Grading the Tigers Versus Louisiana Tech

A lot of people that follow Clemson football were questioning whether or not the defensive performance versus Georgia was a fluke. Those questions have now been answered as the Tigers stuffed a potent Louisiana Tech offense Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.

I picked a 34-23 victory by the Tigers, which puts me off a combined 11 points on the game. Combining last weeks pick against Georgia, I am off to a 2-0 start and averaging 11 ½ total points off on the pick. Not a bad start to the season for Clemson, or myself!

#1-Regain That Intensity
For the 2nd straight week, the coaching staff and players deserve a ton of credit for being ready to play. The coaching staff took some lumps publicly last year for the lack of properly preparing the players to succeed on game day. After two weeks in 2002, Clemson is reaping some of what they have sowed over the last 4 years. The quality of this coaching staff, the longevity of the staff being in place without turnover, and the fact that these Tommy Bowden recruits is really beginning to show on the football field.

This game, regardless of the talk in the paper with regards to last year's Humanitarian Bowl ending, had all the markings of a letdown game. The team was obviously disappointed in losing last week to Georgia, and it would have been really easy to look forward to next week's huge ACC match up with Georgia Tech.

No need to worry. Clemson came out focused, fired up, and 100% ready to play a strong game against a quality opponent.

Rhymer's Grade…A

#2-Run, Run, Run…As Fast As You Can
Yusef Kelly had somewhat of a coming out party in his first start Saturday. Kelly ran for 97 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns. He continues to show that he is a very hard runner that falls forward when hit to pick up extra yardage.

However, Kelly also has yet to show the breakaway threat that Clemson sorely needs from the running back position.

I still think the running game is an area of concern, despite the effort from Kelly on Saturday. Bernard Rambert's absence, and Chad Jasmin's limited time surely was a negative effect, but until I see any of these running backs break off 20-30 yard runs, I will continue to be concerned that good defenses may shut down the Clemson running game altogether.

Rhymer's Grade…C+

#3-Catch The Dang Ball
Once again, there were wide-open receivers. Once again, there were dropped balls. But, once again, there were some really nice catches in important situations.

The drops really should cease altogether…especially from Ariese Currie, who has been all but nonexistent so far this year.

The good news is that Kevin Youngblood, Jackie Robinson, and J.J. McKelvey are showing great hands early on. Derrick Hamilton and Currie are maybe the two most talented receivers Simmons has to throw to, and my guess is that they are both going to make some big plays as the season progresses. But neither has shaken off the dropsies yet.

Rhymer's Grade…C

#4-Seconday Passes The Quiz…Now Let's Take The Test
The quick and simple answer to the above is a resounding YES! The entire secondary continues to astound this year relative to their performances last season. Plays are being made on the ball, tight coverage is being used, and no big plays have been given up to date.

But the most encouraging thing I have noticed with the secondary in the first two games…and especially yesterday…was the fact that they are always in the right spot to make tackles when balls are caught.

The yards after the catch statistic for the Tiger defense had to be low again Saturday. Catches are going to be made by good offenses against the Clemson defense. The key, undoubtedly, is to make the tackles as soon as these catches are being made. That is being done.

It also appears that true freshman Justin Miller appears to be a star in the making at cornerback. If I sound giddy about the secondary performance Saturday, well…I am. I have never given an A+ in any grade I have given, but I am tempted to do so for this performance. But, I won't!

Rhymer's Grade…A

#5-Go For The Throat
The Tigers did not necessarily put Louisiana Tech away Saturday. Not that the play calling was conservative, the Tigers just had to settle for too many field goals.

Some of that credit should go to Louisiana Tech and Coach Bicknell. The Bulldogs were not going to roll over, even when it appeared they might.

When you come off of a 7-5 season, you can't automatically approach each game as if you are the favorite. There is too much mental mumbo jumbo in the back of your head that tells you that you are only a year removed from struggling to beat Wofford.

I sense that as good as this team is playing right now, the coaching staff and players still seem a little hesitant to believe they are a top 25 football team (which I think they are). Once they realize that, I imagine going for the throat against weaker opponents will be easier to accomplish.

Rhymer's Grade…C

Random Notes:
  • Game ball of the week goes to Aaron Hunt for drilling 4 field goals…but more importantly overcoming what had to be a disappointing week for him after the misses in Athens.
  • Another game ball goes to Wynn Kopp. As I stated last week, minus the hurried shank Kopp kicked pretty good in Athens and he was not deserving of the criticism he caught. Kopp averaged 31.7 yards a kick Saturday…still not great, but not that bad either.
  • Bad call of the day, Part I. 4th and 12 in Aaron Hunt's range for a field goal and you try a fake? In addition, the fake was a running play to Chad Jasmin? I don't get it at all. The play worked about as well as it could have, and the Tigers still came up 4 yards short of the first down. Save that play for a 4th and 5 and you might get a better result.
  • Bad call of the day, Part II. 4th and 1 and you throw a half back pass from Hamilton to Ben Hall? Thankfully, a pass interference call gave the Tigers a first down when the ball fell incomplete. Why not a QB sneak or Kelly up the middle? If you want to get funky, run a quick post or curl to Youngblood.
  • Careful What You Wish For Award: It goes to me. After complaining of not enough trickery against Georgia, I got what I wanted. Now I spend my time complaining about the types of trick plays and when they are run. Great to be behind this keyboard and not in the coaching box!
  • I still don't understand how you can be penalized for starting a play when the defense is not ready when the officials have spotted the ball and the play clock is ticking. If you want to blow the play dead, ok. But, to penalize the offense for doing its job (remember, the officials spotted the ball in play) is ludicrous. Either a terrible call was made or the rule is ridiculous.
  • And finally, our feathered friends in Columbia look eerily reminiscence to us last year. The Gamecocks look lost on defense, and they are too dependent on one player on offense. The difference? Jenkins is not as good as Woody was. It may be a long year in Columbia, especially considering the schedule.

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