Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers continue to take care of business. The 19-point win over GT and 17-point win over BC were even more lopsided than the scores indicated. Clemson had a 34-10 lead over BC until the Eagles broke a long play with the Tigers’ backups in the game, and it took BC 4 downs to get the touchdown. It’s reasonable to rationalize that the Clemson starting defense allowed 10 points for practical purposes, and 7 of those were thanks to a short field following a Watson interception. There were also several passes that Watson overthrew on deep routes on which he usually connects. However, Clemson played well in all three phases to improve to 6-0 for the first half of the regular season. Now the Tigers will face a new test—going on the road. They will travel down to Miami this week and then go up north to NC State the following week for a Halloween visit. Clemson has only played one road game to date, and that one was anything but smooth sailing, so we’re about to find out a lot more about the maturity and mental toughness of this team, as it plays outside the friendly confines of Death Valley.
On the recruiting front, Clemson had several visitors for the BC game Saturday night, and Gary has posted his recruiting wrap up, with some photos and quotes. He spoke in depth with Yetur Matos, a good-looking DE prospect from Virginia for the 2017 class who has camped at Clemson. Gary has spoken with both Yetur and his father, who made the trip with him. Look for that update later today! Former Clemson commit Rahshaun Smith has taken official visits to Oregon and, most recently, LSU for the Florida game. Although he had lots of good to say about both schools, I still feel that the talented linebacker will wind up with Clemson.
You can see Gary's BC recruiting wrap up HERE.
Clemson players of the game against BC were Artavis Scott, Ben Boulware and Ammon Lakip....Miami leads the all-time series, that goes back to 1945, 6-3....Clemson has faced a top-20 Miami team in 6 of the 9 meetings. This will be the 5th top-20 Clemson team Miami has faced. There have been 3 games in which both teams were ranked....The road team has won each of the last 4 meetings. All have been decided by 9 points or less, and 3 have gone to overtime...When Clemson and Miami played in 3 consecutive overtime games between 2004-09, it was the second time in FBS history that has occurred. The first was the period of 2004-06 between Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan....Prior to 2004, Clemson's last meeting with Miami came in 1956. Clemson's only 2 losses that year were in the same stadium--to Miami and Colorado in the Orange Bowl.....Clemson's first win over Miami was a 15-14 victory by Frank Howard in the 1950 Orange Bowl. That remains one of just two times that Miami has lost an Orange Bowl game since 1950. The other was their loss to the 1994 Nebraska team. Clemson, of course, beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the 1981 National Title...In the last meeting between the teams in 2010, Clemson turned the ball over 6 times and lost 30-21. It is tied for the most turnovers in Dabo Swinney's career as head coach. The other game in which it occurred was Swinney's first game as interim head coach, against GT in 2008. Clemson still had an opportunity to win both games but fell short in the 4th quarter...
Several Clemson players and big-time play-makers hail from the state of Florida:
Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee)
Adrian Baker (Hallandale)
Travis Blanks (Tallahassee)
Deon Cain (Tampa)
Jake Fruhmorgen (Tampa)
Jayron Kearse (Ft. Myers)
Jordan Leggett (Navarre)
Ray Ray McCloud (Tampa)
Artavis Scott (Clearwater)
Garrett Williams (Orlando)
Richard Yeargin (Lauderdale Lakes)
The biggest news of the season for the Clemson program had been the sudden departure by D.J. Reader back in August. He was one of the few returning veterans on the front seven, and his loss had most extremely concerned about the prospects of Clemson’s defense this season. Remarkably, the defense has been almost as impressive as last season. They are currently #10 in total defense, #14 in scoring defense (which is always skewed because of kick return touchdowns and points allowed by backups late in the game) and #22 in rush defense. True freshman Christian Wilkins is a lock for the Freshman All-American Team at this pace, and guys like Pagano and Watkins have really stepped up to replace their famous predecessors. Dodd and Lawson have lived up to the standard set by Beasley and Crawford on the edge. Adding the senior and former starter, Reader, back into the fold—with an already confident group that is playing at a high level—will be a huge boost for this defense. Not only will it add depth on the interior, but his experience and leadership will be great assets—especially going on the road. Reader is a great run-stuffer, and he will occupy blockers, allowing Shaq and Dodd to get more pressure on the quarterback. It remains to be seen what kind of football shape he is in after his two-month hiatus, but by all accounts he has never stopped working out and looks fantastic. Dabo has said that he has no idea how much Reader will play at Miami or if he will play at all, but I expect to see him on the field early and –if he plays well—often.
Since we are at the midpoint of the regular season, let’s briefly take inventory of this team and compare it to what we expected preseason. First, the offensive line has been tremendous all season. True freshmen Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen were both highly rated recruits, but they have performed even better than anyone had hoped. Hyatt is another player headed for Freshman All-American honors. Jay Guillermo is a guy from whom no one knew what to expect, as he took a leave of absence from the team last year and didn’t even go through spring practice. He has been outstanding and has even supplanted last season’s starter, Ryan Norton, at the center position. As a consequence of the offensive line play and also his maturation as a player, Wayne Gallman has exceeded expectations as well. The Wayne Train is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and is on pace to rush for 1,200 yards by the end of the regular season. The wide receiver corps took a hit when it lost Mike Williams in the first quarter of the very first game—after managing to hold onto one of the gutsiest touchdown catches I have ever seen. The loss took its toll on Clemson’s down field passing game, but over the last couple of games it appears that true freshman Deon Cain is ready to assume that responsibility. He made big plays against both Tech and BC. In the latter, he made an acrobatic, juggling catch for 30 yards and later had a 67-yard play that was inches from giving him his first touchdown. Cain has always had the talent to make an immediate impact, but he’s now at the point where the cerebral aspect of the game isn’t belying his physical potential. Cain now has two more catches and 100 more yards than Peake, incidentally. Cain is able! Ray Ray has also shown flashes of brilliance, and it’s only a matter of time before he has a monster game. Redshirt freshman Hunter Renfrow has been another one of the great surprises of the season. When I saw him in preseason camp, I knew he had talent and could hold his own, but I didn't think he would be starting by the middle of the season. He has shown amazing physical tools and mental toughness on the field, making big catch after big catch. He wears Adam Humphries's #13, and it's already hard to tell the difference between Renfrow and the current Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
One of the few disappointments this season has been the lack of consistent production from Charone Peake. He had a huge game against App State and has made a big catch here or there, but most were expecting more production from him—especially after the loss of Mike Williams. Peake has done some important things that have gone unnoticed. He made a big block against GT that allowed Gallman to break free for a long TD run, and he made a great catch on the sideline against Louisville on 3rd down that allowed the offense to score a touchdown rather than a field goal. That one catch made the difference between winning and losing that night. Peake made a great catch for 25-yards against BC, and we have all seen how talented he is over the years, so I suspect it is just a matter of time before Peake starts to make a more noticeable impact on games in the second half of the season. Artavis Scott has been as electrifying as he was at the end of last season. He is a threat to score a touchdown on every screen pass or jet sweep, and he has shown the ability to make plays down field this season as well.
Deshaun Watson’s incredible performances last season against UNC and NC State somewhat spoiled us and set the bar for himself at an absurd level. His QBR was #1 in the nation—even higher than Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. In his first career start against UNC, he passed for over 400 yards and 6 touchdowns, setting a Clemson record for touchdown passes in a game. He followed that with another stellar game against NC State, in which he hurdled a defender en route to the end zone. We also saw him lead us to a resounding win over South Carolina on a torn ACL. So any time Watson misses an open receiver or throws an interception, it is bound to be blown out of proportion after he looked so infallible as a true freshman. Although we have seen sporadic indications that Watson is in fact human this season, he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the entire nation—if not the best. He has made a lot more perfect passes than misses, and, more importantly, he is 6-0 this season. USC’s Cody Kessler was considered by many to be the #1 QB in the nation in August, and yet the Trojans have 3 losses and were unable to score at home against Washington, despite having an abundance of offensive talent. Watson is now 10-1 as a starter, which is the best start for any Clemson QB in history, and his only loss was the game at GT, in which he was knocked out of the game with a torn ACL in the first quarter. One of the most pleasing things about Watson’s first half of the season is that he has managed to avoid any injuries. If you listened to the media talk about Watson during the preseason, you’d think his last name is “If he can stay healthy.” They seem to forget that both of his injuries last season were somewhat unusual. Watson has added significant muscle mass to his frame since last season, and he has shown great toughness this season after sustaining several big hits.
As noted earlier, the defense has been phenomenal. To say they have overachieved would be a gross understatement. They were perceived by just about everyone to be the weakness of the team going into the season, and they have instead been the strength. They carried the team to victory in the only road game at Louisville and have shut down every team they’ve faced through 3 quarters. The only flaw is a lack of depth and some lapses in discipline late in games with big leads, but no one expected this unit to be a top-10 defense halfway through the season. Again, the addition of Reader to the mix will make this defense that much stronger and deeper. Losing starting LB Korrin Wiggins for the season was a piece of bad luck, but since then we have been fortunate with injuries. That will need to continue throughout the rest of the season, as Clemson is thin at the linebacker position. I hope to see Kendall Joseph start contributing more to that position as we start the second half of the season.
Last but not least, redshirt freshman and former walk-on Greg Huegel has possibly been the biggest surprise of the season so far. He is now 8-10 on the season—a percentage of which Catman would be proud—and has made some very clutch FG’s. Many thought that the suspension of last year’s starter, Ammon Lakip, would cost Clemson in that early road game at Louisville, but Huegel came through with flying colors. Andy Teasdall has been another pleasant surprise, as we have not missed the punting of Bradley Pinion, who is now with the 49ers.
The main takeaway from the first half of the season is that we have had guys step up in all three phases and surprise us with their play. We’ve had big losses from last season’s team, but rather than having a rebuilding year, we have simply reloaded, and that is what the great programs do. It is a testament to how well we’ve recruited and also the quality of our coaching staff. Brent Venables has done a sensational job with the defense, and the staff has developed the players so there is no drop off. The esprit de corps of this team is probably the best I have ever seen. They have the type of chemistry, unity and resolve that you typically see from championship teams, and that is something you can’t manufacture. I think it trickles down from Dabo and the rest of the coaches, and it’s a byproduct of the consistency that this program has achieved.
From an injury standpoint, Clemson is in great shape at the midpoint. Knock on wood! They will have Ryan Norton, Ryan Carter, Stanton Seckinger and Austin Bryant all back for the Miami game.
You can read my grades and analysis of the BC game HERE.
Miami’s first half of the season has been a bumpy one. They narrowly escaped a melt down at home against Nebraska, in which they blew a 23-point 4th quarter lead but were able to win in overtime. They suffered a tough loss at Cincy a few weeks ago, but they are peaking right now. They played toe-to-toe with FSU in Tallahassee and really dominated the second half. Miami has never lacked athletes, and they have the best quarterback Clemson will face in the regular season. Dabo said that this is the best collection of WR’s Clemson will have seen, and Yearby is running the ball well. He also catches the ball well, so Clemson’s defense will have to be cognizant of him when they are going after Kaaya. He is a traditional pocket-passer and not nearly as mobile as BC’s Jeff Smith, but Kaaya is savvy and has good pocket awareness. He knows how to use his feet and buy enough time to find an open receiver. He has the physical tools and also the gravitas that you look for in a great quarterback, so it will be tough to rattle him. His completion percentage is 61.2, and he only has one interception against 10 touchdowns. Yearby is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and Mark Walton has been a nice compliment in the running game, with 3.9 yards per carry and 5 touchdowns. Their leading WR is Rashawn Scott, who has 4 TD’s and averages 13.5 yards per catch. Their other big-play WR is Herb Waters. Miami’s pass offense is 19th in the nation, but their rush offense is 94th. Their 3rd down conversion rate is 32.94, and their red zone offense has been a weakness this season—they have only 16 touchdowns in 34 trips. The Miami scoring offense is tied with Temple for 45th in the nation. They take care of the ball very well, however, with only one lost fumble and one interception.
Defensively, the Canes rank 50th against the pass and 65th versus the rush. They are 42nd in scoring defense. Miami does have some good team speed and athletes on that side of the ball, as they invariably do. Their biggest play maker on defense is probably Trent Harris, who leads the team in both sacks and tackles-for-loss. The Miami defense has 11 interceptions already and have recovered 4 fumbles, so it will be paramount that the Clemson offense protects the football on Saturday.
Miami is excellent on special teams. Their kicker is 16-19 on field goals, and their punter averages 45.5 yards per. They also have a dangerous punt returner in Corn Elder. He averages 14.2 yards per return and has taken one for a touchdown.
This is a huge game not only for Miami’s program but for Al Golden’s career. In my estimation, he needs to win this game to hold onto his job. He has yet to beat FSU, and there were “Fire Al Golden” banners flying through the air even before Miami lost to Cincinnati for the first time in 68 years. Even though this is a noon kickoff and their stadium will be half-empty, I expect Miami to show up with every bit of energy they had in their night game at Tallahassee a couple weeks ago. However, if Clemson can start hot offensively and stifle Miami's offense in the first half, I would not be surprised to see Miami's defense phone it in.
Currently, Clemson is a 6.5 point favorite on Saturday. Miami is 16-3 in its last 19 home games. This is a difficult game to predict because Miami seems to have turned a corner and is playing with confidence. The defense I saw at Cincy a few weeks ago gave up on plays and could not tackle. That is not the same defense I saw in the second half against FSU. It’s also an early noon kickoff in an atypical environment. Miami games feel like home games of losing pro teams. It won’t be as hostile an environment as the Tigers faced on Thursday night at Louisville. However, it is only the second road game of the season for Clemson, and they did not perform their best offensively in the first trip. That notwithstanding, as I noted above, this team is focused and determined. I think in a sense they actually look forward to playing on the road and making a statement that they are among the elite. The passing game is starting to click, and I think Clemson’s offensive balance will be tough for Miami to stop. Defensively, Shaq, Dodd and Boulware are chomping at the bit to play against a traditional pocket passer. The last two games, they have had to endure the GT triple-option and an elusive, mobile QB for Boston College. This week, they will be able to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. I asked Ben Boulware how frustrating it was to face a QB like Jeff Smith, and he said, "It sucks! I had perfect leverage three times, and he ran right by me." I expect to see him get a lot more hits on Kaaya than he did on Smith. Clemson’s pass defense is now ranked #7 in the nation. Our secondary will lock down on the Miami receivers and give our pass rush time to get to Kaaya. The weather in Miami is calling for lots of sunshine, with a balmy high of 85 and a low of 74, so Deshaun should be able to air the ball out on Saturday, and the field should play fast. Clemson has several star players making their homecoming to the state of Florida, such as Kearse, Alexander, Scott, Cain, McCloud and Legget. I think to a man they are excited about playing the U in front of all their friends and families. Dabo has said that the players will have to bring their own energy on the road, and I believe they will do just that. The road team wins the 5th consecutive meeting between these two teams, but for a change overtime will not be necessary.
The prowl toward the CFP and a 15th ACC Title in ’15 continues on the road.
CLEMSON 41 Miami 20