By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Until Florida State came to town last Saturday, it appeared as if ninth-ranked Clemson and its offense was doing okay despite the loss of talent such as DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Ellington, Brandon Ford and Jaron Brown.
Though no one on offense had really become a DeAndre Hopkins or an Andre Ellington – and no one expected that to happen – the Tigers had seemed to have found their groove at the skill positions and that’s despite losing wide receiver Charone Peake to a torn ACL just two games into the season.
“We have plenty of good players,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
“It hurt losing Charone. He was poised to have a great year and was off to a great start so it definitely hurt us. He is a great player and is the fastest guy we have on the team. To lose that additional guy has been a little bit of an issue because now you are playing some freshmen that are playing a little bit bigger role than maybe you would like them, too.”
The Tigers (6-1, 4-1 ACC) do have plenty of good players, but the problem is they need a few more great ones. After Sammy Watkins, there has not been anyone that has stood out, especially at wide receiver.
In the last two years, Chad Morris has had both Hopkins—a first round pick of the Houston Texans—and Watkins to keep defenses off balance. If a team doubled up Watkins, Hopkins would make them pay. If they chose to double up Hopkins, Watkins was there to make up for the production.
It gave the Tigers, who travel to Maryland on Saturday, a big advantage over most defenses.
“I think we have guys that can do it, guys that are capable,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “I don’t think we have guys that are slacking in that area, we just have to be more consistent. We have to continue to keep building and we have to continue to keep gaining confidence in each other.”
They did not gain any confidence against Florida State. Other than Watkins, no one caught more than three passes. Watkins hauled in eight passes for 68 yards and scored on a three-yard pass from Boyd in the first quarter.
Martavis Bryant caught three passes for 46 yards, while freshman Mike Williams grabbed two catches for 35 yards. Junior Adam Humphries, who is second on the team with 25 catches for 331 yards, was held to one catch for 12 yards.
“A lot of the young guys have to step up because (defenses) are running a lot of different coverages because they are trying to eliminate me trying to touch the ball,” Watkins said. “Martavis and a lot of the other wide receivers have to make a lot of plays now.”
It’s not like Bryant (20-362 yards, 3 TDs), Humphries (2 TDs), Germone Hopper (17-121-2) and Stanton Seckinger (13-156-2) are not making plays and that they can’t, they just are not making them consistently. And that’s what cannot happen if it is going to open up the offense and put Watkins in better matchups.
“I’m not saying they are not capable of it. They just have to get back to the game plan and focus on the little details,” said Watkins, who has 44 catches for 650 yards and five scores this year. “I think further in the year, they are going to get better and start doing that.”
It might help if the Tigers got better at running the football, too. As much as they miss Hopkins and his great hands, they also miss Ellington and his ability to force defenses to come up and stop the run, especially if they matched up in zone like Florida State did last Saturday night.
The Seminoles’ game plan was simple. They did not let Clemson’s speed get behind their secondary. They wanted the Tigers to prove they could run the football so instead of being in press coverage – their normal scheme – they changed things up and played in Cover 2 for much of the night, which completely caught Clemson off guard.
“We came into the game thinking they would be up in our face in press-man and later on in the game they started backing off and played Cover 2 and that kind of took us by surprise,” Humphries said. “We still have to capitalize. We have played against Cover 2 many times so it is not something we have never seen before.”
The Tigers did not capitalize because they rushed for only 123 yards and averaged 3.0 yards on 41 carries. FSU forced Boyd and Watkins to have to go about it alone and of course they could not do it.
“I think that just comes with the position,” Boyd said. “Anytime there is a play to be made and you feel like you have to make a play, you try to do everything in your power to make sure that happens. Sometimes it goes good and other times it does not. You have to kind of take the good with the bad.
“We have guys that are more than capable of doing it, but that trust level has to be there as well.”
And right now it is not. Several times against Florida State wide receivers ran one way and Boyd threw the other way. It was a completed mess at times.
“It’s not just the wide receivers and Tajh,” Humphries said. “It seems like there is always one guy on the field having a (missed assignment) all the time or something like that. We just have to get all eleven guys on the same page.
“That’s when we really start clicking. It just seems like every play that we messed up, there was one guy that did not do their job or something like that and that kind of killed our whole motivation and tempo.”
And it killed the Tigers’ chances of winning. Boyd completed just 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards, while throwing two interceptions. He also fumbled the ball one time when he and his receivers were not on the same page.
“Some of that was on me,” Boyd said. “We have to do a better job as a whole. I have to do a better job as a leader and as the quarterback to make sure we are all on the same page because if we are not, it is only going to get worse.
“It’s the trust that you have in each other when you step out on that field.”
It’s not all lost. Clemson obviously has the potential to be as good as it wants to be on offense. Just look at what it did the first five weeks of the season when it was laying 50-plus points and more than 500 yards of offense on its opponents. But now that FSU has laid out a blue print on how to limit this Clemson offense, the Tigers have to start executing at a higher level all across the board.
“We can’t sit around and complain over our situation,” Swinney said. “We have plenty of good players and there are no excuses. We have everything we need to be one of the best offenses in the country.”
They just have to be consistent.