Clemson Tigers Football, I Don't Know Who You Are Anymore
When I flipped to channel 206 on my DirectTV receiver, I expected to see the Clemson Tigers match up against their first real test of the season, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Instead I saw a big grey screen.
I didn't know it then, but it was actually God trying to shield my eyes from the Ramblin' Wreck taking my Tigers to the woodshed in the first quarter.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), I went into another room to watch the game in standard definition, as the high definition feed was the culprit.
The first quarter was absolutely brutal—in all phases of the game—if you were a Clemson fan.
The Yellow Jackets scored on their second offensive play of the game, an 82-yard romp by Anthony Allen.
On Clemson's next possession, they moved the ball down into "No Man's Land" and lined up for a very long field goal. Instead of attempting the kick, Clemson's kicker Richard Jackson tried a pooch punt to pin the Yellow Jackets down inside the 10.
Instead, Jerrard Tarrant took his second punt return in as many weeks to the house for a 14-0 lead. If you watch the replay, you will see that he made about three unblocked Tigers miss and outran the rest.
On the following drive, Clemson's quarterback, redshirt freshman Kyle Parker, was sacked for the first of many by the Jacket's Derrick Morgan.
On third down, a crisp pass went off the hands of his intended receiver and landed in Cooper Taylor's arms.
On the ensuing drive, the Clemson defense stiffened in the face of adversity, only to be completely outcoached on fourth down.
Paul Johnson sent his offense out onto the field after a timeout and then quickly had them run off the field and sent 10 of his kicking team into the game.
That's right—10 players.
The 11th? Demaryius Thomas. He came off the field with the offense, stopped before he got to the sidelines, and took off on the snap.
Clemson was obviously not prepared for this, and Jackets kicker Scott Blair threw a 34-yard touchdown to the uncovered receiver. 21-0.
Is this real life?
Unfortunately, as a Clemson Tiger fan, it is no shocker to see the Tigers choke on national television. The past 10 or more years have been very, very disappointing.
However, the Tigers didn't roll over and die.
After going down 24-0 on another field goal, Parker found C.J. Spiller racing down the sidelines for a 63-yard touchdown.
That had the feeling of last year's Alabama game, when Spiller took the first kickoff of the second half for the score. That was followed by Clemson getting manhandled the rest of the game by the Tide.
I figured this was just more of the same and didn't think much of it.
Then something crazy happened.
It was said to have been extinct at Clemson, but they actually made a halftime adjustment.
Between some poor play calling by Georgia Tech and the adjustments made by defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, the Tigers' defense owned the Jackets' offense for most of the second half.
Not only that, but the Tiger offense kept feeding the ball to playmakers Spiller and Jacoby Ford—on the ground, in the air, any way they could—and stuck with their gameplan.
The offense actually made an adjustment too, replacing right tackle Cory Lambert with Chris Hairston and moving someone into the backfield to keep Morgan out of Parker's earhole. The extra blocker bought a few more moments for Parker and kept him relatively clean in the second half.
That's not it. The extremely athletic Parker didn't make crucial mistakes and threw the ball on target—short, mid, and long range. He also didn't take any inopportune sacks.
Who is this stranger? Do I know you, Clemson Tiger Football?
What did this add up to?
Parker threw a short nine-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen—a pass only Allen could catch. 24-14.
After the Tigers' defense put the hammer down on Tech in the following drive, Parker showed a sign that he belongs in the water cooler talk as the best ACC quarterback.
Parker threw an absolute laser to Ford for a 77-yard touchdown. 24-21.
It wasn't the length of the pass that was most impressive. It was that Parker recognized that the two defenders covering Ford were in poor position and made them pay.
Ford had beaten his underneath coverage, and the safety over the top was chasing the fastest man in college football. Parker put the ball on the money.
When has Clemson ever had a real quarterback with this kind of athleticism and confidence? Some might say Charlie Whitehurst or Woody Dantzler, but I don't think either of them had all of the tools—and intangibles—that Parker has.
Especially as a freshman.
After Clemson took the lead of 27-24 with a couple field goals, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson does what he does best.
He made a great adjustment on offense by changing their formation and calling quarterback lead after quarterback lead with Josh Nesbitt—and the Tigers couldn't stop it until the Jackets were in field goal range. 27-27.
In the next drive, Parker was unfazed, and on a crucial third down late in the fourth, he hit Ford again for a long gainer down into Georgia Tech territory.
However, after a questionable holding call, it was not to be. The Tigers ended up punting.
The Tigers' defense held strong again, but on 3rd-and-11, Coach Johnson pulled one out of his back pocket to crush Tiger fans' dreams.
With basically the same play as last year's crushing defeat, Nesbitt hit Thomas on a corner route down to the Clemson 27. That sealed the deal for Tech. A few running plays later set up a Blair field goal, which ended the game with the final score of 30-27.
Every defeat is hard as a fan, but this one didn't really hurt as bad as those in past years.
They have a young coach in Dabo Swinney who didn't let them get down and obviously inspired them to gut it out for 60 minutes. He may have been outcoached early, and maybe a little more late, but it was solid for a young guy.
I thought (and maybe still think) Clemson should have gone after Bud Foster. But I want to see what Swinney does with this team. Let him grow, Clemson fans.
They have an offensive coordinator in Billy Napier who stuck to his gameplan (even when they got down 24-0) and tried to maximize the touches of his best playmakers. Oh, and the offense didn't revolve around the bubble screen.
Parker is the polar opposite of last year's quarterback Cullen Harper. He made the offensive line look better than it actually was in first half with his ability to sense pressure and escape the rush. As I said before, his decision-making was relatively excellent, and he has a long-range scope on that cannon arm.
The offensive line, while shaky at times, put the hurting on Tech's vaunted defensive line as the game went on. A big reason for this is Napier sticking with the run.
The defense was just absolutely spectacular, sans one or two plays. The adjustments made by Steele and the overall athleticism of the Tiger defense was impressive. Nesbitt completed just one more pass to his own teammates than he completed to the Tigers' defenders.
They held ACC MVP Jonathan Dwyer to 66 yards on 18 carries. Pretty darn good if you ask me.
Finally, I was shocked by the minute number of penalties the Tigers had—six penalties for 50 yards. Yeah, that last one (and maybe one other) was a bit tough to swallow, but Dabo sure has them disciplined, doesn't he?
For the first time in many, many years, I feel Clemson is a legit contender in the ACC. This sure feels a whole lot better than the Tommy Bowden era. Let's hope it continues.
Clemson Tiger Football, I don't know who you are, but I am excited to get to know you in 2009.
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