When I say we're going across enemy lines this week, I mean it: this week's Q & A is with Shakin the Southland's Figure Four. As far as Clemson fans go, FF is a good guy who's always up for a good conversation about football, and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading his insights about the Tigers. Stay tuned for my answers to his questions.
1. I've noticed a good bit of dissatisfaction with Dabo Swinney from the Clemson fan-base. Are my observations accurate? Is Dabo’s job in any danger at this point? What's your take on what Clemson needs to do coaching-wise to break through in the ACC?
There is definitely dissatisfaction. Clemson’s overall record (6-5) and conference record (4-4) cause this discomfort. Clemson’s staff repeatedly ignored its best players (Andre Ellington is a prime example) and has not been able to put teams away when given opportunities this year. The specific dissatisfaction lies in the offensive performance (or lack of) to date for the Tigers. Clemson has not played to its strengths and inconsistently moved itself away from what was working to inexplicably try to force things on offense. On top of this, Clemson has not been able to capitalize on red zone opportunities via poor play calling and missed field goals.
Dabo’s job is not in danger this season. Dabo did not hire himself. Dabo was not responsible for the Tom Bowden fiasco that saw Clemson blow millions of dollars on an unnecessary buyout. Clemson has been poor all around this fall and AD Terry Don Phillips will be the first, if anyone, to go this year. Further, I don’t believe the school will do anything (in terms of a major coaching change) unless a new AD is in place to conduct an extensive search. In order for Clemson to compete/win you will need to see a new and revamped attitude out of the athletic department as a whole.
2. Clemson has managed to remain competitive despite an anemic offense this year because its defense has been so strong. Da’Quan Bowers has finally lived up to his prep hype, DeAndre McDaniel is a star in the secondary, and the defense is generally strong in all areas of the game. However, it appears that the strong secondary and pass rush have made for a better pass defense while the rushing defense, although good, hasn't been as dominant. Is this accurate? How will Clemson respond if Carolina looks to run Marcus Lattimore 30-40 times, which appears to be the case?
Clemson has not faced a running back as good as Lattimore to date. The Tigers did give up over 200 yards on the ground against Auburn but have not looked too bad overall against the run this season. We have had defensive shortcomings and momentary lapses in judgment/execution. In CU’s loss against Miami, the Hurricanes were able to create favorable mismatches and take advantage of a couple Clemson mental breakdowns as Jacory Harris threw for four TD’s on the afternoon. Otherwise, Clemson’s offense has been the defense’s biggest issue. Clemson has not handled the ball well this season, repeatedly putting the ball on the ground and throwing interceptions at critical moments to put the defense in unnecessary binds.
If anyone runs the ball 30 times they should be successful and South Carolina has proven this season that they are more than willing to pound the ball. The lone exception that I recall was the Kentucky game where Lattimore was injured, the Cocks got pass-happy, and they ended up losing the game. I don’t see Spurrier moving in this direction (pass-happy) unless it is absolutely necessary. The key for South Carolina will be extending drives by getting key 1st downs as they did in the Alabama game. If South Carolina gets 30 carries out of Lattimore it means that they were able to win the battle up front and convert third down opportunities and if that happens it could be a long day for the Tigers.
I will say that Clemson’s defensive line is stout and should be a formidable foe for SC’s offensive line. The Clemson linebackers are the question mark in this whole thing. We have repeatedly questioned our gap control and ability to read and fill for a while now. On top of this, an LB on a WR is bad news for Clemson and the Tigers have been burned a couple times this season because of this. South Carolina should recognize this flaw to use play action and/or create mismatches given their talent at WR (Jeffery, Gurley, and others like Ace Sanders).
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3. Carolina's Achilles Heel this season has been pass defense. The secondary has played a bit better over the past two weeks, but it's unclear whether that's due to improvement and personnel adjustments or if it's been due to weaker competition. How do you like Clemson's chances to throw the ball against Carolina? Clemson's passing game has struggled a lot this year. Are your receivers good enough to exploit our weaknesses? What's been wrong with Kyle Parker this year, after he had a fairly solid campaign in 2009?
Clemson has steadily improved at the WR position since the Tigers have given more snaps to some younger guys. A prime example of this is Nuke Hopkins who has had a nice Freshman season. Jaron Brown had a nice TD catch at the end of the half last week and Dwayne Allen is very talented at the TE position and flexed in various formations.
QB Kyle Parker has had an up and down year to date and tends to get happy feet, sometimes unnecessarily rolling out to his right. Once out of the pocket, Parker made bad decisions repeatedly over the course of the season either throwing a bad pass across his body, putting the ball on the ground, or not being smart and throwing the ball away. I think Parker’s confidence was dinged up by poor receiver play early in the season. Missing preparation and drill time with the young receivers this summer due to his focus on baseball may also have contributed to some struggles this season.
Kyle really has not looked comfortable all season. He is definitely talented enough to be a good quarterback and, IMO, can really put up some big numbers when he is comfortable and in a groove. If Clemson can get some early rhythm and some confidence for Parker, he could have a nice day. Parker was pretty efficient last week against Wake and hopefully some of this confidence will carry over into this week.
Further, I think that Clemson needs a viable running game to create opportunities off of play action. Clemson needs to get Jamie Harper going early, utilize play action, and make a couple of big catches early to instill confidence in this passing attack to exploit the apparent weakness of SC’s defense (the secondary).
4. What's your take on the importance of this series for in-state recruiting?
Any win you get is big in recruiting and since we compete with South Carolina for most of the in-state players, this is important. Obviously South Carolina got to tell recruits last season that they beat the ACC Atlantic Division Champs and Clemson would look a lot better if they beat the SEC East’s representative this season. Both teams are set up for pretty good classes this season and one would suspect that a win this weekend could sway a recruit or so from one side to another if he were on the fence. It is probably bigger for future classes than this year’s and obviously a win over the other in-state school never hurts when trying to pick up a guy from SC.
5. My impression is that most Clemson fans believe this season has been very, very disappointing. How much would a win over Carolina assuage the disappointment? What's the game mean in terms of the narrative of the rivalry as it's developed over the past few years?
This season has been almost a waste of a year from my perspective. Offensively Clemson’s offensive line, while struggling at times, played better than it had in previous seasons. Clemson had an excellent running back in Andre Ellington. Clemson’s defense has played well. Somehow, in spite of all of these positives, Clemson, IMO, did not give Ellington the touches he needed and just could not make plays when they were needed. Mix in some inopportune turnovers and missed field goals and here we sit at 6-5.
Clemson has not lost back to back games against the Gamecocks in four decades. A loss here would just top off a frustrating year. A win would be one of the lone bright spots of an otherwise dismal fall for Clemson athletics. A win would also be especially big for Coach Swinney, as he would not have a fun IPTAY tour if he had to defend losing to SC two years in a row.
I think this one is bigger for Clemson than SC. SC is in a similar position to Clemson’s last year. A trip to the conference championship looms next week and Carolina had a couple of really big wins on the season, particularly the win over #1 Alabama earlier this season. Clemson has had a few close losses but has not shown up and played a solid game for a victory against a good football team all year.