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Countdown Q&A, Week 10: Clemson Tigers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Clemson at Florida State Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Four. Game. Winning. Streak. This is not a drill. The Cards are out here playing some damn good football and stacking up enough wins to earn themselves an opportunity to play in the postseason. What better way to keep the momentum rolling than to head over to play a team with.....a 38 game home winning streak?!? Welp, records are made to be broken I guess.

This week I got to talk with my good friend Ryan Kantor from over at ‘Shakin The Southland’ and he filled me in on all things Clemson football here in 2022. While the Notre Dame loss last week was eye opening, their goals for the season appear to still be attainable if they take care of business and maybe a get a little outside help. All that starts with Louisville this week.

I keep going back and forth in my brain about the Clemson-Notre Dame contest last week. Does it potentially create a crack in the enthusiasm of an undefeated season and the Tigers let one loss turn into two, or does it crank up the intensity and we see a new team so focused it’s not even a ballgame anymore before we reach the half? For those not up to speed on the Tigers, what happened last week, and has this been building up most of the season?

It feels like Clemson peaked against NC State. The crowd was wild and Clemson outplayed them in every aspect of the game. The Tigers were up 17 until a garbage time TD made it a 30-20 final score. Since then, they toyed with Boston College. They eventually won 31-3, but looked off for much of the contest. They won by six against Florida State and faded badly in the fourth quarter. They nearly lost to Syracuse and then it finally all came to a head and the offense became completely stagnant in cold, windy South Bend.

Coach Swinney and the culture he has built at Clemson will prevent that loss causing a letdown against Louisville, but the Tigers aren’t playing their best football right now.

Speaking of Dabo, it feels like he has had such a good signal caller in seasons past he could roll the ball out there and let the uber-athletic QB1 just make plays. Last year, and this season, DJ does in fact not “have the club turned up” and from an outsiders view it appears the staff is not 100% sold either playing a little bit of musical chairs at the position. Where are your concerns at the position? Is it something Louisville can take advantage of?

Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Last season, DJ Uiagalelei had some severe accuracy issues. That’s mostly been cleaned up this year and his pocket presence has improved immensely. He is currently 5th in the ACC in PFF grade, just slightly ahead of Duke’s Riley Leonard (6th) and Louisville’s Malik Cunningham (7th).

Last season, I laid a larger share of the blame on the wide receivers than the quarterback and graded the performance of the former as a D. Both groups have been better this season, but the receivers still haven’t made the strides they needed to. If DJ had a strong wide receiver corps that could get open more consistently, I think he could get into a rhythm and be very successful. Unfortunately, when things go wrong I worry that he spirals and becomes hesitant and inaccurate.

The Clemson defense being Top 10 is like death, taxes, and meeting at the paw…pencil it in every year. But this season rather than fielding multiple future pros it looks like there may be some minor cracks in the foundation and some weaknesses exposed, especially in the passing game. Am I being too critical or can the Cards offense take advantage of a “down defense” by typical standards?

All offseason, national, ACC, and even some Clemson media folks suggested that despite the Tigers losing veteran linebackers Jamie Skalski and Baylon Spector they would be even better because were being replaced by more athletic, more highly-rated players. That hope hasn’t come true as Trenton Simpson has been solid, but not quite up to expectations. The switch from SAM (strongside) to WILL (weakside) linebacker may be taking some adjusting for him. Losing defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Venables may also be part of the reason.

The defensive line also has been less dominant than expected. Up until the Notre Dame game they’ve been good against the run, but haven’t gotten to the QB quite as much.

A lot of the passing numbers came against Wake Forest which was playing extremely well and caught Clemson without their best cornerback. The Tigers had to replace two All-ACC cornerbacks so they’re thin at that position.

News broke recently about some fairly big injuries, in my opinion, on the Clemson side of the ball. Care to catch us up on the health of the team and who the Tigers may be without this week?

The biggest injury news is that DE Xavier Thomas is out for the season with a foot injury. He is a good pass rusher, but played very limited snaps this season due to injury. Bryan Bresee is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury and then missing some time this season due to the passing of his younger sister and then a kidney infection. He hasn’t been quite right all season and PFF rates him as the fourth best defensive tackle on the Tigers and outside of the top 20 in the ACC.

Side note, Tigers basketball with Brad Brownell….is it “he’s going to take us to the Elite eight in the next three years” or “he’ll keep us out of the bottom of the ACC the next three years” type projections?

Clemson v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I love that you’re working in a basketball question here. Although I may hate it by mid-February, I am excited for another season. Maybe I’m a sucker.

This year’s Clemson team has some upside but also plenty of downside. They lost three of their top four guards and really only have one you can fully trust, Chase Hunter, who had 7 assists in the season opener. They’re going to need some freshman and redshirt freshman guards to step up, which isn’t normally something that goes well in Clemson given the humble recruiting.

On the flipside, the team is loaded with good forwards and centers. PJ Hall is the name most folks know. He is a star, but is out until about Thanksgiving with a foot injury. He is generally the starting center. PF Hunter Tyson is a fifth year senior that I expect to average >12 points and about 7 rebounds per game. He is one of the more underrated players Clemson has had in a while. Ian Schieffelin is a sophomore post-player who had a career best 20 points and 14 rebounds in the season opener. He will be especially important while Hall is out and certainly appeared up to the task in his first game of the season.

In reality, guard play or injuries will probably hold them back, but they’ve got enough upside and likable characters to have me excited.

Everyone reading this here at ‘Card Chronicle’ needs no reminder…but just in case your trophies and championships have clouded your memory, the Cards have been whiskers away from beating Clemson multiple times. The 2014 goal line, the 2015 missed field goal, the 2016 debacle (ugghh), and then last year with four plays inside the five yard line to win it late. It was brutal, Ryan. Absolutely brutal. So, is this the year the Cards finally get over the proverbial hump, or are they staring down eight straight losses to the Tigers?

We don’t have the offensive line to be a smash mouth run it down your throat type of offense, but we also don’t have the wide receivers to be a dynamic passing offense. I think the most likely scenario is Clemson’s defense plays well enough to lead the Tigers to a 27-24 type win, but I think an upset is fairly reasonable. If it were in Louisville, I’d probably pick the Cardinals, but I am just having trouble calling a home upset given the current 38-game home win streak. Maybe the Tigers lose in Charlotte to UNC, but I think they will keep the home win streak alive through the end of this season.


Big thanks to Ryan for his time and answers. You can follow him here and follow ‘Shakin’ The Southland’ here for all your Clemson news and desires. I did a little Q&A with Ryan over at STS this week you can check out here as well. Did I pick the Cards? Did we get into defensive pass rushing techniques? Did I talk about my favorite Christmas cookies? Only one way to find out.

Hopefully we see a good one this week. I’m hesitant to pick the Cards because 38 in a row and 7 in a row in the series is tough to overlook. Would I be surprised with a Louisville win? Not at all, in fact I think they are playing well enough to make it happen, and the Cards have some real weapons on defense that can create problems. The question for me is can the offense score enough to get the win. Really excited about this one. Lets get it, fellas. #GoCards.