To preview this weekend's game between the 2-5 Eagles and the 4-3 Clemson Tigers, we welcome FigureFour of the Clemson site Shakin The Southland to the blog. In exchange, we answered some questions about the Eagles over on their site. Be sure to check them out.
BC Interruption: Last week, Clemson finally got the Georgia Tech monkey off their back and are arguably playing their best football of the season right now. What did you see in the Georgia Tech game that you hadn't seen from the Tigers in weeks past? Where is there still room for improvement?
Shakin The Southland: Clemson and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele made quite a few adjustments last week to stop an offense that we have not been able to even slow down the past couple times we have played Tech. Clemson made adjustments Saturday with defensive scheme and with personnel to create its best opportunity to win with the players that we have/were available. The other nice thing Clemson did was avoid a terrible stretch of football defensively. In past losses Clemson has had a series or two where the defense basically fell asleep and gave the opponents scores. Moving forward Clemson absolutely has to play good fundamental defense and stay disciplined in every position (as I mentioned earlier, we have had poor play at all of our defensive positions at times this year that caused us to give up points at inopportune times).
Offensively, Clemson dominated up front. It was nice to see Ellington get over 160 yards on the ground and break two long runs for TDs. I would definitely like to see him get the ball more and earlier on in each football game. Offensively we will need to get a little sharper throwing the ball as Kyle Parker was inaccurate at times again with the ball and almost looked uncomfortable at times. We did improve catching the ball and had some of the younger guys step up at the WR position.
BCI: Da'Quan Bowers has been destroying everything in his path this season. The Eagles offensive line has struggled in the early season but has shown signs of putting it back together after a reshuffling of personnel on the line. Do you expect Bowers to continue to have success this weekend?
STS: Bowers is nothing short of an absolute beast. He has looked like a man amongst boys since arriving at Clemson two years ago. The real difference this season is that he is more disciplined and appears to be a little more fit, probably having a quicker step this year. I expect Bowers to demand a lot of attention and get after it. He would be impressive/a major force no matter who we played.
BCI: Clemson's offense has struggled in the passing game. What's up with those struggles? Who's to blame? Are you at all worried about the Tigers offense looking too one-dimensional on Saturday, playing to the Eagles D' strength defending against the run?
STS: We have enough blame to go around. I will go ahead and say that our offensive line, for the most part, has played pretty well this season in the pass protection portion of the game. The issues have been execution issues between the signal caller ad his receivers. We have done a poor job overall catching the football. Clemson's receivers dropped a ton of balls early in the year. As the season progressed, the veteran receivers (Xavier Dye, Terrance Ashe) were simply not getting it done and now some of the younger receivers are getting the majority of the snaps. Our staff has said in the media that they were sympathetic to the guys who had been there for 3-4 years and gave them playing time that should have been better spread around.
Sophomore Jaron Brown and RS Freshman Bryce McNeal are in the lineup now. The guy who has really turned heads is DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins. Hopkins has come in, made some big catches, and contributed a lot as a true Freshman. Needless to say, Clemson has improved catching the ball over the past few weeks.
QB Kyle Parker had an accuracy issue at times last season and still misses some big passes. His first half at UNC was nothing less than pitiful throwing the ball. I think that the receiver's inability to hold onto the ball early may have subconsciously caused him to play a little more cautiously and--possibly--has him aiming the ball instead of just throwing it. KP just doesn't look as comfortable as I would expect him to look at this point in the season. I definitely think that he gives us the best chance to win and hope that another week of practice with the young receivers will give him a little more confidence and comfort in the pocket.
Clemson's coaching staff has been committed to the pass all season, even when there was no need to pass or the Tigers should not have been passing. I think that no matter what happens Clemson will try to throw the ball. Obviously (knowing that Swinney/Napier will do this) we are hoping to hit something big early to possibly loosen BC's good rush defense to get some yards on the ground.
BCI: When you're playing a 2-5 team (and one that is 0-4 in conference play), you expect to be more than a seven point favorite, no?
STS: With the exception of last season, these games have been close the past five years. Yes, seven points seems a little low when you look at records. However, BC is coming off of two losses and plays good defensively, especially against the run. Clemson has yet to win a game on the road this season and has had its share of issues throwing the ball. When you take Clemson's struggles and BC's strengths into account (along with the game being in New England) 7 points seems more and more legit.
BCI: With a little help from N.C. State on Thursday, Clemson would control their own destiny in terms of winning the Atlantic Division for a second straight season. Do you like your chances to repeat?
STS: Clemson still has to play both of those teams in back-to-back weeks which will be tough. Clemson was able to dig itself out of a similar hole last season to win the Atlantic, so it is definitely possible. I think Clemson has a tougher road this season than last to repeat as Atlantic Division Champs and will not have the luxury of losing another contest. Long and short, we are in a much tougher spot now than we were this time last season.
BCI: Having already faced two Coastal Division teams and coming up short in both those games, how much better is the Coastal Division than the Atlantic Division this season?
STS: The whole conference seems to be up and down this year with the exception of Florida State (one bad loss to Oklahoma but otherwise steady winning). Miami got rolled by FSU and Virginia Tech got embarrassed early in the year but pulled it together in time for conference play. I am still not sure who is eligible at UNC but do have to give them credit for not packing it in when adversity was knocking at the door.
I will say that, other than FSU, right now the Coastal is pulling out the games, particularly when you ask about Clemson. Clemson made critical mistakes at critical points in both the UNC and Miami game and both of those teams pounced on those opportunities. That is one thing that all three of those have over everyone in the Atlantic (except for FSU) is that they have found ways to pull the close ones out.
Overall, and at this point, I think that FSU is the best team in the conference followed by Virginia Tech (beat N.C. State soundly earlier in the season), Miami, and North Carolina. Even by this simple "ranking," it is pretty obvious that the Coastal holds a big advantage simply from a W/L standpoint against their Atlantic counterparts.
BCI: Like BC, Clemson has a pretty inexperienced head coach in Dabo Swinney. How has Swinney been accepted by the Clemson fanbase? When Clemson started the season 2-3 (0-2 ACC), were there grumblings from fans that Swinney was merely Tommy Bowden 2.0? What are your longer term expectations for Clemson under Swinney's leadership?
STS: As a person, I think the Clemson folks like Swinney. He is a nice enough guy (even a little cheesy at times), is from the South, and talks a pretty good game. However, winning is really the only thing that matters. Swinney's team fought back after some bonehead/inexperienced games to begin the season last year. The coaching staff so far has made some bad decisions that put us into another 2-3/3-3 hole this season. Obviously the fan base has a short memory and if Clemson can finish with 8+ wins the general fan base will be happy. Regardless of what happens, Dabo will get the benefit of another full season before anyone with any significant input in the decision-making process begins to assess his future with Clemson.
What the fans don't like is the similarities between him and Bowden. Bowden often started slow and finished strong (or vice versa) and always had a game or two every year that Clemson lost when they really should have won. So far Dabo has had two consecutive disappointing starts to seasons. Dabo has also had a few questionable playing time decisions along with quite a few holdovers from Tom's staff. Dabo has recently been talking like Tom in press conferences (we are only X number of points from being undefeated, blah, blah) which does not excite the fan base at all. The one thing that he does do well that Tommy couldn't do is relate to the fans AND take responsibility for poor play.
Expectations are consistent (at least for the guys at STS) no matter who the coach is. We believe that Clemson has the resources to win 10 games consistently. I don't know what the rest of the fan base demands, but that is what we at Shakin' the Southland have to see to be happy. We have openly blamed a lot of our early shortcomings on coaching decisions and expect these to be fixed by the end of Swinney's second full season, if not earlier.
BCI: As fans of programs representing the last 3 ACC Atlantic Division champs, are you at all worried about the fast start that Florida State (6-1, 4-0) has gotten off to this season? How do you see the Atlantic Division race shaping up over the next few seasons?
STS: I am tremendously worried about the Seminoles. Jimbo Fisher is an excellent offensive coach who revitalized the ‘Noles offense after the debacle that was the "Jeff Bowden experience." Last season the Seminoles were a great team offensively but could not stop anyone on defense. Fisher went in and shook that whole deal up, making his team much more disciplined on defense. They have the talent and have proven it on offense in the past...this year they look to be the team in the Atlantic and I really think that FSU will finish 1 or 2 in the Atlantic for many years to come. There is just too much talent in the state of Florida and Fisher has proven to be a good enough coach and will win a lot of Tallahassee.
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Who ya got in this one? What's the final score?
STS: You have to respect BC's defense. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the BC offense has been less than impressive. No surprise with a low scoring prediction: Clemson 18, Boston College 10.
BCI: I think so long as the Eagles keep it close, most fans will be happy. Sad it has gotten to this point. Thanks for joining us.
For more information about the Clemson Tigers, be sure to check out Shakin The Southland.