By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON – Saturday night marked another pitiful performance for the Clemson football team, resulting in its third consecutive loss to instate rival South Carolina. The Clemson Insider has the team’s grades from Columbia, and be warned – they aren’t pretty.
Tajh Boyd hasn’t been the same since the first half of the Maryland game nearly six weeks ago. His lack of confidence has been blatant in the Tigers’ last two losses. Boyd was awful Saturday night against the Gamecocks, forcing throws when under duress and fleeing the pocket when not. Boyd threw off of his back foot for most of the game after being pressured over and over again by the Gamecocks’ front four, resulting in numerous high-sailed passes and an interception. Boyd completed only 38% of his passes Saturday night for a meager 83 yards – by far his worst game of 2011. The last four games have made it obvious that Chad Morris’ offense cannot function without a capable quarterback. So long as Boyd continues to play as he has, you can expect to see much of the same from the offensive side of the ball.
RUNNING BACK: A
If there’s one positive to be gained from Saturday night it’s the play of Clemson’s running backs, specifically Andre Ellington. Ellington was on a mission from the start of the game, creating a surge on special teams and gaining extra yards with his second effort in the running game. Ellington’s stats won’t make him stand out for his performance – he only totaled 66 yards rushing and 93 on returns. But his effort should be a bright spot for a team that has seemed to lack any energy recently. Oh, and how about Mike Bellamy? No fumbles, and he provided a spark in the running game. It’s a shame the Tigers didn’t run the ball more.
WIDE RECEIVER: F
As a wide receiver in a spread offense like that of Clemson, your primary job is to catch the football. Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Dwayne Allen, Jaron Brown, and Brandon Ford each failed in this objective Saturday night. It all started when Watkins dropped what was sure to be a long touchdown pass – a play that completely deflated the Clemson offense. DeAndre Hopkins was out of character as well. Hopkins typically catches everything, but dropped at least three passes against the Gamecocks. Allen, Brown, and Ford each dropped at least one. It’s hard to score points when your playmakers can’t hold onto the ball.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D
The five sacks allowed are slightly misleading for this group, as two sacks were given up by Tajh Boyd himself. Boyd’s refusal to stay in the pocket made the offensive line look worse than they were. But don’t get me wrong – the offensive line was bad. Real bad. Melvin Ingram had a hay-day inside and out and made David Smith and Brandon Thomas look silly on several occasions. The loss of Philip Price has been felt much more than anyone would have ever thought, especially in pass protection. The only positive for this group was the Tigers’ ability to run the ball effectively. If not for that, this group would easily have a failing grade.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
Clemson’s defensive line spent a lot of time in the Gamecock backfield Saturday night, but often over-pursued and allowed quarterback Connor Shaw ample room to run. Andre Branch recorded 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss, but South Carolina didn’t have to pass enough for Branch’s effective speed rush to play a factor. Rennie Moore played well for the most part and recorded 3 tackles for loss. Lack of depth inside has obviously hindered this group, especially against run-heavy teams like the Gamecocks.
When a quarterback is able to run free through the middle of the defense on designed runs, you know the linebackers aren’t doing their jobs. Corico Hawkins, Quandon Christian, and Jonathan Willard do not seem to be the answer for the middle of the Clemson defense. True freshman Stephone Anthony showed promise in attacking the line of scrimmage, but still struggled to get off blocks and make plays. This group was absent for many of Connor Shaw’s long runs and routinely struggled to keep up in pass coverage. For lack of a better word, this group has simply been pathetic.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+
Aside from Shaw’s first touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington on horrible coverage from Xavier Brewer, Clemson’s secondary managed to keep the Gamecocks in check. That isn’t to say they played well. Shaw completed 14 of his 20 pass attempts for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns. But the play of Coty Sensabuagh has to be honored in some way. Sensabaugh kept All-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery out of the picture for most of the game and only allowed him one catch for a touchdown, but that was when the game was already out of reach. The underneath passing game was successful for Steve Spurrier’s offense mostly because of Clemson’s failure at the linebacker position and ability to play fake off the run. Even so, Shaw’s numbers don’t lie, and Clemson’s defensive backs have to be held responsible for allowing open receivers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Chandler Catanzaro was perfect on his two field goal attempts from 32 and 40 yards out. Dawson Zimmerman helped the Tigers in the battle for field position with some accurate punts inside the 20. Andre Ellington even provided a spark in the return game. The biggest disappointment from Clemson’s special teams? Spencer Benton’s awful kickoffs – most of which were very short; one of which went out of bounds to give the Gamecocks great field position.
COACHING STAFF: F
It’s hard to believe that the same Clemson team that was just hammered by NC State and rival South Carolina dominated 3rd ranked Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium just 8 weeks ago. Dabo Swinney’s ability to start the season hot had a lot of people convinced that things were going to be different for the Clemson football program. However, his team’s late season choke now has most convinced of quite the opposite.
Nothing seems to have changed from last year’s 6-7 Clemson team. If not for the addition of Sammy Watkins and some electric freshmen playmakers, it’s likely that Clemson’s record would reflect this lack of change from the top down. Chad Morris seemed like a homerun hire in weeks one through eight. But Morris is yet to show that he can adjust to defenses that have apparently adjusted to him. Say what you want about his players not executing – if a coaching staff cannot find ways to win, they don’t need to be coaching at a school like Clemson.
Kevin Steele has been under fire for much of his time here at Clemson. His bend but don’t break defense has finally broken, and teams have exploited the Tigers’ for their poor talent at linebacker and safety. Steele has not made significant changes to his scheme as the season has progressed, despite the fact that opposing offenses are finding success in much of the same way.
Clemson’s coaching staff must find a way to win in Charlotte Saturday night against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship if they hope to swing this season in a positive light. Starting 8-0 and being ranked 5th in the country means nothing if you finish 9-4 and unranked. The Hokies are playing as well as anyone in the country right now (save maybe LSU), so the Tigers will have their work cut out for them. If things do not change this week in practice – and I mean drastically change – it’s likely that Clemson will suffer its fifth loss in its last six games, thus concluding one of the most monumental collapses in program history.