Yeah, yeah, yeah, football season is kinda over. But don't worry - we work in a basketball question into this week's BEL. I'm not telling you which one it is, though. You're gonna have to read the whole incredibly painful thing.
Anyway, our guest this week is Shakin' the Southland, our Clemson-themed bloggers in arms. Make sure to pop on over there to read up on our own answers to their questions, but first - if you can take more football - read on here to see if Clemson's defense is really getting better, how the offense can be contained, and if the 31-point line is fair. And if you can't take more football, well, at least they give you a primer on Clemson basketball, too.
TT: Clemson's offense has been high-powered to say the least, and that comes at a bad time for a struggling, battered Maryland defense. If you had the unfortunate job of trying to scheme against Chad Morris, what would you look to do to limit Clemson's success?
STS: What a difference Chad Morris has made. This offense went from one of the worst BCS conference offenses in 2010 (ranked #84 out of 120 by Football Outsiders) to one of the best in the country these past 2 years (ranked #20 last year and #12 this year by Football Outsiders). I'm not sure this Clemson offense can be shut down for an entire game like they were last year against NC State and South Carolina. But they can be slowed down if you can generate a pass rush. Clemson likes to take a lot of deep shots and those routes take time to develop. Clemson's offensive line is susceptible to blown assignments, so well-timed blitzes have caused issues. Clemson also rarely throws screen passes to running backs, so blitzers don't need to worry too much about over-running the play. However, Tajh is so much better this year than last year at escaping trouble. And if he does, he can either take off or find an open Sammy Watkins or Nuk Hopkins streaking down the field.
Additionally, Clemson's run game is still suspect in my eyes. They did a tremendous job last week running the football against an overmatched and mentally depleted Duke deep. But they've struggled in a majority of games this year at establishing a hard-nosed A-gap running game, which is exactly the type of run game that Chad Morris would love to get going. Without the run game, Clemson is forced to throw more often than some fans would like. But when you are averaging 9 yards/attempt it's hard to argue with the success.
TT: By comparison, the Tigers' defense has been less impressive. It was the butt of a few jokes early in the year, especially after getting stomped by Florida State, but lately things seemed to have come together for Brent Venables' crew. What's changed in the last few weeks - just poor competition, or have things started to click for this unit? Is there any part of the defense that still particularly concerns you?
STS: I'm of the opinion that the defense, while still not good, is definitely getting better. According to Football Outsiders, Wake Forest's offense is #47 and Duke's offense is #61. So you're talking about a couple of average to slightly above average offenses. Clemson held Wake Forest to 3 yards/play and Duke to 4.2 yards/play. I don't care if you are playing Good Counsel High School, those are good defensive numbers. Clemson is still extremely vulnerable in it's back 4, as evidenced by Duke's 77 yard TD pass on their 2nd offensive possession last week. But Clemson's run defense has been much better of late and they've been able to generate more pressure on opposing QBs. But to be completely honest, Wake Forest and Duke both had WRs running open through the secondary at times that their QBs just flat out missed.
TT: We know about the big names like Tajh Boyd, Nuk Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington. But who are two under the radar guys, one on either side of the ball - assuming there's someone on that offense who isn't a household name - who'll have an impact come Saturday?
STS: I held off talking about Spencer Shuey earlier when talking about the defense, but he's been a huge part of the defensive turnaround the last couple of weeks. He has replaced All-Everything LB recruit Stephone Anthony at MLB (Note: Anthony should've been an OLB all along and will hopefully move there in the offseason) and has been as fundamentally sound as any Clemson fan could've hoped for. He's as slow as can be, but he has a nose for the football and always seems to be around the action. It's no coincidence that Clemson's defense has looked markedly better since he was inserted into the starting lineup 3 weeks ago.
Offensively, Brandon Ford is a pretty solid TE. He's a converted WR, so he is a very pass catching TE. But TE's are boring to talk about, so I'm going to go a little more obscure: WR Martavis Bryant. This guy is a polarizing figure to fans because we keep hearing about how he is as fast as Sammy Watkins at 6'5 and 205 lbs, but the production doesn't seem to match the much talked about talent. He's only played in 6 games because of a hernia and only has 6 catches, but 3 of them have gone for TDs. It seems like at least once a week Chad Morris tries to get this guy the ball deep on a go-route. Coming off the injury he has 4 catches for 123 yards and a TD the past two weeks. I'd be surprised if Morris doesn't try to stretch the Maryland defense vertically at least once with Bryant.
TT: I know this is a football Q & A, technically speaking, but it's basketball season in College Park. Indulge me and my silly, off-topic question: how are things looking for Clemson on the hardwood in Brad Brownell's third year? Looks like he lost quite a bit of production and leadership from last season's team.
STS: Ahhh, scratching me right where I itch with a basketball question. Clemson will have a difficult time replacing Andre Young and Tanner Smith from last year's squad. Not only were those guys the two best players on the team, but they provided senior leadership to the 5 freshmen. Clemson has 11 freshmen and sophomores and 2 seniors on the roster. The two seniors are Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, guys that are not exactly the model for consistency or senior leadership. However, I think Clemson is going to have a more athletic group than they have in the past. While he may not start from day 1, I would look for freshman Adonis Filer to crack the starting lineup at some point. He's flat out a basketball player. If you were going to play a pickup game he'd the guy you'd want on your team. He's tough, strong, and gets into the paint at will. Brownell has already praised his defensive ability and he was the leading scorer in Clemson's scrimmage.
Additionally, Clemson picked up a sophomore transfer from BYU, DeMarcus Harrison, who is a former top 100 recruit. Since starting SG Devin Coleman tore his achilles tendon, I expect Harrison to start at the 2. Rounding out the starting five (Booker and Jennings are givens) will be the guy with the most upside on the team, K.J. McDaniels. He is crazy athletic, and if the offseason work he put in on his jumpshot pays off, he should only increase his offensive efficiency this year (He was 3rd on the team last year behind only Young and Smith with an OE of 105). Clemson was picked to finish 8th and I think that's reasonable, although I think we can push UVA for the 7th spot.
All that being said, I think it's a bit much to ask of such a young team to make a push to the upper half of the conference. I do also want to wish the Terps good luck on Friday against Kentucky. I hate Kentucky as much as the next guy and hope you guys are able to knock them off their perch. I think they are a little overrated at this point. I don't think Ryan Harrow is the PG that Kentucky fans think he will be.
TT: So, prediction time: how much do you think Clemson will win by?
Since the first game of the year, Clemson has been held under 40 twice (37 against FSU, 38 against VT). Football Outsider's ranks VT's defense #28 and Maryland's at #38. I actually thought Maryland's defense was a little bit better than VT's prior to the Hartsfield's injury. That being said, the VT game was the worst that Clemson has played this year offensively. I don't think they play that poorly again this week, and I think the fact that Maryland is going to struggle offensively with a LB at QB will give Clemson a lot of opportunities to put up points.
Clemson - 45
Maryland - 14
That's a push, Vegas.