Thursday, August 4, 2011

season preview: Clemson

Season previews continue.  I'm gonna try and have at least a small blurb of something at the end of each one; today for sure what with Kye Morgan committing and all.

Clemson Tigers


9/3: Troy
9/10: Wofford
9/17: Auburn
9/24: Florida State
10/1: @ Virginia Tech
10/8: Boston College
10/15: @ Maryland
10/22: North Carolina
10/29: @ Georgia Tech
11/5: BYE
11/12: Wake Forest
10/19: @ NC State
10/26: @ South Carolina

Skip: Duke, Miami, Virginia

Projected starters:

QB: Tajh Boyd (rSo.)
RB: Andre Ellington (rJr.)
WR: DeAndre Hopkins (So.)
WR: Jaron Brown (rJr.)
WR: Brandon Ford (rJr.)
TE: Dwayne Allen (rJr.)
LT: Philip Price (5Sr.)
LG: David Smith (5Sr.)
C: Dalton Freeman (rJr.)
RG: Antoine McClain (Sr.)
RT: Landon Walker (5Sr.)

DE: Malliciah Goodman (Jr.)
NT: Brandon Thompson (Sr.)
DT: Rennie Moore (5Sr.)
DE: Andre Branch (Sr.)
SLB: Quandon Christian (rSo.)
MLB: Corico Hawkins (Jr.)
WLB: Jonathan Willard (rJr.)
CB: Coty Sensabaugh (5Sr.)
CB: Xavier Brewer (rJr.)
SS: Jonathan Meeks (Jr.)
FS: Rashard Hall (rJr.)

K: Chandler Catonzaro (rSo.)
P: Dawson Zimmerman (Sr.)

Coach: Dabo Swinney (4th year)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 2nd, Atlantic Division


2010 1st team: OT Chris Hairston, DE Da'Quan Bowers, DT Jarvis Jenkins, S DeAndre McDaniel
2010 2nd team: TE Dwayne Allen
2010 HM: SP Marcus Gilchrist
2011 preseason: RB Andre Ellington, DT Brandon Thompson, P Dawson Zimmerman

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Picked second in their division is Clemson, and you'd think that'd mean more memorable names on the depth chart.  Household names are, for the most part, absent here.  Clemson has its share of strengths, but there are at least a few positions where the incumbents are half seen as placeholders until various members of the star-studded 2011 recruiting class show up ready.  You get the feeling this is more of a warm-up year for 2012.


The Kyle Parker semi-saga is over, and former 757-er Tajh Boyd is the new guy under center, preparing for his first full season as the starter.  To cut to the chase a little, Boyd is not quite "there" yet as far as being fully ready for the starting job.  Boyd is working on being more of a running threat - he wasn't really one last season - and was a meager 8-for-24 passing in the spring game.

He'll have the support of a good running game and quality protection, though.  Clemson brings a ton of experience to the offensive line, with four seniors and one redshirt junior starting.  (The junior is center Dalton Freeman, and he's probably the best of the bunch.)  Clemson protects the quarterback very well, but they will have to overcome the loss of Chris Hairston.  The one real question mark on the line is left tackle Philip Price, a former walk-on tight end.  He's a fifth-year senior but a potential weak point; if he can't make the grade, Clemson will probably slide David Smith from guard to tackle and insert Mason Cloy at left guard.  This line had better stay healthy because Cloy is the only backup who's legitimately capable of starter minutes.  If they do keep their health, though, and if Price isn't a disaster, Clemson should find itself with a very powerful rushing attack and good protection for Boyd.

Andre Ellington is the one bona fide star on the offense.  Last year he split carries with Jamie Harper, but Ellington was clearly the better back, averaging almost six yards per carry.  (Harper was a better pass-catching threat and Clemson's receivers stunk, which explains why Ellington didn't get the majority of the carries.)  This year he will, though, and Clemson has a couple change-of-pace options after him; if they want to go big, they can hand it to Demont Buice, and for small, they have Rod McDowell.  Both will likely split backup carries behind Ellington, a preseason all-conference player.

So Boyd will be well protected, and should have a good running game.  As for help in the passing game, Clemson is still looking for consistency beyond DeAndre Hopkins.  Hopkins wasn't turned loose until the fifth game of 2010, after which he pulled down 45 of his 51 catches.  Only once all season, though, did Hopkins record a catch of over 40 yards; similar to Kris Burd, he'd be at his best if he played opposite a true deep threat.  This is where the veterans are going to have to look over their shoulders.  Bryce McNeal will have a shot at some major playing time, but if he and Jaron Brown disappoint, Clemson has quite a few highly touted freshmen coming in, the starriest one being Sammy Watkins.


Speaking of freshmen.  Even more so than the wide receivers, the linebackers will be looking over their shoulders; this was generally an unproductive group last season, and their most experienced player, Brandon Maye, transferred to Mississippi State.  Corico Hawkins is a quality player at middle linebacker, and Dabo Swinney thought highly enough of him to move Maye to the outside in favor of Hawkins - part of the reason for Maye's transferJonathan Willard played reasonably well in limited snaps last year, but Quandon Christian was decidedly unproductive, even while starting seven games.  Christian recorded a tackle on just six percent of his snaps.  (Dear every other school not named Clemson: Please include number of snaps in a player's stats the way Clemson does.  This is very useful.)  Christian and Willard will probably have to fend off challenges from hugely hyped freshmen: Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony are both five-star guys that picked Clemson on Signing Day.

Star power is being replaced elsewhere, too.  The defensive line is now without the QB-terrorizing Da'Quan Bowers, and leading tackler DeAndre McDaniel is gone from the secondary.  The result, really, is not too many players that opponents will have to gameplan around.  Brandon Thompson had 56 tackles and 7.5 TFL in 2010, very good numbers for a defensive tackle, and Andre Branch managed five sacks.  The question is how much of this was due to the gamechanging presence of Bowers and second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins.  Thompson and Branch go from picking up the leftovers from playing next to NFL talent, to having to deal with the double-teams themselves.

The secondary will have similar problems.  A lot of talent has gone out the door.  Rashard Hall should be a keeper at free safety; nobody else has a starting spot on lockdown.  Simply put, this defense has questions everywhere.  It's good up the middle with Thompson, Hawkins, and Hall, but if you made me bet on who Clemson would start in their last game against South Carolina, those are the only three I'd feel comfortable with any money on.  Expect quite a bit of flux and position competition, even as the season goes on.


Last year I called Dawson Zimmerman "a meh punter," and he must've taken it to heart because he averaged 42.7 yards per kick and earned the preseason nod as the conference's best punter.  Chandler Catonzaro was an adventure in placekicking, making 6 of 9 beyond 40 yards but only 3 of 7 from 30-39.  Nobody likes placekicking adventures, and the Tigers handed a scholarship to another kicker in the 2011 class, so there will be competition between Catonzaro and freshman Ammon Lakip.  Who returns punts and kicks this year is a mystery, since Marcus Gilchrist is gone, but this could be the perfect place for one of Clemson's freshmen to step in.


The offense will go as far as the passing game takes them.  Ellington can carry the load and could get 250 carries this year, and should be a 1,000-yard rusher for Clemson.  Boyd's maturation and the emergence of some receivers, as well as the health of the O-line, will determine whether this offense can be great or merely good.  But man, the defense.  There are just too many question marks on it to say that this will be a quality defense.  Either ACC voters are ignoring this or they have no faith at all in the rest of the Atlantic Division, to vote Clemson second.  I think the defense will finish in the bottom half of the conference in most categories and ultimately prevent Clemson from being a serious contender for the division crown.  But like I said above: this is a wait-til-next-year kind of season.  Clemson fans can be notoriously impatient and haven't given Dabo Swinney a lot of breathing room, but he'll need it anyway this year so he can get to 2012 where Clemson will have a better chance of contending.  As for this year: I figure a mid-to-low level bowl, but it wouldn't come as a total surprise to see them home for the holidays, either.


I promised a blurb after the main blurb, so: hooray for having a running back in the class with Kye Morgan committing today.  Morgan could probably chuck a potato off his front porch and hit Rutgers's campus with it, so it's kind of a thing to be able to get him out of New Jersey.  And running back is a thin spot on the depth chart, so either he or Chris Mangus was a must-get.  And no, I don't think the staff will slow their roll on Mangus, either.  We could certainly find room for both.

Second item: the announcement that the Big Ten will be playing a nine-game conference schedule.  John Swofford has been irritatingly reticent about this idea (by which I mean he's basically shot it down every time someone asks), but if nothing changes, by 2017 when the Big Ten makes the switch, the ACC will be one of just three BCS conferences playing eight games.  Let me repeat: it sucks sharing a conference with a team and going four calendar years between games against that team.  The Big Ten's schedule will "[ensure] that all teams will meet at least six times in a 10-year term rather than four times in 10 years."  HOLY CRIKEY WHERE HAVE I HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE.  Oh, yeah: some clever, insightful guy already came up with three great ideas to make just such a thing happen.  The hurdle is convincing teams they can still have seven and maybe even eight home games a season this way, which they easily can.  The only reason the Big Ten is waiting til 2017 is so as not to screw up its members' OOC schedules that've been set already, which is reasonable.  Time for the ACC to shed the inertia, get out of the dark ages, and follow suit.


TimNyc said...

I disagree on the 9 vs 8 games in the conference. Right now we can schedule an easier non-conference opponent and be more likely to get to a bowl. I'd rather have Southern Miss or Idaho on our schedule (as a home game!) than playing Clemson this year

Anonymous said...

I-Tavius Mathers has us in our final four. It'd be a nice coup if we pulled off two big out-of-state RB recruitments. I still somewhat hope for a Brown/Diggs combo, but that's fairly unrealistic.

Missing out on Edmunds was disappointing. That said, it's not exactly an area that we are that strong at, off the top. It's also closer to Blacksburg for his family, I think.

What's left? I'm hoping for one of Mangus/Mathers/Brown and maybe one from Severin/Jones/Diggs. Anything else would be gravy. I'd rather save some of the scholarships for the future than take on some second-tier guys.

PO13 said...

I wonder if former UM coach Rich Rodriguez will find a home in Clemson in the very near future...I think he would excel there.