Inside Clemson football: Lessons learned from season's first quarter

Clemson's Tajh Boyd is sacked by North Carolina State's Jarvis Byrd during the first quarter at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Tajh Boyd is sacked by North Carolina State's Jarvis Byrd during the first quarter at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina.

We’re through the first quarter of Clemson’s regular season. Breaking down what we know/don’t know, MVPs and players we’re looking for more from…

What we know…

1) Clemson’s d-line is for real: Whether it’s Vic Beasley’s five sacks or Shaq Lawson’s 4.5 tackles for loss or Grady Jarrett’s 16 tackles (third-best on the team) or Corey Crawford’s interception (and nice return) – they have been impressive all-around and have shown what depth and talent can do at a position.

2) Hot Rod’s your No. 1, beyond that…: When he’s had the holes or had to make defenders miss, Hot Rod McDowell has averaged 5.5 yards per carry, but he’s still waiting on a trip to the endzone. Second on the team in carries? None other than D.J. Howard, who started the season off the depth chart from some nagging injuries. He averaged a team-best 6.4 yards per carry in Raleigh. Zac Brooks has shown some flashes and so has C.J. Davidson, which pretty much ensures the true freshmen Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye will sit the season. McDowell should get the majority of the carries the rest of the season, but it should be interesting to see if Howard can hang on to that No. 2 role.

3) Clemson’s fine at tight end: Its role in overall receiving yards is down from previous years in Chad Morris’ system, but they’re still a viable threat. In targets to catches, Tiger QBs have completed 67 percent of passes thrown their way for 87 yards. Though three games, the Tigers have more scores (2) from the position than they did in ’12 (1) at this point.

What we’re not sure about…

1) Big plays (on both sides): Clemson sits in the late 60s in total defense and a big part of that is breakdowns allowing 16 plays of 20-plus yards this season. Against a fledgling State offense, they allowed seven explosive plays – four runs and three passes. On the other side, the Tiger offense’s explosive plays are down one per game (11 to 10) from this point in 2012. Per Seldom Used Reserve, the passing game has taken more of a step back – five less explosive plays here early in the season. They’ll get some chances to get right in the coming weeks, and they will need to with Florida State looming in mid-October.

2) Clemson return game: The Tigers are averaging three yards per punt return, which ranks 95th nationally. The longest punt return all last season was 14 yards. It’s actually been 54 games since Clemson has had a punt return touchdown (2009 vs. BC, C.J. Spiller, 77 yards). On kick returns, they rank 76th nationally going 20.6 per opportunity. Punt returns aren’t easy now, but the Tigers play it noticeably safe, including benching Sammy Watkins after one fumble in favor of Adam Humphries. Humphries is sure-handed, but Watkins brings big-play ability here. Against State, Clemson didn’t get a chance to see what its new kickoff return duo of Germone Hopper and Rod McDowell could do, as the Wolfpack’s one true attempt went for a touchback. That still seems like a more natural fit than Martavis Bryant back there, but we’ll see.

3) O-line shuffle: The Tigers are ranked 90th nationally, allowing 2.5 sacks a game. The center spot and Ryan Norton – the one non-returning role – hasn’t really been an issue, but the quietest spot in the offseason, at right tackle, has, and that won’t cut it against any strong d-lines left on the schedule. Bottom-line, Tajh Boyd has to pull it down and run way too early feeling pressure from that side.

Category '13 Clemson '12 Clemson '11 Clemson
Scoring Offense 38.7 PPG 39.7 PPG 38.7 PPG
Total Yards 464.7 YPG 517.3 YPG 522.7 YPG
Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd) 62.2 73.3 67.3
Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd) 7.6 8.7 9.0
Passing Efficiency 153.23 166.9 173.79
Plays per game 82.7 80 77.3
Explosive plays per game 10.3 11.3 11
3rd Down Pct. 51.4 50 53.1
Yards Per Carry 4.2 5.2 5.0

Three MVPs…

1) Vic Beasley: We touched on Beasley's season to date yesterday, but in short, he’s second in the nation in sacks per game (1.7) and already is one short in pass breakups (3) of Clemson’s d-line leader all last season ( Josh Watson, 4). He was a terror against N.C. State Thursday and seems to be only gaining confidence, adding some moves to his speed.

2) Stephone Anthony: The talent wasn’t really ever a question, but the production hadn’t come in his first two years on campus. Through three games, the junior middle linebacker has been all over the field. He’s leading the Tigers with 11.7 tackles a game, and has also added four tackles for loss and a sack and a half.

3) Sammy Watkins/Martavis Bryant: Cheating a bit here, but they have paired up to be the go-tos for Boyd. They’ve made up 48 percent of the yards and 44 percent of the touchdown receptions – with 43 percent of all receiving targets. Against N.C. State, however, they had 68 percent of the targets and 69 percent of the receiving yards – an indication of the post-Charone Peake Clemson offense direction.

Three spots Clemson’s looking for more…

1) Right tackle: We’ll start with a position – a position that was a rather glaring weak spot against N.C. State. Junior Delaware native Gifford Timothy struggled from the jump, allowing one sack and a quarterback hurry - along with getting blown by on the way to another Wolfpack sack…all on the first drive. He was given the early hook for redshirt sophomore Shaq Anthony, who performed better but didn’t exactly lock down the job. Then Isaiah Battle came in at left tackle and moved senior Brandon Thomas to the right side, which was largely effective until Battle was ejected for a punch (which will keep him out for at least a game). The question marks are plenty here and the answers aren't all that clear.

2) Tajh Boyd: We’re nitpicking, but this time last year, Boyd was completing passes at an 11 percent better rate (73 to 62) with over a yard more per pass attempt (8.7 to 7.6). He has cut out the turnovers though – not one this season or in the Tigers’ last four games. He was spectacular in the opener against a top-five opponent, but in game two he struggled with patience, and against N.C. State, his touch was on both deep and short throws. Facing a struggling Wake Forest team next week might be just what the doctor ordered to getting on track for the rest of the season.

3) Travis Blanks: The transition from nickel to safety – and increased playing time – has also come with a bit of a playmaking learning curve. He’s in the middle of the pack on tackles (14) without a pass breakup on the season. He is down for two caused fumbles. Last year, the Tallahassee, Fla. native averaged a tackle every 11 snaps, but on the young season, he’s around the 13 snaps a stop.

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Comments » 3

TigerNE writes:

I wouldn't say we are "fine" at TE until everyone shows some better blocking. At least from what I could see with TV angles of Thursday's game they were a part of the problem for untouched defenders getting after Tajh.

And for my money Blanks is still on training wheels. Someone needs to teach him to tackle like his playing for a top 5 NCAA team and not high school.

Of course, our tackling over all needs work. It isn't for lack of pursuit always. Sometimes we get solid contact, even with both arms, and fail to pull the runner down or even slow him down. I wish it were just one or two guys, but it seems a number of people need to step it up.

But your summary is pretty much a tight analysis to me otherwise!

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

Nice job, Brandon.

I agree with TigerNE on the TE blocking. Seckinger whiffed on a block Thursday that ended up causing a loss on the play and the same in the Georgia game on the play where Rod got body slammed.

Seckinger has caught the ball nicely and Cooper had a great catch Thursday, but I think this position is missing the athleticism of Brandon Ford/Dewayne Allen.

MyTwoSENSE writes:

I think some (not all) of the sacks are Boyd's fault. Quite often, he feels pressure that's just not there and tries to sprint outside of the pocket, and right in to the pressure, instead of just stepping up into the pocket. Again, just some not all of the sacks.

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