We tried to keep this one as civil as possible. Thanks for the help Shakin’ the Southland and be sure to check out all the Tiger coverage you can leading up to the Palmetto Bowl post face stuffing.
Without further ado...
1. While this wasn't the case in the moments immediately following the loss to Pittsburgh, once the day had concluded, you could argue a loss was just what Clemson needed to re-focus for the final stretch of the year. Obviously, an undefeated season would've been nice, but do you think the stumble will ultimately result in another shot at a National title?
I hope so. But the problem this year is that Clemson is a very talented team with a few flaws. The good news is that it seems like everyone, possibly even Alabama, is in the same boat. The 2016 Clemson Tigers are not as good as 2015. We don't have the OL to push defenses off the ball and control the game on the ground like last year. The passing game is just as good if not a smidge better, but that doesn't make up for OL play. On defense we are worse in pass coverage because of so many early departures, but there is still enough talent to make plays. But, if a team attacks our LBs or gets them to over pursue in the run game they'll find success.
At this point I don't think a loss changes those things. But, what I am hoping for is that Clemson's mental focus is better and we see fewer turnovers and silly penalties. Yes, there have been a lot of screw ups by the refs this year, but Clemson has also committed their fair share of penalties at untimely moments. If we can clean up all of those issues it will make it really hard for South Carolina and either Virginia Tech or UNC to beat Clemson.
2. The Clemson running game has fallen to 76th in the FBS in rushing offense, but seems to be the x-factor in making the offensive attack hum the way it did in it's historic 2015 season. What has been the biggest cause for the rushing attack to stall out and go missing on the Tigers? Or, is it just a result of a banged-up Wayne Gallman?
Frankly, it is more on our OL regressing from last year than anything. We replaced two starters on the OL, and it seems like the national media, local media, and fans all hand-waved this area of concern away. It doesn't matter how you dress up your offense and defense, the two most critical parts of the team are your OL and DL. And on the OL Clemson has just started to "properly" recruit. The coaching staff has always had some curious offers on the OL and usually only 2-3 each year when we really need 4-5 recruits each year. Last year, we got lucky with everyone buying in and improving, but this year the new guys aren't quite there. Not a surprise given that they are young, but it has hurt this team in the run game.
3. Why has Deshaun Watson thrown what seems like so many ill-timed interceptions?
I think it is mainly just bad luck. The number of interceptions is a product of trying to fit throws into tight windows and looking down receivers. Both of those are problems that we'd love to see fixed, but the timing of the picks just seems to be bad luck. He's on track for a couple more interceptions than last year but as you point out there seems to be a large increase in badly timed picks. But, Watson did make it through the Wake Forest game without a turnover, so maybe there has been a change by him.
4. Christian Wilkins has been a beast for the Tigers frontline on defense all year. Were you expecting such a big year from the sophomore?
Here at STS we were. QuackingTiger, our recruiting analyst, had identified Wilkins as a huge asset when we were first targeting him and has always had a bit of a man crush on him. If Wilkins had played HS football in the south he probably would have been a five star recruit. It also helps that he's being coached by some of the best DL coaches in the business. This is now the 3rd consecutive year where Clemson has had one of the best DLs in the country.
Obviously, it also helps Wilkins to playing on such a talented line where he isn't always going to be facing a double team, but he's a player offenses fear and if the OL tries to ignore him in favor of Dexter Lawrence or Carlos Watkins, then they are likely going to find their QB on his back.
5. The Tigers defense bounced back nicely this week against Wake Forest after giving up 460+ yards to Pittsburgh. What was the biggest adjustment the defense made to give up less than 200 against the Demon Deacons?
Really Pitt just executed and took advantage of Clemson's aggressiveness on defense. All year long we've said that the weakness to this defense is that our LBs are terrible in pass coverage and they can be too aggressive. Pitt was the first team to really execute and use that against us. Their little shovel pass was able to get our LBs out of position and they did a great job of flexing the TE into the passing game. Other teams have tried different concepts to do this, especially FSU with Dalvin Cook and the counter run game, but they were unable to consistently execute. Add in a few untimely interceptions and some interesting penalties on 3rd downs and it was a recipe to keep Pitt in the game.
6. Should you find yourself in the playoff for a second straight year, what is the ideal match-up you would want in the semi-final?
I'd really like to see a Michigan or Washington in the semifinal if Clemson makes it. While I think Clemson matches up well with Alabama, I'm always leery of giving Nick Saban 3-4 weeks to prepare for a game against you, I don't think it ends well. Looking at everyone else, including Clemson, it seems like all the teams are flawed, but Clemson has the best QB and in situations like this that can make all of the difference.
7. Does Deshaun Watson throw the world a curveball and come back for one last go-around? (Man, I hope not.)
It would be a shock, especially with what we are losing on offense. Deshaun would be losing half of the current starters on offense and at this point I'm not sure how much improvement we will see out of him in college. At this point I feel like he needs some NFL coaching to work out any remaining kinks in the game.
8.Finally, thoughts on the game Saturday and what the Tigers need to do for a victory.
The big thing I'm looking for his a quick start and consistency. Clemson came out strong against Wake Forest and despite a lapse in concentration in the 3rd quarter, dominated for most of the game. Y'all will be fired up for this one and I think if Clemson can keep the crowd in this one early and get ahead they'll be able to maintain a comfortable lead. If this is going to happen I think we'll have to establish the run game early and see success with it, something that hasn't happened often this year.