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Countdown Q&A - Week 10, Clemson

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Clemson v Florida State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Welcome one and all to Week….10?….13?…27?…I don’t even know anymore. It’s amazing what can happen when you no longer wish to remember. One thing I do recall is back to back to back beatdowns the last three weeks for the Cardinal football squad and I could honestly think of nothing better than for the boys to hop on a plane, fly a few hours to South Carolina, and take on one of the best teams in college football. If you’re still emotionally connected to each and every play this year, first of all, God bless your soul, and second of all…this may be another rough week.

This week I get to chat with Ryan Kantor from ‘Shakin’ The Southland’, the Clemson SB Nation site that loves quality opponents and answering questions…and they’re all out of quality opponents.

CS: Ryan, the Clemson Tigers have peeled off eight straights victories, sit atop first place in the ACC Atlantic, and just took Florida State to the woodshed in a 59-10 massacre. How does it feel? No, not all that first place in the Atlantic, Florida State crap, I mean winning a single game….how does that feel?

Ryan: Imagine if you had confused Western Kentucky with Kentucky and thought you’d won a P5 game. That’s how it actually is for us. Sadly, Louisville will be depriving Clemson of that feeling this week as the Cardinals are a P5 team in name only. Sad… but in a way, you can’t lose.

CS: Heading into the season the Tigers had an old fashioned QB battle on their hands with the incumbent, Kelly Bryant, facing off against the heir apparent Trevor “totally awesome hair, bro” Lawrence. While many expected Lawrence to eventually take the job I can’t say many predicted a Top 5 team have their starting QB up and leave the squad only a few games in and not miss a beat. It obviously hasn’t hurt in the win column but what’s your take on the whole situation?

Ryan: The coaching staff handled the situation about as professionally and honestly as possible. They easily could have started Kelly Bryant for one more game to lock him in (he wouldn’t have been able to redshirt and use a graduate transfer), but instead elected to name Trevor Lawrence the starter of the senior Kelly Bryant as soon as it became undeniable he was the better QB and that was after week 4.

Clemson v Texas A&M
He gone.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I have no problem with Kelly Bryant choosing to leave. I disagree with the notion of him being an NFL draft pick as a QB, but I’ve seen it projected so maybe it’s not too crazy. It’s certainly fine if he believes it. The only thing I take issue with are his comments that he “didn’t get a fair shot” and losing the job was a “slap in the face.” Those are emotional comments that I imagine he regrets now.

I’d be fascinated to see him end up at UNC so we could see how he’d performances against some of the same opponents he dominated (e.g., Miami) with lesser personnel around him.

CS: Shifting focus to the present, the game this week between Louisville and Clemson has drastically smaller implications on a national level than what we’ve grown accustom to in years past. No College GameDay, no blackout, no Conference title impact. How is the Clemson fanbase viewing this week’s game? A significant mismatch or a game against a team that has always played them close (sans 2017)?

Ryan: I always squirm on questions like this because I don’t want to appear arrogant or make Clemson fans seem disrespectful or dismissive, but as of the time of this writing the spread is up to 40 points. ESPN’s FPI has Clemson’s win expectancy above 99%. This is a team we beat in Louisville by 26 last year and we’re a much better team (and Louisville is far worse). Per S&P+, Louisville is the worst FBS team on our schedule. The next worst team on the Tigers schedule is Wake Forest, but that one was at least on the road.

Simply coming out with a win, regardless of how we look, is unlikely to please Clemson fans (including myself). The offense has looked more and more dominant over the past three games. I’d like to see that continue and the running game regain its footing and Travis Etienne have a big game.

CS: The Cards went out this offseason and hired Brian VanGorder as Defensive Coordinator to try and “right the ship” after a dismal defensive performance in 2017. He has somehow managed to field a team that is statistically worse than what we saw last year in many major categories, including being 115th out of 130 in Scoring Defense, 102nd in Total Defense and 125th (!!!) in Rushing Defense. An impressive feat by Mr. VanGorder that many, myself included, thought to be impossible. What can BVG do to try and slow down that Clemson offense?

Ryan: You can largely point to the loss of DC Todd Grantham to explain much of this defense’s demise. Peter Sirmon was a strange hire and when he didn’t work out, Brian VanGorder seemed like an even more puzzling move.

NC State loaded up against the run and tried to make Trevor Lawrence beat them in the passing game. He proved that to be a poor strategy. His deep ball has had some glitches, but has generally been quite good. Florida State’s one area of strength is their D-line and they couldn’t muster any sacks. That doesn’t leave much. I’d try playing a conservative defense that forces him to execute a lot of shorter over-the-middle passes. If you lose at the hands of slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, at least you feel like there’s nobody in America you’d rather go off against your team. Don’t you just love that guy?

CS: On the opposite side of the ball, Clemson is number one in the country in Scoring Defense (13pt/g), 3rd in the country in Total Defense (263.9yd/g), 7th in the country in Rushing Defense (91.63yd/g), but ranks WAAAAAY down at 14th nationally in Passing Defense. So naturally Jawon Pass is just gonna shred these losers, right?

Ryan: A couple teams have had to totally abandon the run against Clemson, which throws off that type of traditional statistic. Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond played the game of his life and had some miracle plays that also impacted those numbers. Jawon Pass has the receivers to help make some miracle plays, but I’m not sure he has the ability to throw on the run to do much.

Appreciate your time, knowledge, and your personal “Kantor.” Get it? I said “Kantor” instead of ‘candor’…cause it’s your last name. Damn it Ryan, we’ve got 2 wins, give me this small victory. Let’s finish with some quick hitters…

Let’s say Saban wins a trophy this year and throws up deuces to the coaching profession, leaving Dabo as his likely successor at Bama. After the tears dry up and you clean your pants, what Coach is Clemson going after in 2019?

Ryan: I don’t think Coach Swinney is foolish enough to leave Clemson to immediately succeed Coach Saban. If he did, an internal hire from our pool of talented coordinators would likely make the most sense.

Care to fill in the uninformed about your cute little pet rock you guys keep at the stadium?

It was Coach Howard’s door stop and now it’s our pet rock. Pretty neat, right? Actually, the Presbyterian football coach gave the rock, which originates from Death Valley, CA, to Coach Howard. Later it was put on a pedestal on top of the hill and a tradition was born.

South Carolina State v Clemson
Sweet Rock, bro
Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images

Another interesting note is that just a few years ago, it was vandalized and a chunk is now missing. As a result, it’s heavily guarded with lights, cameras, casing, and locks. We live in world where rocks have to be guarded. Weird!

Clemson Basketball is coming off a Sweet Sixteen run but loses a pair of starters including Gabe DeVoe. What do think about the 2018-19 roundball Tigers?

Ryan: The Tigers should be in that upper-middle class of the ACC in the 4th – 7th range in the conference standings. Another tournament appearance is a reasonable expectation. Another run would be fantastic, but is unfair to expect.

I tried to skip it up above because it ain’t gonna be pretty but go ahead, give it to me Ryan….what’s your prediction for Saturday?

Ryan: Clemson beat Wake Forest by 60 on the road, a team that beat Louisville, and now they get Louisville at home. Wake Forest played an awful game that day and was figuring things out with injury replacements at the time so I won’t call a 61+ point win (which is hard to pick even against FCS teams), but I think the data shows that a 40 point spread is rather reasonable in this one. I’d expect it to be around there.

***

A big ‘thank you’ to Ryan once again for his time and his brutal honestly with how he thinks this one may play out. If you enjoy ACC football, Clemson coverage or Seinfeld memes on twitter than Ryan is your man. Go give him a follow and tell him I sent ya!

Come back next week as we talk with someone from ‘Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician’ about the Cards first trip back to the dome since Lamar made his national introduction with ‘the leap’ and about seven other 50 yard touchdown runs, from what I remember. They were such simpler times...