If the Cards hope to turn a two game win streak into three they may need a couple big breaks and a minor miracle as the #2/#3 ranked Clemson Tigers roll into town this Saturday. The Cards and the Tigers have had some close battles over the last five seasons, and some not so close ones I chose to forget (it’s my post, I can do that). What information can we pull out of this weeks enemy to aid in the path to victory...only the fervent reader will know.
This week the always dependable and trustworthy Ryan Kantor from ‘Shakin The Southland’ was kind enough to offer up his time and knowledge. He’s an all around good guy who would never misplace the first down marker and openly cheer after an opponents failure, nor would he withhold valuable information about this Clemson team looking to win back to back titles, he’s not cut like that. Because of his generosity I also answered some questions for him earlier this week right here if you want to check them out as well. You ready..? Alright, lets jump in...
Ryan, I’m not sure you can play the disrespect card having been ranked in the Top 3 all season but after watching a few games this year and then watching a little tape over the weekend… “reports of Clemson’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.” A few of the numbers may be lower than expected (we can touch on that later) and maybe in a couple games they’ve looked vulnerable, but overall how are you feeling about the Tigers chance of repeating this year halfway through the schedule?
Over the past 13 years (dating back to 2006), only seven different programs have won the National Championship. Despite that, there’s only been one back-to-back (Alabama ’11-’12). Repeating is nearly impossible, but at this point Clemson’s odds are about as good as you can hope for. They’ve already gotten through the meat of the schedule and should be 20+ point favorites in their remaining games. Continuing to improve between now and the playoff with such a weak slate of opponents (this trip to Louisville and the game at South Carolina are the toughest tests remaining) may be tough, but that’s one area where no one will doubt this coaching staff.
Last season Trevor “Maybe he’s born with it, Maybe’s Swinney’s Scheme” Lawrence looked like a grown man playing with little boys for pretty much the whole season. He finished 2018 with a 157 passer rating (#1 in ACC), a 30/4 touchdown to interception ratio (#1 in ACC), and a completion percentage (65.2%) that had him trailing only Ryan Finley. This year on the other hand, Lawrence rating (145) lands him at 5th currently, his ratio is a pedestrian 11/6, and his completion percentage has dropped nearly 3 percentage-points, also putting him at 5th in the ACC as of today. Is Lawrence coming back to earth a tad, and if so where is he struggling?
It was probably a little unrealistic, in hindsight, to expect him to play like he did against Alabama every week for this entire season. Admittedly, he has forced some throws and made a few bad decisions, but there’s also far more tape on him now. Much like in baseball, there are adjustments and then there are counter-adjustments.
I think what we saw last weekend against Florida State represented the counter-adjustment. The Tigers came out extremely aggressive and quickly built a commanding lead against an opponent with comparable talent. After a few weeks where they seemed unwilling or unable to attack the middle of the field, they hit FSU there several times. The rushing attack looked formidable once again and the offensive line did a much better job. Now we’ll see if that level of play can be reached consistently.
When it comes to defensive football knowledge I fall somewhere between Bill Belichick and Brian VanGorder, but unless my eyes are deceiving me it appears ‘Hold Me Back’ Venables is running a 3-3-5 this year? Is that just trying to patch the hole of losing so many lineman over the last couple seasons or a new approach overall? Seems as if they are giving up a little more on the ground than seasons past but are absolutely locking teams down in the air.
Yes, it’s been fun to watch. One of the things I like to commend this staff for is being adaptable. On both sides of the ball, they adapt to their personnel and to their opponent. The Tigers broke out the 3-3-5 for the first time against Texas A&M in week 2 and totally flustered QB Kellen Mond. It was brilliant. At the time, we weren’t sure if it was a one game move, but it has been used commonly since then. There are still standard 4-3 looks used, but with the strength of the defensive depth chart shifted to the backside, Venables has found ways to get his best players on the field.
Blitzes can come from anywhere in this 3-3-5 scheme which makes life difficult for opposing offensive lines in pass protection. They’ve been good against the run too, allowing just 2.96 yards per rush (15th nationally), but not totally dominant. I think you have to put that regression more on losing their top five defensive linemen than the scheme change, though that may be part of it.
I saw last week that Clemson announced some stadium modifications including a larger scoreboard, some tweaks to the ‘booster seating’ and a few other external modifications totaling somewhere around $70 million. If the sound operator still has this guy at the ready during those big moments and the band continues to play as teams are snapping the ball I have no doubt the experience will be incredible. What do you think?
I’m a big fan of this move. Over the past few years, Clemson has invested in several significant projects for sports that are lightly followed by fans and it’s great to now see our IPTAY donations flowing to the sports we enjoy watching.
Among the upgrades are improved player locker rooms, more lower deck seating, improved sound systems, new LED lighting, and a bigger scoreboard. These are welcome updates! The locker room is great for recruiting. Lower deck seating is outrageously expensive so more supply there will help. The current sound system isn’t great so that’s a nice upgrade. The LED lighting is actually my favorite of all of them. Georgia and Alabama already have this and are able to shine different colors on cue (imagine the stadium pulsing orange following a touchdown). The bigger scoreboard is great and will make it easier to see replays, down and distance, etc. All of this is necessary to keep the stadium experience above the television experience. Kudos to Clemson for being proactive with these improvements!
If there is one area on the field that I think Louisville may have a slight edge it’s on Special Teams. The Cards currently have the #1 kickoff return man in the country (avg/att), a kicker that is connecting at an 80%+ clip lifetime, and a punter who can go for distance or dead leg it inside the 10. Clemson for as talented as they are, has had some difficulty with their kicker (5 for 9) and doesn’t have a return man doing much to speak off so far either. Think we can maybe just skip that whole offense/defense shenanigans and just have a ‘kick-off’ to decide the winner?
The field goal unit has struggled this year and Coach Swinney announced that Steven Sewicki will start in place of BT Potter against Louisville. It may not be a permanent switch, but Potter needs to show a “sense of urgency.” Punting has improved from last year, but isn’t elite.
Fortunately, we’re not punting too often. We have a good kick returner in freshman WR Joseph Ngata and a good punt returner in CB Derion Kendrick, but there aren’t a ton of opportunities to return kicks and punts in college football anymore.
Louisville joined the ACC back in 2014, and in that short five year span not only have they defeated everyone in the Atlantic Division, they have actually defeated everyone in the Atlantic Division at least twice….except Clemson. While not many are projecting 2019 as the year they finally get over the hump, do you think the Cards keep it close? Does Clemson use the FSU game as a stepping stone towards world domination? What do we see happening on Saturday afternoon?
Use FSU as a stepping stone to world domination? We beat Alabama by four touchdowns (really five, but we kneeled). All that’s left is Dabo brokering peace in the Middle East. I wouldn’t put it past him!
Seriously though, I think Louisville is on the rise. In a few years we may see the Cardinals along with the Tar Heels in a tier between Clemson and teams like NC State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse. The ACC is desperate for a program to step up and be a legitimate #2 team in the conference. Maybe Louisville can be that program. FSU is obviously the wildcard in the conference, but as long as they’re down there’s a void that Louisville has an opportunity to fill.
As for Saturday’s game, it’s really all about Clemson. If we play our D-game (like we did in Chapel Hill), Louisville is certainly capable of pushing Clemson to and maybe past the brink. If Clemson plays their A-game like they did against FSU, there isn’t an ACC team that can stay within three TDs. I think Clemson will remain focused in this one and win something like 45-21.
Thanks again to Ryan for his help. You can give him a follow on twitter here, and follow ‘Shakin The Southland’ right here for all your Clemson needs. This weekend Clemson will likely bring hundreds of fans, plenty of orange, lots of $2 bills....and maybe even a speaker or two for when their on defense. Prepare accordingly.