Clemson Tiger Football: An Honest Assessment Through Four Games

Chad HensleyCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2009

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers watches on from the sideliens during their game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Memorial Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A third of the way into the college football season, the Clemson Tigers have had their ups and their downs.  

Sitting at 2-2, the Tigers could easily be 4-0, if not for some mistakes by the players on the field—and a few more by the coaching staff on the sidelines.

But that is football—especially Clemson Tiger football.

Here is my analysis of the first third of the season.



When Tommy Bowden "resigned" in 2008, Dabo Swinney took the reigns and finished the year strong enough that the administration felt he deserved the full-time position as head coach. 

His rhetoric is strong, and the players definitely seem to be responding better than they did in Bowden era. 

However, that is not translating to wins. 

Sorry, but that is all that matters.  Period.

Kevin Steele's defense has been incredible at times. 

While the Tigers defense is statistically 26th in the nation, if you watch the games, you know they are the real deal.

While Steele has turned out to be an excellent choice as defensive coordinator, the offensive side of the ball is where the Tigers have been struggling mightily. 

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier seems to be in over his head, and his play calling has struggled the most where it matters most—in the red zone. 

The Tigers have scored a touchdown two out of 13 times (15 percent) inside the 20 yard line. 

That is just plain horrible—and is a huge reason the Tigers are 2-2. 

Lastly, Brad Scott's offensive line has struggled again this year.  You would think that a group that returned all starters from last year would see a dramatic improvement, but that hasn't been the case. 

It is very hard to utilize the stars the team has on offense when the offensive line isn't blocking well.



After the Georgia Tech game, I said Kyle Parker was the real deal.

I am not saying he won't eventually be a legitimate quarterback, but as of right now, it looks like I was wrong. 

Parker is definitely going through some tough times as a red shirt freshman quarterback.  That was to be expected (though I thought he played like a veteran in the game against Georgia Tech).

A big problem I see with Parker is that he is always back pedaling, even out of the shotgun.  He never steps up in the pocket, like he did in the Georgia Tech game.  Sometimes he is adding 15-20 yards to passes.

A lot of that has to do with how the offensive line has been porous at times, and maybe the playcalling could be better to keep the pressure off.

But Parker still needs to be more consistent, more accurate, and continue to use his athletic ability to offset the offensive line woes.

One thing Napier has done well, something that was a big problem in the Bowden era, is get the ball into CJ Spiller's hands on a consistent basis throughout the game.

Spiller has been tremendous, and only needs a few more yards to become the All-Time ACC all-purpose yards leader.

That said, Spiller would have more yards if he could stay healthy.  It always seems like he is dinged up, and if Clemson is going to compete for an ACC title, he needs to play all four quarters in every game.

Jacoby Ford leads a group of receivers that frankly, is not good.  Ford had his troubles in the first game of the season, but has been solid ever since. 

The other receivers have dropped balls in crucial moments, and that doesn't help you win close games.



Steele's defense has been lights out for the most part, and there are very few weak spots in the Tigers defensive armor.

Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers may be the best defensive end duo in the nation.  They have been consistently getting pressure, which has resulted in holding quarterbacks to a 44.3 percent completion percentage.

The secondary and linebackers have fed off of them, and are doing a much better job than last year.

Deandre McDaniel leads the teams in tackles with 34, and Sapp leads the team with six tackles-for-loss.

If there is anything that needs to be improved, it is giving up that pesky last-minute touchdown drive, or that crucial third-down conversion.

Those are the things Bowden called "the one play" during his tenure, and it still haunts the Clemson Tiger football team.

But there is not much more you can ask from this defense, as it has done more than enough to keep the Tigers in every game.


Special Teams

Spiller and Ford have been unbelievable in the return game, and Richard Jackson has been a great kicker thus far.  

They literally have been the offense for this team.  There was the miserable first quarter in Atlanta, but a lot of that can be put on Dabo. 

Since then, outside of the miss by Jackson against TCU, the special teams have been excellent.



You can see that the team is responding better than it has in the past, but when it comes to the thing that counts—wins—nothing has changed since Bowden left.

If Napier can get the offense to start clicking, and Steele's defense remains consistently good, I believe the Tigers will finish the year no worse than 8-4.

But is that really any different than the Bowden era?