Clemson Tiger Football 2010: What We Know After the Auburn Heartbreaker
There's no such thing as a good loss.
Clemson made the trip to the Jordan-Hare Stadium with a lot on their plate. Not only could they elevate their season and vault into the national rankings, they had the opportunity to restore a little bit of the Atlantic Coast Conference's pride.
The visiting Tigers thoroughly out-played the home team in the first half. Dabo Swinney's team also controlled most of the fourth quarter. In the end, however, it wasn't enough.
Of all the ACC's attempts to get a big win against a true power program, this was by far the best. Be that as it may, it still goes into the loss column.
Clemson's venture into SEC lands was a great litmus test. Here's a look at where the team stands following Week 3 of the 2010 season.
Swinney and Napier Have The Right Offensive Game Plan
Smart offenses play to their strengths, control the ball, and manage the game. The Clemson offense in place right now does exactly that.
Certainly Kyle Parker's arm is under-utilized at this point, a function of how inexperienced and unreliable the wide receivers are right now. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper are more than capable of making up that difference on the ground.
Swinney and Napier are able to mix in just enough vertical passes to keep the defense honest. Clemson didn't complete a long pass (other than the touchdown strike to Harper, a running back) against Auburn, but drew two huge pass interference flags when they tried to throw downfield.
If the offensive line keeps their current level of intensity up, the ground game and a short, surgical, passing attack will carry the load well for Clemson in the next nine or ten games.
Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper Are More Than Capable of Carrying the Load
Call them "The Perfect Storm." Call them "Thunder and Lighting II." Call them whatever you want.
How about "Dynamic and Productive?"
All allusions to James Davis and C.J. Spiller aside, this pair is doing just fine as Clemson's current backfield tandem. Ellington was able to run for 140 yards against an SEC defense, and Sportscenter caught everyone up on Harper's night.
These two are doing just fine, even if they are just known as "Ellington and Harper."
DeAndre McDaniel Is Being Forced to Have Too Large of a Role Again
Playing for Clemson can be a funny thing. Years ago, the joke went something like this:
"You may not know where Clemson, South Carolina is, but every NFL scout does."
Last year there were two exceptional safeties in America. Tennessee had Eric Berry and Clemson had DeAndre McDaniel. If the Tigers got half the press of the Volunteers, McDaniel would have probably been the fifth pick in the draft, while Berry would have been a projected second rounder and possibly back in school.
The great thing for Tiger fans is that they get to see another year of this rare talent. McDaniel can play either safety position and has also started at linebacker in his collegiate career. Most of the time, it looks like he is playing all three positions simultaneously.
While it's a treat to see him pick off a deep ball on one play, then de-cleat a back for a loss on the next series, it's probably not the best thing for the Tigers. It suggests that once again, the linebackers are the weak link in the defense.
In the meantime, to suggest that there is a better safety in America is absurd.
Kyle Parker Is a Man
Whatever happens with Kyle Parker's baseball career, he has now proved that he is indeed a football player.
You can question his size, but there can no longer be questions about his toughness. Parker paid the price by choosing to dive instead of slide in the third quarter, but refused to take a play off. In obvious pain, he gutted it out and give his Tigers a chance to win.
Perhaps an uninjured Parker would have thrown a better ball in third down in overtime, and perhaps not. Parker did not turn the ball over, ran the offense to perfection, and gave Clemson a shot at the upset.
Great players play hurt. Parker's stock is on the rise. No doubt NFL teams are taking Parker much more seriously now as a prospect than they were a few days ago.
A fan can be disappointed with the loss, but not with the effort put forth by this quarterback, who has gambled on his professional baseball future because he loves the game.
Xavier Dye Needs to Concentrate
Whatever he's doing, it's not working. Xavier Dye is a tremendous talent who is not living up to his potential. In fact, it's not even close.
Dye did catch three balls for 34 yards at Auburn. He also had three drops of passes he should have caught. No one is asking him to make the exceptional play. That's being left up to Andre Ellington, Jamie Harper, Kyle Parker, and Dwayne Allen. Dye, however, is not making plays that high school coaches expect of their players.
There are too many talented (if untested) young receivers on this Clemson team to throw at Dye on crucial plays. Unless something changes on his part, he needs to have a diminished role in the offense.
Clemson Still Has Linebacker Issues
There are no apparent flaws with the defensive line. With the exception of one play, the defensive backs were superb against Auburn. The Tigers are having problems with the linebackers.
Everything looked fine until the final drive of the first half. Kevin Steele dropped two backers into a deep zone and Auburn was able to work the center of the field for a quick field goal. Why deviate from the aggression that had stymied the Auburn offense for 28 plus minutes?
Steele tried to turn the heat back up to begin the third quarter, but Auburn had already started to gain momentum. A few blown assignments and missed tackles by the second tier of defense led to 24 consecutive points for the home Tigers.
When the 'backers start filling their gaps and making plays, Clemson will start blowing teams out. Until then, there may be a few more wild games.
The Kicking Game Has Improved Since 2009
This statement sounds odd, especially since Chandler Catanzaro missed a 31 yard field goal in overtime to end the game at Auburn. Let's not forget that he hit the first attempt, but an illegal snap penalty forced a re-kick.
Catanzaro also nailed a 42-yard field goal in the first half. More importantly, he hit all his extra points. Clemson seemed to go for several games in 2009 without that luxury, after Richard Jackson got the yips against Florida State.
Spencer Benton has handled kickoff duty admirably, and punter Dawson Zimmerman has become a weapon rather than a liability.
It may sound trite, but special teams win games.
Clemson Is the Best Team in the ACC
With the failures of the rest of the conference, that may not be saying too much. However, Clemson cashed in the best performance of any team in the league's non-conference slate.
North Carolina and Virginia Tech came close to beating ranked opponents in their openers as well, but both made huge mistakes in sloppy games.
This Clemson team came to hit, and hit they did. They played a physical game at Auburn that would have given any team (in any conference) trouble. They absorbed punishment, but dished out every bit as much and then some.
Clemson stood toe-to-toe with a good SEC team, in SEC country. They traded blows with a nationally-ranked opponent and did not back down, even when they fell behind.
The Tigers didn't earn a win on the Plains. Dabo Swinney's team earned the respect of anyone who watched them play. Clemson football hasn't commanded that same amount of respect in several eras, with the most recent ending in right around 1989.