Did the Tigers get caught looking ahead? Let's hope so

As Clemson prepares for Gamecocks, a self-healing attitude problem would be a best-case diagnosis

Brandon Ford and Tajh Boyd watch the final minutes tick away in the second half in Raleigh.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Brandon Ford and Tajh Boyd watch the final minutes tick away in the second half in Raleigh.

Did the Tigers get caught looking ahead?

Let’s hope so.

Once upon a time this was a pretty good football team. But that’s not been the case for a while – for the most of the last month, in fact.

From their 8-0, No. 5 in the BCS Standings pinnacle, the Tigers have, unfortunately, “pulled a Clemson” – the very distasteful phrase that Dabo Swinney is so intent upon removing from the school's football vocabulary.

Swinney, his coordinators and his players will tell us this week that the Tigers still have everything to play for.

They do.

But nothing good is likely to come from it unless the Tigers manage an immediate about-face.

Somewhere along the way, the Tigers have lost their focus, momentum, confidence and ability to execute.

That’s on the offensive side of the ball.

Clemson's defense has been inconsistent all season, except for four strong quarters against Virginia Tech and some late-game stops that complemented the offense’s ability to make timely, game-deciding plays.

It’s unlikely at this stage of the game that Clemson’s defense will become magically dominant.

That puts the focus back on the offense.

Swinney and Chad Morris said all the right things on Saturday about doing everything they can to get things fixed. And they, and their players, most certainly will try.

But their comments were lacking in conviction and specificity. If they knew exactly what to do to make things better, they’d have done it already.

As long as a battered and suddenly vulnerable offensive line is getting manhandled the way NC State did on Saturday, the Tigers are going to have problems making their offense work. And that’s true not only if Sammy Watkins returns, but even if he could manage to clone himself into two more players just like him.

Clemson’s prospects of keeping the likes of Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney from wrecking their offensive plans are dubious at best.

The Tigers and Gamecocks have reversed fields several times during the course of the season, and Game 12 suddenly finds the door swinging sharply in USC’s favor – playing at home with its plan to win based on a defense that, unlike Clemson’s, has been consistently dominant.

Clemson fans are suddenly looking at the very real possibility of enduring another year-long chapter in what would be a three-game losing streak to South Carolina – something that hasn’t happened in more than 40 years.

Losing three straight state championships wouldn’t set well with Dabo Swinney, either. But the big-picture implications of the state's backyard, every-family feud will take a back seat this week to getting under the hood of the Tigers’ suddenly clicking-and-clacking engine and finding something to fix.

It would be a relief, really, if the diagnosis turns out to be something as simple as an attitude problem.

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Comments » 1

columbiabill writes:

A lot of stuff here this morning with a lot of negative comments. Not a way to turn this thing around and end up with a great season.

I took some time to break down the 1st quarter tape from NC State. I'm not a coach at present but do know a little about football. It's interesting to really take a look at what happened. The truth is that Clemson had a chance in the first quarter to take charge of the game. The defense did a solid job, but our offense was filled with mistakes that cost us 2 touchdowns.

1st quarter 13:17. 2nd down.
Ellington run left. Interior line blocking well, but Allen did not get across in time to kick the safety out and no gain on the play. Probably turf toe slowed him just enough to miss his block.
12:53 3rd down
Pass left flat, but the pass was low. Ellington was coming up to block for Boyd but got in Boyd's way causing the low pass.
Next possession 9:07 1st down
Pass to Humphries nice gain.
8:42 2nd down
Running play with motion all going right. Fake to Ellington but Boyd kept. Big gain set up right if Boyd had handed off to Ellington.
7:21 3rd and goal
Running play. Allen expecting handoff to Bellamy inside and does not block DE. Boyd keeps for no gain. Likely touchdown if the handoff goes to Bellamy.
3:01 Running play flow to the right. NCS linebackers did not bite on the flow. Ellington facing 3 LB's as Thomas did not block one of them. If Ellington cuts left then only 1 LB to beat.
2:06 3rd and 7
NCS shows a 3 man rush, but actually brings 5. Ellington lets LB go and Boyd is rushed. He dumps off to Ellignton and pass is high interrupting Ellington's forward motion. Ellington does not make first down. Hopkins is wide open across the middle.

What does all this mean? It's the little things that are killing us. We all are asking what has happened to our Tigers. Maybe, just maybe the offense is trying too hard. Maybe they have studied too much film, and are thinking too much on the field rather than just going out and playing loose. At the same time though, the NCS linebackers looked like they knew what was coming on every play and were always in a position to stop it. Whatever, this is not the same offense it was in mid October. Let's hope coach Swinney and Morris can figure it out. Otherwise, it's going to be a long day in Columbia and Charlotte.

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