The occasionally-curmudgeonly Clemson bloggers over at Shakin' the Southland were nice enough to virtually sit down with us and talk about the upcoming Maryland-Clemson game. Topics hit on include the success (or lack thereof) of Dabo Swinney, replacing C.J. Spiller, and Clemson's time of possession woes. Read on:
To an outsider like me, Dabo Swinney seems like an upgrade over Tommy Bowden, but then again I haven't watched all the games. You have, and there have been some rather notable...uh, critical, let's say, posts about his coaching lately. The honeymoon stage is officially over: what do you think of Swinney?
We have been pretty honest and have been pretty understanding of Swinney's situation at Clemson. Over the course of this season, we saw a Clemson team that looked prepared against Auburn but has looked extremely unprepared in our last two games (Miami and UNC). We definitely think that Swinney can do a better job with his staff and have, since the end of last season, openly requested that some coaches be replaced.
Swinney definitely has a lot to prove. I like his general enthusiasm, but that doesn't win you ball games. Swinney needs to do a better job game planning and getting our best players on the field and the ball in their hands. Swinney has to grow up as a coach and ensure that those around him are the best for the job and that we reward production. Clemson also has an unusually high number of walk-ons on scholarship. This has to be addressed through recruiting and we absolutely have to sign more players in critical positions to assure that we can build quality depth year in and year out. We have grossly undersigned players the past few years and this trend has to be broken.
Honestly, it looks like Clemson should be better than 2-3. Statistically speaking, they have a solid running game, an overall adequate offense, a great defense, and put up a respectable amount of points. All three of their losses have been within nine points, and two were less than a TD away. What's been the hold-up in winning close games? Clemson's own mistakes, good opponents, or something else entirely?
Clemson has repeatedly hurt itself. Offensively, our receivers have played poorly to date. Clemson has an excellent running back in Andre Ellington but our staff refuses to feed him the ball. Defensively, we have been out of position at times and have really shot ourselves in the foot giving up big plays and doing stupid things as inopportune times. I don't want to take anything away from our opponents but will say that Clemson very easily could be undefeated had we fed the ball to Ellington and eliminated some dumb mistakes.
There's a bit of a running back controversy in Death Valley. Swinney recently said that Andre Ellington, a more electric back, would start to get more carries than Jamie Harper, who's a little bigger. Just from an eyeball test, they kind of strike me as a less effective version of the James Davis/Spiller combo Clemson had a little while ago. How do they compare? Are you happy with more Ellington carries?
I would absolutely love to see Ellington touch the ball 25 times a game. Ellington is a really good back. He has good vision, gets North/South, accelerates to/through the hole, then has moves to get yards after the LOS. He runs extremely hard and definitely is the better back to date. Jamie Harper has an issue getting to the hole. He is a big guys but tip toes to the line and would rather dance around that put his head down and run. Until Harper decides that he will be more aggressive getting to and through the line of scrimmage he shouldn't play too much.
Ellington is possibly a better running back (notice, I say running back, not athlete or all around football player) than Spiller was at the same point in his career. I think Ellington understands how to run behind zone blocking better than Spiller did as a Sophomore. Now if he could only return kicks like Spiller...
Maryland has a lot of weaknesses, but so far the biggest have arguably been time of possession and 3rd down defense. Clemson, however, is almost as low in TOP and has a rather poor 3rd down conversion rate themselves. What's keeping them from holding onto the ball? Do you see Maryland's weaknesses in the same areas as a chance to improve, or are you still worried?
Clemson has had opportunities to improve here but has refused to continually run the football. Grinding out a few drives would definitely help the TOP statistic. Clemson also has an issue with its receivers this year. We have dropped quite a few passes as a team this year and certainly have dropped some on third dowm. I think that inconsistent play calling definitely contributes to weakness in both of these areas. I will remain worried until I see consistent improvement offensively for myself.
C.J. Spiller is getting his jersey retired on Saturday. Obviously, he was one of the best big play threats in the ACC in years. No one can fill Spiller's shoes, but who's taken his place as the most dangerous Tiger?
Well, Marcus Gilchrist has been returning kicks and Nuke Hopkins had a really nice return last week. It is tough to compare anyone on this team to Spiller because he could and did score from anywhere on the field.
Last one: tell me who wins. Score appreciated, but not required.
I think Clemson wins by 10. Clemson really needs this win and I think that the Tigers will make enough corrections to get the first ACC victory this Saturday.