominating fashion...just like the old days. All is right with the world and order has been restored in the state of South Carolina. The Tiger seniors took their final bow in Death Valley and will leave Clemson has one of the winningest classes in program history with a BCS Bowl victory and wins over numerous top 15 teams. Glad to reclaim OUR state. Clemson Football......We. Too. Deep.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Week 14: Rivalry Weekend

It's one of the best weekends of the year. Families are divided, relationships and friendships are put on hold and bragging rights are put on the line as rivals square off Saturday. There is nothing quite like rivalry weekend and the atmosphere at games this weekend is as hostile and heated as ever. Times have changed a bit in a few of the rivalries compared to recent years but quite a few have major playoff/major bowl implications. Arizona and Arizona State will go at it over in Arizona Stadium in Tucson, AZ. Alabama will be seeking revenge from last year's "kick-six: as they host rival Auburn in Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl. Florida State welcomes Florida to Doak Campbell for their annual showdown in Tallahassee. Mississippi State will hit the road and head to The Grove to face Ole Miss in one of the biggest games in the rivalry that I can ever remember. Louisville and Kentucky will give it a go in Cardinal Stadium in a battle of SEC vs ACC. Georgia and Georgia Tech will face off down in Athens in what should be an interesting game. Ohio Stadium will be the site of Ohio State and Michigan. And finally, Clemson looks to snap the five game losing streak to Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks as they battle down in Death Valley. Let the madness begin!

Alabama vs Auburn

Revenge will be on the mind of the Crimson Tide as they look for payback from last year's wild finish at Auburn. Alabama only loss this season came to Ole Miss and while they didn't look so great early on this year, they have come on strong at the finish and look about as good as anyone. Amari Cooper is a BOSS and should be in NYC for the Heisman trophy presentation. He's in another league when it comes to wide receivers this year. College Gameday will be on site for this showdown and despite Bama being nearly a 10-point favorite many have marked this one as the game of the weekend. I tend to disagree but I do feel the game might be closer than the experts and guys in Las Vegas are predicting. But hey, what do I know? It should be interesting for sure but I think Alabama wins this one. Of course, I thought the same thing last year also and didn't really give Auburn a chance and we all saw how that turned out. Good thing I'm not much of a gambler.

The Pick: Alabama

Florida @ Florida State

We know now that Will Muschamp will not return as head coach of the Gators so this is the end of his run in Gainesville. Florida has struggled this year and even let South Carolina, a team that has choked in the 4th quarter as of late, get the best of them with the game on the line late in the game two weeks ago. That apparently was the last straw has the news about Muschamp came out the following morning. Nobody really has luck anymore cause Florida State has all of it. They yet again avoided another loss and squeezed past Boston College to improve to 11-0 on the year. I find it hard to believe that Florida is just going to lay down and take it from the Seminoles but even with the craziness of rivalry weekend, I just can't pull myself to thinking Florida could pull the upset. Especially on the road. I do think the Gators play inspired and fight hard for their coach (and dignity) but it won't be enough. Florida State will do what Florida State has done all year and find a way to win the second half. Seminoles win but it once again will be close.

The Pick: Florida State

Mississippi State @ Ole Miss 

Ole Miss has fallen apart right in front of our eyes after looking like a solid playoff contender through the first half the season. However they haven't been able to maintain that success down the stretch and officially knocked themselves from contender to pretender after a 30-0 defeat to the hands of Arkansas. Now they have to regroup and get ready for Mississippi State who is 10-1 and still very much in the playoff conversation with their only loss coming to Alabama two weeks ago in a hard fought game. Despite having to go on the road I think Mississippi State gets the job done. The Rebels have lost three out of the last four with the only win coming against my alma mater, Presbyterian. They seemed to have lost their mojo....or maybe "The Rebels are exactly who we thought they were" and their early season run as come to an end. Rivalry games are weird and it wouldn't shock me if Ole Miss pulls it off..especially considering how wild the SEC has been this year...and college football overall, for that matter. I would love to see it happen to create more playoff chaos but don't think it will nor am I crazy enough to predict it.

The Pick: Mississippi State

Georgia vs Georgia Tech

Both of these Georgia schools have had a solid season and if Arkansas can knock off Missouri giving Georgia the division crown, both will play for a conference championship next weekend. This is an intriguing match-up. You know what you get out of Tech's offense and triple option. Justin Thomas is very athletic and a good fit for Paul Johnson's scheme. Georgia's offense continues to impress and if you missed it the first ten times I said it, Nick Chubb is a bad, bad, dude. I think when its all said and done he'll prove to be better than Gurley and go down in history as one of the greatest to tote the rock for the Bulldogs. Huston Mason has also matured and become a solid game manager. He does what he has to do and makes smart decisions with the football. The defense is molding into what Pruitt is known for and overall Georgia is a pretty good football team. If they can handle business Saturday and sneak their way into the SEC Championship (with a Missouri loss) and somehow take down Alabama, the Dawgs will be right there in the discussion for the playoffs, and rightfully so. As for the Yellow Jackets, I'm still a little suspect about them as a whole. This will be only the second ranked team they have faced this season and its on the road in a hostile environment against your rival. Add in the fact they are going up against a defense that continues to improve and I just don't know how I feel about their chances. All that said, I gotta play it conservative.

The Pick: Georgia 

Featured Game of the Week: 

#21 Clemson (8-3) vs South Carolina (6-5) 
Time: 12 pm Noon
Location: Clemson, SC (Death Valley)
Latest Line: Clemson -6.5
Overall Series Record: Clemson leads 65-42-4 
Last Clemson Win: Nov 29th, 2009 (31-14)
Last South Carolina Win: Nov 30th, 2013 (31-17)

 Players to Watch: 

South Carolina

QB Dylan Thompson
WR Pharoh Cooper
RB Mike Davis
DT JT Surratt


QB Deshaun Watson
RB Tyshon Dye
WR Artavis Scott 
DE Vic Beasley
LB Stephone Anthony



This one is a little tricky depending on who gets the start for the Tigers. South Carolina's offense has been one of the best in school history production wise and is averaging nearly 35 points per game while averaging 280 through the air and 180 on the ground. Mike Davis is a hard running back and not the easiest guy to take down but he's no Gurley or Chubb. Pharoh Cooper has come up big for the Gamecocks down the stretch and is a talented individual with speed and athleticism. Thompson has done well filling in the shoes of what most would say the best QB in school history in Conner Shaw. Any offense ran by Spurrier has to be respected. Bottom line. He knows how to find ways to score and exploit weaknesses. Clemson's offense has been suspect and really depends on who is the quarterback. When Watson is in the offense as a whole looks better and plays at a higher level. He's been running this style offense since he was in high school and has that raw and pure talent. Clemson finally is beginning to have a running game. Wayne Gallman has come up big down the stretch and Tyshon Dye had his coming out party against Georgia State. He is as good as we thought he would be and now that he's healthy and has a full game under his belt, is ready to run loose on the Gamecocks next weekend and moving forward. He's got some moves and speed but size and power as well. He's gonna be a good one. I can only imagine that he'll have some success against this South Carolina defense but the offensive line will have to step up and do their job. I like the possibilities with Watson, Gallman and Dye all in the backfield at the same time.

Advantage: South Carolina

South Carolina has not been the same team defensively that we have grown accustomed to the past few seasons. They rank 95th in the nation in scoring defense giving up about 30 points per game. They've given up at least 30 points five times this season. Clemson is having a great year on defense ranking in the top ten in many defensive categories. They enter Saturday's game coming off another shutout performance and the nations top ranked defense. They lead the pack in total defense, tackles for loss and 3rd down defense. Clemson is stopping opponents for negative yards or no gain on 44% of their plays. They have a solid front backed up by one of the nations best linebacker core. They play even better at home and look to be having fun while they are out there. It won't be fun and games Saturday but I'll tell you what....this defense is the real deal. 

Advantage: Clemson 

Special Teams: 

Never thought I'd live to see the time where Clemson would be winning games with special teams and their defense. After a rough start for Kicker Ammon Lakip, he has made 14 out of his last 15 field goals and is a perfect 34 out of 34 on extra points. Bradley Pinon has done his job all season on kickoffs and pinning the opposition deep on punts. Outside of the Gurley kickoff return in week one, coverage as been solid and expect Ben Boulware's name to be called multiple times before the day is over. He's an animal. Elliot Fry for South Carolina is 46/46 on extra points and 16/20 on field goals. And like Lakip has struggled at times. Most notably against Tennessee at home when he was 0/2 including a extra long FG that would have tied the game in overtime. Lakip missed a few crucial field goals in Athens and Tallahassee earlier in the year. While Humphries had a nightmare-ish performance in Columbia last year he is a solid returner and I'm sure he's eager to come up big this time around. 

Advantage: Even


This is a big one. Steve Spurrier is one of the best to ever walk the sidelines as a coach at the college level. He is genius and knows how to utilize his players and play to their strengths while also exposing the weakness of the defense.We all know the OBC loves to talk and brings his A game when it comes to facing off against his rivals. Lorenzo Ward has had a tough year with his young defense this year that never really seemed to find their groove this year. Dabo has built one of the best overall coaching staffs in the nation with Chad Morris and Brent Venables but is not on the same level as Spurrier. But not many people are. Chad Morris' offense is hit or miss and kind of an all or nothing deal. Either the offense is wheeling and dealing and can't be stopped or simply can't get started at all. Clemson's defense is as good as it has ever been but still has to eliminate giving up the big play.

Advantage: South Carolina 


Can the Tigers end the streak? Will Deshaun Watson play? And he if he does, will he be effective? Can the Tigers avoid the turnovers that have plagued them the past five years? Will the Gamecocks be able to move the ball against the Tigers #1 ranked defense and impressive front seven? Is Chad Morris really leaving? How about Spurrier? So many questions surrounding this game that we just simply do not have the answers to. What we do know is that all signs are showing that Deshaun Watson will indeed play Saturday and the get the start. While I think that is obviously the biggest factor I think there are two other equally important factors. We know South Carolina doesn't have the greatest defense...109th overall to exact. If Clemson can run the ball effectively and get 5 or 6 yards when they keep the ball on the ground I think that will be huge....HUGE!! Wayne Gallman has ran very well here at the end of the season and Tyshon Dye looks like he could be the X-Factor for the Tigers. If those guys can get going early, that will take pressure off Watson including the pressure for him to run as much. Either way, I think this is a game where the Tigers are going to have to weather the storm and grind it out for the win....I don't care who is a quarterback. We know we are going to get the Gamecocks' best effort regardless of how they have played this season. Likewise, Clemson wants this streak to end and the seniors are hungry to go out on top. I think behind our defense that has played well all season long we keep this one close and find a way to get it done in the 4th quarter...where the Gamecocks have not been able to seal the deal this year. Dylan Thompson has shown that he is not the same guy if you can get him moving and put a hand in his face. When that happens he has made some very poor decisions and that could be the difference in what I'm expecting to be a low-scoring affair. Throw into the mix the home field advantage and I just feel that Clemson is due for a win at home to snap the five game losing streak. It won't be pretty, it won't be easy but the Tigers grind it out and find a way in the fourth quarter to hold on for the win. Bring on the hate and SPOT THE BALL!

The Pick: Clemson 23 South Carolina 21

Other Predictions:  

Texas over TCU
Arizona over Arizona State 
Louisville over Kentucky
Ohio State over Michigan 
Baylor over Texas Tech

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Streak

Its one of my favorite times of the year. Thanksgiving is always a big deal at our house and I have the pleasure of living with my grandmother so all the family usually comes here for the holidays. Although it is a little more work for me in helping get everything ready and organized, I enjoy not having to travel and having everyone come to me during the holiday season. Call me selfish but least I'm honest. We have a family divided and I'll be the first to tell you the past few years have not been fun for me. I'm the biggest Clemson fan in the family and most of my friends will tell you I'm the biggest Tiger fan that they know. Its a title I'm proud of but when it comes to late November, the past five years have been tough. Very tough. And while you can't erase the past five years of being simply outplayed and....well, dominated by the Gamecocks, a win Saturday would take away some of the sting of this drought against South Carolina and bring the trophy back home where it belongs. And silence the trash talk from Columbia.

You can argue who had the better team the past few years but outside of that it, it has been pretty clear that the team that has played better and made fewer mistakes has come out on top. South Carolina is on the bookend of the greatest run in the program's history in which it became a legitimate team in the SEC under Spurrier. While they have improved greatly since the Lou Holtz era, the reason South Carolina has been successful over Clemson has boiled down to turnovers. They have a +12 turnover margin against the Tigers the past few years. They have been opportunistic and made the Tigers pay for their mistakes. Gotta give credit to the Gamecocks but Clemson simply has not played well the past few years against South Carolina and they've paid the price. Outside of turnovers, another big reason for the streak can be accounted to Conner Shaw. His unmatched heart and will to win is rare and his ability to make big plays with his feet, especially on third down, plagued the Tigers chances at getting back on the winning side. 

Even though Dylan Thompson already has a primetime victory in Death Valley under his belt, you have to feel better knowing that Shaw is now out of the equation and your defense is also significantly better than it has been in years. From an offensive standpoint, you also have to love that you won't have to worry about blocking Clowney this year....something you struggled to do while we was wearing the garnet and black.  However, there is one thing that hasn't changed. Steve Spurrier is still the head coach and always seems to bring his best effort when it comes to playing his rival. Looking ahead to this year's game there are a few things that come to mind that the Gamecocks must do in order to escape Death Valley with its 6th straight win in the series and some bowl eligibility insurance as they desperately need that 7th win of the season if they don't want to be home for the holidays. I gave you my keys to victory for the Tigers already so today its time to see what South Carolina needs to do Saturday to get the win. 

Keys to Victory for South Carolina:

1. Get Cooper and Davis Involved
Both Pharoh Cooper and Mike Davis are a little banged up headed into this weekends showdown but both are expected to play and will need to step up big Saturday. Davis has rushed for 888 yards and 9 touchdowns this year averaging about 5 yards per carry. The Gamecocks will need a solid game from him both running the ball, catching it out of the backfield and likely helping in pass protection against Clemson's front seven as well. Pharoh Cooper has been one of the only bright spots when it comes to wide outs this year for Carolina. He leads the team with 58 receptions and 921 yards for 8 touchdowns this season. Cooper will be called upon early and often Saturday if he is able to play and Spurrier will find ways to get the ball in his hands. If these two have a good day at the office, you have to like South Carolina's chances. If not...who will they look to that can carry the load?
2. Quick Start 
In all but two of the Tiger's games (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech) they have forced a three and out on the opponents first possession. Scoring on the opening drive would obviously be huge and help quiet down the crowd, if only for a few moments. If South Carolina can get something going early and even just pick up a few first downs on the first drive and get the defense off balance early, it could pay off later in the game. Keep those chains moving and don't give the crowd any ammunition to turn up the volume. The first few possessions of the game will be full of emotion and adrenaline and it could be the perfect time for Spurrier to catch one of Clemson's defensive backs out of position and torch them for the big play. A quick, positive start on the road could go a long way in a game where points will likely come at a premium.  
3. All Gas, No Breaks
This one builds off of #2. The Gamecocks have been known this year for not only blowing leads but blowing leads late in the game. They've done it three times this year and two of those times came at home. (Missouri/Tennessee) If they get out to a lead against the Tigers they have to finish the job and keep their foot on the gas pedal. They can't afford to start playing conservative and let another game slip away from them and give the Tigers a chance to rally and put together a comeback if they jump ahead. Spurrier made it known against Auburn he isn't afraid to take chances and go for it on fourth down. The HBC rolled the dice on 4th down six times on the road at Auburn and converted on five of the attempts. I'd imagine that we might see some of that again Saturday in Death Valley. Although Clemson is at home and hasn't won in a while, the Gamecocks have their backs against the wall and their post season plans are on life support right now. Expect them to lay it all out on the line. 
4. "3rd Down and Manageable"
This one also builds off of the previous key. Clemson has the nations top ranked 3rd down defense and has had that title for an impressive span throughout this season. So the key will be for Thompson and the offense to get yards on first and second down to make 3rd down much more manageable. 3rd and 3 or 4 is a lot easier than 3rd and 7 or 8. A 12pm kickoff will make it harder for fans to be as..."lively" as they've been the past few meetings in Death Valley which were at night. But trust that it will be a packed house and Clemson fans are going to make it as loud as possible, especially on third and fourth down. People that say crowd noise is overrated obviously have never been to a real stadium. It matters and can make a huge difference in the outcome of a game. Make it easy on yourself if you are the Gamecocks cause the Tiger defense and 86,000 plus aren't going to do you many favors. More productive plays on first down and second down will also help open up the playbook more.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cautious Optimism

Cautious Optimism. That's the name of the game for me this week heading into the annual season finale against the Gamecocks. Its been five years. A long, grueling, frustrating, annoying, head-scratching five years since we've beat our neighbors from Columbia. I've sat through every game until the final whistle with pride and class. Half of my family are Carolina fans, half of my friends are Carolina fans. I'm beyond tired of hearing it...I'm EXHAUSTED of hearing it. Saturday at high noon the Tigers have the opportunity to finally put an end to the streak and get back on the winning side of this rivalry. With any rivalry game you never know what can happen. (see Florida-Georgia earlier this year) That rings even more true this year in my opinion. Its been a season of highs and lows for both Clemson and South Carolina. While the Gamecocks have struggled more down the stretch and enter the game at 6-5, you know they are going to bring their "A" game Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised if they waited until this weekend to play their best game of the season. For Clemson, they are coming off their second shutout of the season and bring the nations #1 defense into the showdown against the Gamecocks. All eyes will be on the Clemson offense though.

Will freshman sensation Deshuan Watson be healthy enough to play and be effective? Or will the Tigers be forced to star senior Cole Stoudt who has struggled this year after losing his starting position and has battled through an injury this season himself. The offense is a night and day difference depending on who is under center. And while we are not sure what to expect from Clemson offensively, we all know how bad the South Carolina defense has been this season. But again, you never know what can happen in a rivalry game. Watson is listed as day-to-day and in all likelihood we will not know who the is starter until Thursday/Friday or even until kickoff on Saturday. I hope its not until the latter. I refuse to believe Spurrier when he says they are preparing the same way no matter who ends up being the starter for the Tigers. Come on, Steve. Come. On. Clemson isn't the only one that has their eyes on a key player on offense hoping he'll be able to play Saturday. Both RB Mike Davis (shoulder sprain/sick) and WR Pharoh Cooper (rib sprain) are expected to be ready but aren't at 100% yet and should be something to keep an eye on during the week to monitor their progress. If either of them were to be sidelined that is a huge break for the Tigers.

All these injuries aside, I'm cautiously optimistic about the game. While I do think its become more of a mental thing for the Tigers against South Carolina there are reasons to believe its the Tigers year to turn it around. For the first time in a while I think the Tigers are actually the better team this year. (especially if a healthy Watson is playing) They have played lights out on defense and should be able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage...something they haven't been able to do the past few years thanks to the likes of Clowney and Quarles. Both of those guys are gone as well as Winningest QB in school history, Conner Shaw. Further, Clemson gets the Gamecocks back at home. Of course, Dylan Thompson is no stranger to Death Valley. In fact, back in 2012 when both Shaw and Lattimore were injured, many thought Clemson was a lock for a win against the Thompson-led Gamecocks. They came to town and left with a 27-17 victory. Nevertheless, playing at home will be a huge advantage. This all comes down to which teams show up. Will it be the South Carolina that opened the season against Texas A&M and blew fourth quarter leads to Missouri, Kentucky, & Tennessee? Or the team that knocked off Georgia early in the season and nearly pulled the upset on the road at Auburn back in late October? How bout Clemson? Will it be the team we saw in Atlanta two weeks ago? Or the team that shutout NC State at home, and held on a goal-line stand to beat Louisville? Who knows. Either way there are some areas of the game where the Tigers will have to rise up and make a statement if they are going to avoid Spurrier's Gamecocks making it an unthinkable six in a row. That being said.....

Keys to Victory for Clemson: 

1. Running Game
If the Tigers are going to be successful they have to establish some balance and not be one dimensional. That means the new found running game needs to be stronger than ever before. With Wayne Gallman and now Tyshon Dye both healthy and in the mix, Clemson must be productive running the football. If Watson is cleared to play than he also must be able to pick up first downs with his feet and get down or out of bounds safely. If the running game picks up that will force South Carolina to start keying in their linebackers and secondary on stopping the run and keep them honest....and that's when you start airing it out and nickle and dime your way down the field and maybe come up with a big play or two from Williams, Scott or Hopper down the field.
2. Turnovers 
This one is a no-brainer but you have to win the turnover battle. The Tigers have committed a total of 15 turnovers in the past five meetings against SC compared to just 3 for the Gamecocks. South Carolina forced 6 turnovers last year in Columbia while committing none of their own. Make no mistake that turnovers will again play a significant role Saturday. Bottom line. I don't have to say anything else about this one. Lets move on.
3. Time of Possession
I think TOP will also be something to watch. If South Carolina can have long, clock eating drives that result in out. Especially if the Clemson offense is struggling and starts having numerous three-and-outs. It will be of the utmost importance for the offense to be productive. The big play hasn't been there much this year so I suspect that for the most part when it Clemson scores it will be at least on 6-8 play drives. We all saw what happened in Athens when the offense stalled and didn't give the defense  enough time to get a sip of water before they had to be back on the field. Give them time to rest and they will get you the ball back sooner. Help them out, and they'll help you out.
4. Defense 
Lastly, Clemson needs to continue to do what it has done all season. Continue to get pressure and be disruptive in the backfield and line of scrimmage and get off the field on 3rd down. Prove to the Gamecocks that the #1 ranking is legit and make them earn every yard. While Thompson is no Conner Shaw, Spurrier knows what has worked against the Tigers and will find their weak spot and try to exploit it. Getting quick stops and putting the ball back in the hands of the offense as many times as possible will be huge. I expect the Tigers to be quite a fired up group on defense Saturday and ready to play some grown man football against the Gamecocks in what promises to be a physical game. Having a rowdy home crowd behind them will help as well. The key is for everyone to do their job and to avoid giving up the big play. If they can eliminate that, I like their chances defensively of keeping the Gamecocks in check and limiting the points.

Finally, I'm optimistic for one final reason. The last time Clemson beat South Carolina was way back in 2008, on November 29th, in Death Valley, and it was 12 pm kickoff. This year Clemson will square off against the Gamecocks at home...on November 12pm. Take it for what its worth. Who knows...maybe'll we'll see a little "cock-a-doodle-doo" again Saturday, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Week 13 Predictions

Week 12 proved to be another great one with quite a few playoff-significant games turning into close finishes. Mississippi State came up short on the road at Alabama falling 25-20 to the Crimson Tide. Florida State continued to do what it does best and rallied from 13 points down at halftime to knock off Miami at home, 30-26. TCU avoided the upset and survived against Kansas, 34-30. Oregon State pulled the shocker over Arizona State crushing the Sun Devils' playoff aspirations, 35-27. Georgia got Gurley back and dominated Auburn 34-7, but loss Gurley yet again as he would go down with an injury in the third quarter which we later learned was a torn ACL. LSU had a hangover from the Alabama game and Arkansas took advantage ending their 17 game SEC losing streak blanking the Tigers 17-0 at home. Northwestern outlasted Notre Dame, 43-40. Clemson couldn't get it done in Atlanta falling to the Paul Johnson's crew, 28-6 and South Carolina gave Spurrier a happy homecoming and escaped the Swamp with a 23-20 overtime victory. This week's menu doesn't look as sexy as the past few weeks but nevertheless there is football on again this weekend. In the ACC, Florida State welcomes Boston College to town, Louisville is on the road at Notre Dame, Duke squares off against rival North Carolina, and Clemson host Georgia State. South Carolina is back at home against South Alabama, while Ole Miss meets Arkansas. Georgia is at home against Charleston Southern, Kansas State is in Morgantown against West Virginia and finally Baylor plays Oklahoma State. Let's take a look!

#3 Florida State vs Boston College

Last week FSU pulled off yet another 2nd half rally, this time on the road, to take care of business against the Miami Hurricanes. For anyone that has watched all season it came as no surprise. They've done it all year long and it just seems as though they are this years' Auburn avoiding disaster week after week. They have now secured the Atlantic division but must keep playing at a high level (and winning) if they want to find themselves in the mix for the playoffs come early December. Boston College is capable of putting up a good fight but I don't think they have what it takes to hang with the Seminoles for four quarters. They simply have too many weapons on both sides of the ball. Winston continues to get the job done and freshman running back Dalvin Cook is becoming a solid option in the back field averaging nearly six yards per carry and has seven touchdowns on the year. I look for him to have another impressive showing this week after having a solid 92 yard performance on just seven carries last week at Miami. I think he is going to be a special player for the Seminoles in the coming years. The Noles are a 19 point favorite and while I'm not sure they cover, they win by double digits.

The Pick: Florida State

#24 Louisville @ Notre Dame

After starting 6-0, the Irish have lost 3 out of their last 4 and can kiss their major bowl aspirations goodbye. In a matter of week's they went from a dark horse playoff contender to unranked. It won't get much easier this week with Louisville coming to town. They won't have to worry about Will Gardner as the former starting Cardinal QB had a season ending knee injury against Boston College back on Nov. 8th and freshmen Reggie Bonnafon has taken over. The Cards still have a top five defense but will have their hands full with the Irish offense that has scored 71 points the past two weeks in losing efforts. It will be interesting to see how they respond after whats been a rough past few weeks. They still have plenty to play for including a 10 win season with a bowl win but will have to get past the #24 Cardinals and the #19 USC Trojans in the next two weeks. I look for Notre Dame to get back on track and take advantage of the opportunity with a freshmen under center for Louisville playing on the road.

The Pick: Notre Dame

South Carolina vs South Alabama

Things are a bit brighter down in the midlands following South Carolina's thrilling overtime victory over Florida last Saturday. The Gamecocks are now 5-5 and in position to win their final three in the regular season and go to a bowl game with the possibility of ending this season on a positive note. Dylan Thompson is on the final leg of his career and closing in on a 3,000 yard passing season. While the defense continues to struggle (105th in scoring defense in the nation) Thompson is playing well and WR Sophomore Pharoh Cooper has emerged as a key player on offense and should end the year with 1,000 yards receiving. South Alabama (6-4) is from the Sun Belt and is coming off a win over Texas State last weekend. Look for the Gamecock seniors to go out in style as they play their final game in Williams Brice Stadium. Spurrier and company get it done easily over the Jaguars and prepare for the showdown next weekend in Death Valley.

The Pick: South Carolina

#22 Clemson vs Georgia State

Despite the questions at quarterback, Clemson is still nearly 41 point favorites to the Georgia State Panthers from the Sun Belt conference. The Panthers are 1-9 and while we've seen first hand that anyone can beat anybody on any given weekend I think the Tigers could put Vic Beasley at QB Saturday and come out on top by at least two touchdowns. This will be a good warm up game before next week's date with South Carolina and give Clemson the opportunity to jump out to an early lead and get some valuable experience for some of the younger guys and backups.  Among those are QB Nick Schuessler who finds himself right in the mix of things now and will likely see significant playing time Saturday despite Stoudt being named the starter. Look for another dominating performance from the Tiger's defense as they look to let some frustration from last week out on the weak and inferior Panthers. If I'm Clemson and win the toss I'm taking the ball and putting it Stoudt's hands right off the bat and hopefully setting the tone for a much better day at the office than he had last week. We shall see but Tigers get it doubt!

The Pick: Clemson 

Other Predictions: 

#12 Kansas State over West Virginia 
#10 Georgia over Charleston Southern
#8 Ole Miss over Arkansas
#7 Baylor over Oklahoma State

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stoudt to Start vs Georgia State

Shortly after I submitted my last post, news--very good news-- came out that Watson had not torn his ACL as earlier reported and only had a bruised bone and LCL sprain. He is currently listed as day-to-day and although he will not see the field this week against Georgia State, he might be able to suit up and play November 29th when rival South Carolina comes to town. It was quite the turn of events the past few days for Clemson fans but things look much more positive now with the possibility that Watson may return this season.That is great news not only for the Tigers and their goals set out for this season, but also for Deshaun's health moving forward. An ACL tear this late in the year would have kept him out of many off-season drills and workouts heading into spring ball. As of now he will not require surgery and while I would love nothing more than to have him on the field against the Gamecocks next week, that only needs to happen if he is ready and healthy. I want this madness and streak to end as much as anyone but risking your quarterback's health and future (both for the program and for Watson himself) for one game is simply not worth it. Even against your rival. Swinney told the media today that he truly does not know at this time if Watson will play against South Carolina though he is hopeful he will. "Its an LCL sprain--it doesn't require surgery. You just put a brace on it and go play," Swinney said. Tiger fans and the coaching staff alike can only hope that his injury is a lower grade one which typically allows players to return to the field as soon as 1-2 weeks.

So who gets the start this week against Georgia State? During his weekly press conference Coach Swinney told the media that Cole Stoudt would remain the starter for the Tigers. "He (Stoudt) brings everything to the offense we need to win," Swinney said. He added that Cole simply had a bad, bad day last week against Georgia Tech and he has responded well so far this week and led the Tigers to key wins the past few weeks despite battling an injury of his own. The good news is that this is a game where Stoudt may be able to gain some of that confidence back again. Georgia State is 1-9 on the year and are nearly 41 point underdogs to the Tigers Saturday. While #18 will start I fully expect us to also get a good look at Nick Schuessler as well. The sophomore from Georgia is a high school teammate of running back Wayne Gallman who believes Schuessler is more than capable of running the offense if he is called upon Saturday or next week against South Carolina. Swinney believes that Cole is ready to finish the season and will finish this season and his career at Clemson on a positive note. Hopefully he is right.

Only time will tell who will go under center for the Tigers first series against South Carolina.  If Clemson is smart, they won't make that known to the public until kickoff November 29th. Make the Gamecocks, who have had issues all year defensively, have to prepare for all three of the quarterbacks as right now it appears that either of them could be the guy next week. Hopefully we can jump out to an early lead Saturday and get Schuessler in the game and get him more valuable experience and playing time so that he will be more prepared if the situation arises that he is needed next weekend. But for now, its time to rally behind Cole Stoudt and hope this is the week he finally gets back on track and look like the guy we saw in Athens and who beat out Watson for the job to begin with.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Picking up the Pieces

I almost decided to post a game reaction/analysis yesterday but decided it was best if gave it some time and calmed down first. So I waited before I posted my thoughts on yesterday's disaster of a day in Atlanta. I woke up this morning and noticed some big bright light shining through my window. It wasn't until I walked over to the window and opened the curtains before I noticed that it was just the sun. It had decided to rise again this morning after all. I have a lot on my mind today and really not sure how to put it all together in a organized matter so I'm just going to say it as it comes to mind. That being said, I need you to bare with me today. I'm going to try to not make this a rant but I love my team and know what we are capable of and I'm disgusted with what took place yesterday. At the moment we have about as many unanswered questions as we did before the Georgia game. I'm going to try to unravel some of my thoughts about the current state of the program and what the future (both in the final weeks of this season and beyond) holds for Clemson football.

First I want to say I'm sorry and feel bad for our defense. They have played their butts off all season long. Without them we would have loss to North Carolina, Louisville, Boston College and probably Syracuse, too. Its frustrating though because even at 7-3 and outside of Saturday's debacle, we are one Deshaun Watson-led series at FSU and a few more in Athens away from being 9-1 or possibly undefeated. While we definitely have had our share of bad luck this year when it comes to injuries, the same time you have to always be prepared if you are the next guy in line. You never know what could happen and everyone is always one play away from having a season-ending injury.  My heart breaks for Watson but after what is now his third injury since coming to Clemson and fourth in the last year or so I'm starting to worry about his durability. I hope he makes a strong recovery, is able to put on some more weight over the off-season and come back ready to rock and roll and battle for what should be another interesting quarterback competition this off season. (I'll come back to that in a little bit) But you can't help to begin to worry if he can carry the load and stay healthy long enough to reach his full potential while at Clemson. News broke that OL David Beasley is also gone now for the season with an ACL injury suffered Saturday. Zac Books suffered an ACL injury before the Georgia game too and hasn't played a single snap this year. Charone Peake has been banged up all year as well. Its been injury after injury but they are all part of the game. Gotta keep moving forward. While some have began to question the dismissal of Chad Kelly with our struggles at quarterback and how nice it would be to still have him in the mix, I'm not even going to get into that discussion. He's gone. He NEEDED to be gone. Let's move on. Next guy in line.

I'm frustrated with our offense and coaching staff. When Watson is out of the picture our offense goes from a high tempo explosive unit to a middle school C-team level squad with just a few plays and an offense that simply isn't working. At all. When Watson went down Saturday the entire offense and confidence of this team (at least offensively) went with him to the locker room. You can only ask so much from our defense. For as much as we are paying Chad Morris you'd think by now he would have come up with some type of solution to this problem and find ways to make Stoudt effective but we continue to be a stalling offense every week. We have way too much talent at the key positions to be scoring 6 points against Georgia Tech...I don't care who is the quarterback. I understand Stoudt isn't 100% healthy but beyond that he's just making incredibly bad decisions with the football time after time. His mind isn't injured or impaired (as far as I know) its his shoulder. I refuse to believe even a healthy Cole Stoudt was "that" much better than Watson heading into the UGA game. There's just no way. Stoudt looked good for the first half of the Georgia game but really hasn't done anything impressive since then. He's grinded out wins for us the past few weeks in Watson's absence but like I said, without our defense all of those games likely would have resulted in a loss. Two pick sixes on the road (one of which should have been a touchdown for the Tigers had he made the right decision) is simply unacceptable from a senior quarterback. He has to do better and make better decisions with the football, especially in the red zone on the road. Point. Blank. Period. He's lost all confidence and at this point, I don't know what can be done (if anything) to gain that back.

We are now down to our third string quarterback in Nick Schuessler. He will likely get the start Saturday against Georgia State but your guess is as good as mine as to what the offense will look like this weekend or who will start the following week against South Carolina. With Watson at the helm it looked as though Clemson would surely get back on track and end the streak this season at home against the Gamecocks but all of the sudden that game is looking like it will be an all-out dog fight and the first team to 17-21ish points probably wins. So what do we do now? With two games left on the season, the ACC Championship and Orange Bowl are both off the list of possibilities and while we can still end the season on a good note and have a 10 win season, something is going to have to change. First off more Wayne Gallman is a  good start. He's running well as of late although we have to find a way to get him some solid blocking up front. Next we need to get more short quick passes to get the ball out of the hands of Schuessler and not try to go down field as much as it simply hasn't been there all too often for us this year. Taking the pressure off of him as much as possible will be key. He was thrown into the fire Saturday without having practiced for Tech during the week yet still went 4-4 for 20 yards and made some solid passes. We are a much different offense this year compared to last season regardless of what the coaches say or lead us to believe. Its obvious that we will have to depend on and lean on our defense if we are to finish this year on a positive note because our offense is simply not getting the job. And I know we can't put it all on Stoudt or any single individual...but you can't score 6 points and turn the ball over three times and expect to beat anyone.

There is good news, though. Help is on the way. While our defense will lose some of its key components we have good depth and will still be solid on the defensive side of the ball next season. Most importantly, we have some big names coming to help out the offense. At quarterback not only will Watson be back but we will also have two freshmen in them mix including Kelly Bryant (pictured) from nearby Wren High School as well as Tucker Israel from Florida and both are 4 Stars recruits. In addition, there is some solid help coming to the offensive line in OT Mitch Hyatt (5 Star), OT Noah Green, Jake Fruhmorgen OT Zach Giella (all 4 Stars) coming in with the 2015 class. Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud are also Tigertown bound and look to continue the great tradition of Clemson wideouts from Florida. Both are 4 stars as well and should see the field early and often.

This season isn't over and the goal of beating South Carolina in two weeks and ending the streak is still on the table but the Tigers are going to have to dig deep and have a full team effort to make it happen. Winning that game will be the difference in how this season will be graded and remembered. While you can't install a completely new offensive scheme in two weeks and expect it to be effective Chad Morris has to dial up something that can make this offense at least able to put up a few touchdowns per game. I'm not asking for 40 points but are a few touchdowns that much to ask for? Lastly its time for us as fans to rally behind this team and make the most of the finals two home games. While I can see how attendance numbers might not be that great for a 3:30 kick against Georgia State we absolutely have to come out and be as loud as humanly possible when the Gamecocks come to town and pack out the valley. I predicted us to go 9-3 earlier this summer and while I would have never thought we would have gotten there in the manner that we have, finishing with 9 wins regular season and 10 wins overall with a bowl win seems very much obtainable and would make this a good year given the key players we lost from last year. Looking forward to the next two games and hoping Schuessler is ready to lead this team and close out what has been a roller coaster of a season here in Tigertown. Times such as these make moments like winning the Orange Bowl that much sweeter. Can't truly enjoy the good times without having endured the bad as well. Go Tigers and I'll CU next week back in Death Valley!