Grading The Tigers Win

Clemson held off a late Furman rally to down the Paladins 28-17 in front of 70,000 fans in Death Valley Saturday night. It was a marvelous night for football, with temperatures in the mid 70's at game time.

Clemson was able to jump out on Furman quickly and lead the game 28-7 at halftime, but the Tigers were outscored 10-0 in the 2nd half.

I predicted a 26-10 Clemson win last week. By picking the game correctly, I improved my prognostication record to 1-1 on the year. I missed the correct score this week by only 9 total points, a vast improvement from the 34 point miss I had in the UGA game.

Here is how I graded the Tigers on my 5 keys to a Clemson victory.

The "Running" Joke
This joke is getting rather old and rather quickly. For the 2nd straight week, Clemson struggled to run the football effectively. The results Saturday were much improved from the debacle against Georgia, but the opponent was tremendously weaker.

The goal was to get 200 yards rushing as a team, and Clemson's 124 yards feel well shy of that goal. Even more alarming was the 40 attempts, which average out to just over 3 yards a carry against an inferior Division I-AA opponent.

Both Duane Coleman (50 yards on 14 carries) and Chad Jasmin (38 yards on 11 carries) continue to run hard in the minimal holes that are being opened for them. However, neither has shown the ability to make people miss or break any tackles at the point of attack that would spring a big run. Coleman seems to have the speed, but he has yet shown good field vision that can make a good running back great.

Clemson will probably not face a more overmatched defensive front seven the rest of the year, and the fact that the Tigers could not control the game on the ground is extremely alarming, to say the least.

Rhymer's Grade…F

One Dimensional
Despite the fact that Furman was able to put up 17 points, the Paladins did not exactly light up the Clemson defense on Saturday. Furman managed only 174 total yards and only 94 yards on the ground Saturday.

Clemson did not exactly make Furman one dimensional, but the Paladins did not exactly show success running or throwing the ball with any consistency either. Had it not been for a stupid un-sportsmanlike penalty on a 3rd down play, Furman most likely would have only scored 10 points on the day, which can be considered a victory by the Tiger defense.

It is still hard to figure out how good the Clemson defense can be this year because they were on the field the whole day versus Georgia and Furman is not exactly ACC caliber competition. But the defense, at least to this point, has held up its end of the deal in 2003.

Rhymer's Grade…B

The "Deep" Dark Secret
For the 2nd straight week, I'm left scratching my head in regards to this coaching staff and the play calling. Clemson did not throw the ball deep at all against Georgia; a point that Bowden emphasized was a major problem at his press conference Tuesday.

So the Tigers made good on that promise Saturday by throwing deep early to Airese Currie for a 72-yard touchdown reception on a beautifully thrown ball from Charlie Whitehurst. Great! Whoopee! Hot Dog! It was great to see, and I thought to myself that Bowden finally gets it.

Then poof…we never saw it again. Well, actually Whitehurst did throw it deep one other time to Curtis Baham in the corner of the end zone on a scramble. Again, it was a nicely thrown ball but Baham let it slide through his fingers. So, giving Bowden credit for the pass to Baham, I counted two balls thrown down the field the entire game. That is below Bowden's self proclaimed one time per quarter mantra. And that is way below what I think needs to be done if we are going to loosen up the running lanes.

While more pass plays were called to the middle of the field Saturday, there still seems to be some miscommunication with the coaching staff and the media and fans on the deep ball. Bowden keeps saying he needs to do it more, yet he doesn't. What gives?

Rhymer's Grade…C-

Build That "Special" Feeling
I try to always start with the positives. Jad Dean is doing a great job kicking the ball off. Clemson's kickoff return team continues to open holes, this week allowing Derrick Hamilton to nearly take one 90+ yards for a touchdown.

But, in other areas, the special teams took a big step back Saturday. It starts with the penalties. Clemson was flagged on just about every kickoff and punt return that we had. Whether it was blocking in the back, clipping, or holding, the yellow hankies were flying at a mind-blistering rate Saturday. This can only go back to coaching, or lack thereof, by the special teams return coaches. Blocking in the back has to be the dumbest penalty (minus un-sportsmanlike conduct) in all of football.

And speaking of punt returns. Maybe the jarring hit Justin Miller took after he fumbled a punt return knocked some of the arrogance out of him Saturday. He says he can't remember the play, which leads me to believe that it won't. Taunting Georgia is one thing…especially when you don't back it up. Taunting a Division I-AA team is embarrassing and I'm surprised the coaches allowed it Saturday.

I also continue to be amazed at the coaching decision of giving Aaron Hunt the responsibility of kicking long field goals. After missing terribly short on a 50+ yard kick versus Georgia, Bowden calmly walked Hunt out for another 50+ yard kick Saturday, which he promptly missed short. Imagine that…he missed it short. To add insult to injury, Bowden sent Hunt back out later for a 48-yard kick…which again he missed short and right. In his post game press conference, Bowden conceded that Dean will probably get a closer look at some of the longer kicks in the future. Great. Glad to know that it only took 2 games for him to figure out what we knew before the Georgia game. As a side note, I would hope that Hunt will continue to kick the short and mid range field goals. He has made plenty of big kicks in his career and I trust him at those lengths. He is being put in a bad situation by the coaches on the longer kicks, and it is not his fault that he misses the kicks because he simply does not have the leg. This rant is not directed at him in any way, it is directed at the coaches that continue to put him in that situation to fail.

Rhymer's Grade…D

Pick Yourself Off The Floor
A the end of the 1st half I thought the coaching staff did a nice job of having Clemson ready to play Saturday after the tough loss to Georgia. At the end of the game, I was once again left questioning this team and myself.

Part of the 2nd half apathy could be due to the fact that Clemson had taken a big lead in the 1st half. But the Furman coaches were able to make the Paladin players believe they were still in the game, and as it turned out they were.

Until this team can develop the mentality that puts teams away, we won't realize the potential of this team. There is too much parity in college football to allow teams to hang around. It can jump up and bite you, and it almost did Saturday.

Rhymer's Grade…C

Random Thoughts
Setting aside the frustrations with our own team after two games, the landscape of the ACC seems to be much different than most experts predicted in the pre-season. Florida State most certainly looks like the team to beat, and unless they suffer some injuries to Chris Rix or Greg Jones, they seemed destined to be ACC Champions in November. Virginia, Maryland, and N.C. State all look much more beatable after their losses Saturday coupled with Maryland's loss to Northern Illinois.

On the flip side, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest don't look as bad as many thought and both are playing better than Clemson right now.

Maybe the best way to describe the ACC is everybody beating up on everybody else (except FSU).

The good news for Clemson is that no team (minus FSU) is clearly better than Clemson on paper. The bad news is that the Tigers are playing the worst football of just about anybody right now in the league. But, Clemson has yet to play an ACC game and we still have one more week to work out the kinks before we head to Atlanta for a pivotal match up with Georgia Tech.

We need to improve a great deal between now and then.

Scott Rhymer can be reached at Scott and publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays. Top Stories