Review of Clemson Football's 41-10 Win Over App State in Death Valley

For the second consecutive week in Death Valley, Clemson dominated on both sides of the ball. Here is my analysis of each unit's performance against App State and corresponding grades.

OFFENSE:  A-

The offense got off to a pedestrian start, sputtering in the first quarter. An offensive pass interference by Artavis Scott put the Tigers behind the chains on the opening possession, and the offense wound up punting. The subsequent series ended in an interception by Watson, intended for Peake. The third possession was going well until a jet sweep to Scott was blown up for a big loss and Watson was high on a throw to a wide open Peake. Fortunately, Greg Huegel was able to make his first career FG as a result of the abbreviated drive—aided by consecutive offsides penalties by App State. On the fourth possession, the offense was able to move the chains a couple of times but once again stalled out and was forced to punt. Leggett had a couple of first down catches in the opening quarter, which was good to see after just one catch last week. He had three on Saturday.

It wasn’t until the fifth possession of the game—in the 2nd quarter—that the offense finally found pay-dirt and scored a touchdown. It was on a corner route by Charone Peake and a beautifully thrown ball by Watson. The coverage was not bad, but Watson dropped it in the bucket perfectly. That play seemed to open the flood gates for the offense. They proceeded to score touchdowns twice more with ease in the 2nd quarter. That’s the impressive thing about this offense—its ability to explode at any moment with big plays and fast scoring drives. It’s a lot like Oregon in that regard. Not many teams could have only 3 points with about 10 minutes left in the first half and suddenly reel off 21 points before halftime. The Tigers ran an incredible 52 plays in the first half, exceeding the 49 they ran in the first half of the Wofford game. I am looking forward to seeing if the offense can continue that break-neck pace when it opens conference play this week. This offense has the feel of a Ferrari that hasn’t been opened up on the highway yet. We have yet to see the starting lineup on the field for more than half a game, and bear in mind that Scott and Elliott have held back a substantial segment of their play book in the first couple games.

Deshaun Watson was again spectacular. Despite a couple of errant early throws and an interception, his QBR was 183.6, which is just under his nation-leading QBR last season. He threw 3 long touchdown passes and ran for a couple of first downs.

Schuessler, on the other hand, had a rough outing. He was 1-4 for 4 yards and an INT. Kelly Bryant once again displayed his athleticism outside the pocket, but he took a hit to the nose after his helmet dislodged and didn’t see much action after that.

In spite of the 24 points and 52 plays run by the offense in the first half, it wasn’t always pretty. There were 3 bad snaps—one of which went over Watson’s head and resulted in a scary moment when Watson took a hit, diving for the loose ball.

Aside from Gallman, the rest of the backs did not have a great game. Gallman, however, was impressive. In the second quarter he showed how physical he can be when he bulldozed an App State safety at the goal line. This was after he nearly broke a shoe-string tackle for a TD and then had a TD run reversed for a holding penalty on the very next play. The Wayne Train would not be denied on that series, and the third time was the charm!

It was great to see Peake get in the end zone not once but twice. After everything he has gone through and having an uneventful day at the office last week, it had to feel great to him to finally break the ice and get in the touchdown column. Especially after losing Mike Williams and knowing he will need to help fill the statistical void. He did so in a big way. The 59-yard touchdown catch was the longest of his career, and he also set career records for reception yards and touchdowns in a game.

Artavis Scott hauled in a touchdown that went 41-yards in the air, which was the longest of his career. Ironically, ESPN’s David Hale spent Friday afternoon enlightening the Twitter world on Scott’s anomalous statistics. No other WR in the nation has a higher percentage of his yards come after the catch. No one comes close, to my knowledge. This is the logical result of Scott’s elusiveness in the open field and Clemson’s use of him on jet sweeps and screens. It almost seemed like Elliott and Scott made up their minds to balance the statistical scales because Scott was targeted down field on a few different occasions early in the game and then caught the bomb in the end zone.

Hopper had a couple nice catches, and he appears to finally be showing the consistency the staff has been looking for over the last couple of years. Trevion Thompson joined the party, too, with a couple of nice catches. Red shirt freshman Hunter Renfrow moved the chains twice, and the more I see of him the more I think he’s yet another Tyler Grisham/Adam Humphries clone. And that’s a good thing! It’s great to have the abundance of homerun threats Clemson does at the WR position, but every team could benefit from having a reliable possession receiver who can move the chains and keep drives alive with slants and intermediate routes. Ask Tom Brady how many Super Bowls he would have won without guys like Welker and Edelman.

Overall, it was another impressive outing for the offense, but the scary truth for the rest of the ACC is that it can be better. Hence the less than perfect grade.

DEFENSE:  A

If I were grading on the first half alone, the defense would without question receive a perfect grade. It’s hard to be better than they were in the first half. Last week, Wofford did not record a first down until the last couple minutes of the first half. Once again, App State was 0 for its first 9 possessions—6 three-and-outs and 3 interceptions. Zero points. Guys were flying to the football from sideline to sideline.

Not only was the defense stingy, but it was opportunistic as well. That pick-six by Watkins really sparked the offense and the entire stadium. It was just what the doctor ordered for an offense that was having trouble staying out of its own way. It’s good to know that the defense can carry the load when it’s asked to and give the offense time to go on one of its patented scoring streaks. We saw that game after game last season, but not many expected this year’s defense to do likewise. That play by Watkins was a thing of beauty. He dropped into coverage, read exactly where the ball was going, CAUGHT the ball—which is impressive in and of itself for a DT—and finished the play with the mad dash into the end zone.

On the subject of turnovers, it was nice to see the defense generate 4 turnovers after a goose egg last week. I suspected that had to be a point of emphasis in practice last week, and Watkins confirmed as much to me.

Once again, the defense only recorded one sack (Lawson), but they did a great job of getting pressure on the QB. He is an intelligent and savvy coach’s son, so he was able to avoid a couple more sacks, but he was also forced into some bad decisions. In fact, he had Shaq bearing down on him when he threw that pick-six to Watkins. Boulware had 4 quarterback pressures and made a tremendous play on the football on his interception. Pretty good ball skills by Kearse as well, high-pointing the football on his end zone interception, huh? He has those Freak genes!

Jefferie Gibson gets the award for hardest hit (on defense, that is). He had one of Clemson’s 10 tackles-for-loss and was reputedly the hardest hitter throughout camp.

All told, the defense allowed 298 total yards and only 95 passing yards. The secondary is starting to flex its collective muscles. I would have like to see a couple more sacks, and they did allow 10 points in the second half. App State also accumulated 203 rushing yards. For these reasons, I did not give the defense a perfect grade. Once again, I am looking forward to seeing what this starting unit can do against an ACC foe with everything on the line.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  C+

Although it was disconcerting how slowly the offense started, I loved seeing Huegel finally get his first FG opportunity. And it couldn’t have been set up better for him. He missed the first attempt but was able to shrug it off and nail the 39-yarder after consecutive offsides penalties. Great confidence booster for him! None of us wanted his first attempt to come on the big stage at Louisville Thursday night. He missed another attempt but finished on a positive note by nailing a 47-yarder at the end of the game.

The coverage unit obviously left much to be desired. App State had big return after big return—totaling 205 yards. We simply cannot afford to let that happen at Louisville—it could keep them in the game. Not only do big returns set up the offense in great position, they are momentum-changers and get the crowd fired up. Dabo and Coach Pearman will have plenty to shore up in that area during the short week. However, the fundamental breakdowns that allowed for the long returns are very correctable ones. The improvement in kickoff coverage will be something to watch for in the Louisville game.

The punt coverage, on the other hand, has been good. Teasdall had an excellent game punting the ball. He averaged 43.5 yards, with a long of 52, and had 3 punts inside the 20 with no touchbacks. He has had good hang time on his punts. I think many of us were concerned about losing Pinion a year early to the NFL, but Teasdall has been a pleasant surprise thus far in my opinion.

For the second week in a row, Clemson was able to record a long return. Last week it was Artavis Scott, and this week Ray-Ray McCloud exhibited his potential with a 73-yard kick return. He was very close to taking it to the house. Milan Richard displayed his good hands on a short kickoff that he returned for 19 yards. We are pretty deep at tight end, folks!

There were no bad snaps or holds on any of the FG’s or PAT’s, and Huegel knocked all the PAT’s through. Huegel had zero touchbacks on Saturday. It would be nice to see him get a few more yards on his kickoffs. The best way to compensate for weaknesses in your coverage unit is to make the opponent take a knee.

All in all, it was another dominating performance on both sides of the ball and a great team win for the Tigers.

 


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