By Gray Gardner.
By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, SC – We’re at the mid-way point in the college football season and the Clemson Tigers are sitting pretty with six wins in as many games. Each week The Clemson Insider hands out Game Grades for the Tigers’ performance. Today we take a look at their report card for the first half of the season.
Averaging the individual grades from weeks one through six and compiling the sum, the offense grades out at an A- for the first half of the season. In retrospect, this seems fairly accurate.
The Tigers opened the season against Troy and Wofford. In those games, Clemson’s offense was still in its “vanilla” stages and really didn’t do much to impress. Still, they totaled 78 points and over 900 yards of total offense in just two games. Their next two games against heftier opponents Auburn and Florida State, Clemson totaled 73 points and a staggering 1,067 yards of total offense – 624 of which came against Auburn alone.
The offense sputtered in week five on the road in Blacksburg, Virginia when the team took on Virginia Tech. This was to be expected, as temperatures ranged in the lower 40s with howling wind and rain falling the entire game. Not to mention the fact that Lane Stadium is notorious for its boisterous fans and loudness factor. The Tigers handled the adversity in stride and put 23 points on the board on 323 yards of total offense. Not bad for a young team’s first road game against the Hokies.
Fans and pundits alike were worried about a letdown at home against Boston College in week six, but there would be no such luck for the Eagles. The Tigers’ offense came out firing on all cylinders, and quarterback Tajh Boyd sliced up the opponent’s secondary for 283 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game early with a hip injury. Running back Andre Ellington would find a groove, however, on his way to a 120-yard rushing game.
One of the most notable surprises in the first half of the season is the play of quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd progressed from having an “iffy” first game to becoming the Tigers’ playmaking Heisman candidate under center. Boyd’s stat line is currently one of the best in the country: 119-194 passing, 1,742 yards, 15-2 TD-Interception ratio.
Another surprise has been freshman phenom Sammy Watkins. Everyone knew Watkins was a playmaker, even before suiting up for his first game as a Tiger. But I don’t think anyone expected him to perform as he has: 38 catches for 623 yards and 6 touchdowns. That’s unheard of for a freshman. Watkins is well on his way to becoming ACC Rookie of Year and should be in contention for ACC Player of the Year, assuming he continues to perform on the same level.
Using the same method used for the offense, Clemson’s defense averages out at a B- for their play the first half of the season. One thing to note here is that there has been steady improvement from each game in their grades, something that should be promising to Tiger fans.
The Tigers allowed 423 yards of total offense against Troy in the opener but only 19 points. Against Wofford, Clemson’s defense allowed 399 yards and 27 points. In game three, the Tigers allowed Auburn 435 yards and 24 points. Game four against Florida State was much of the same – 365 yards and 30 points.
If you were just looking at those stats, you would find it hard to believe that Clemson won all four of those games.
Kevin Steele has been a mastermind at making adjustments at halftime in each game this season. It’s proven in the fact that, while teams have put up loads of yardage, they haven’t been able to get in the endzone when it mattered most.
Fortunately in game five, Steele had his defense going from the get-go. In their first game on the road, the Tigers held the Hokies to 258 yards of total offense and a meager 3 points. For the first time all season, the defense won the game for Clemson. Week six versus Boston College was another positive line for Clemson – 258 yards and 14 points.
The defense has improved drastically in six games. The young players in the secondary have almost completely eliminated blown coverages and missed assignments. Missed tackles, while still an issue, have been decreased tremendously sense game one. And finally, the Tigers front six are figuring out how to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If the defense continues to progress in weeks six through twelve as it did the first half of the season, watch out – they could be a force to reckon with.
One of the biggest surprises defensively is the fact that Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony are yet to make a real impact. Granted, Steward is still recovering from a knee injury and Anthony’s play was halted with a sprained ankle. But still – everyone expected these guys to come in immediately and make a splash. Anthony’s snaps are supposed to be increasing over the next several weeks. Will he take the defense by storm as expected?
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
This section could be titled “FIELD GOAL UNIT.” The focus here is always primarily on the Tigers’ success (or lack thereof) in the kicking game. Thus far in 2011, the Tigers have been about average from the block.
Chandler Catanzaro is 10 for 12 on field goals through six games, having hit 5 of 6 attempts from 40 yards or longer. Catanzaro has missed on a few extra points, but has been solid when in the clutch.
One can’t so easily forget his performance a week ago against Boston College. Catanzaro connected on all five of his field goal attempts and added another three PATs. He was the Player of the Game, and ACC Specialist of the Week.
Dawson Zimmerman has been steady this season punting the football. He was a huge help early in the year as the defensive struggled as he consistently helped the Tigers win the field position battle. He seems to have fully recovered from a knee injury suffered against Florida State, and should continue to be Mr. Consistent for the Clemson punt team.
The biggest surprise here is the stat line for Clemson’s kick-returners: 0 touchdowns. Clemson has been known for great returners in the past, with guys like CJ Spiller from recent memory back to guys like Justin Miller and Derek Hamilton. There’s no question that there were big expectations for the Tigers’ returners this year with the addition of Sammy Watkins and Mike Bellamy. However, the group is yet to score on either kick offs or punts, something that will likely change in the second half of the season.
COACHING STAFF: A
There’s no way around giving this group of coaches an A for their excellent performance through six games this season. Any staff that can do what they have done with such a young, unproven team deserves the accolades.
Chad Morris came into Clemson in January with a brand new offensive scheme and a first year starter at quarterback. There was reason to be suspect about the Tigers’ chances this fall. But Morris has proven to be a homerun hire for Dabo Swinney. His offense ranks in the top 25 of every major offensive category in the nation. If he can continue to produce as he has on offense, this could be a special season.
Kevin Steele has been the king of adjustments this fall, and really – isn’t that what a good coach is supposed to do? Steele has proven himself year after year on the defensive side of the ball. Despite having issues with depth and overall talent on the defensive line and with linebackers the past two seasons, Steele has still managed to produce one of the best defenses in the ACC.
Ultimately, the team’s success in the first six games falls on head coach Dabo Swinney. If you’re going to give him the blame when the team loses, you have to give him the credit when his team wins. Swinney has showed that he is more than a good motivator (although he continues to show that) – he is becoming an all-around head football coach. He has withdrawn from play calling and micro-managing the offense, what was seemingly his pitfall from a year ago. He has allowed his coaches to coach, and it’s worked.
If Swinney and Co. can produce the results they’ve seen in the first half of the season for the remaining six games, we could be looking at a championship football.