BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 1: Mike Bellamy #5 of the Clemson University Tigers runs for a touchdown against the Virginia Tech University Hokies on October 1, 2011 at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
To preview this weekend's game between the Eagles and Tigers, we welcome back the crew from Shakin The Southland for Five Good Minutes. In exchange, I answered some questions about the Eagles over at STS. Yeah, about that whole "I think Montel Harris will play and be fine" thing ...
BC Interruption: First year OC Chad Morris came to campus highly regarded, but did Clemson fans think that the turnaround on offense would be this great so fast. Evaluate the Clemson offense through five games.
Shakin The Southland: I don't think any reasonable fan thought the offense would go from one of the worst AQ offenses to one of the best. The offense is explosive and fun to watch. Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, Nuk Hopkins, and Dwayne Allen are all big time playmakers and Chad Morris' offense does a great job of getting the ball into their hands and letting them make plays. As great as the offense is to watch, Morris has been a revelation for the program. He is a tough, hard-nosed coach who calls it how he sees it. He doesn't sugarcoat his thoughts to spare feelings. I think the players are reacting well to this new style of coaching and the results show that.
There is room for improvement, however. Our offensive line has done a decent job pass blocking, but they've really struggled to open up holes in the running game. Morris' offense is a spread offense with a power running game. In order to execute the power running game the offensive line needs to open holes through the A-gaps. This has been a problem and it reflects in Andre Ellington's rushing statistics. If the o-line can flip a switch and start moving people off the ball in the run game, this offense could take its game to another level.
BCI: How about on the defensive side of the ball? How have the Tigers improved on defense? Who are some names to look out for on Saturday?
STS: The defense started slowly the first four games of the season before turning in a great effort against VT in Blacksburg. The first four games were marred by big plays. Troy, Wofford, Auburn, and FSU all had explosive plays resulting in scores. The secondary wasn't tackling well, they were taking bad angles, and they were struggling to stay with receivers down the field. Against VT, the secondary played off the receivers a little more, letting VT's receivers catch the ball underneath short of the first down marker and then did a good job wrapping up and making tackles. It also helped that VT's offense seemed content on being conservative and not taking shots down the field.
DE Andre Branch had a huge game against VT with 11 tackles and 3 sacks. The defensive line for Clemson has played pretty well as a group this year. The d-line is led by DT Brandon Thompson, who has been outstanding to this point. He is unblockable with one guy and draws a consistent double team game in and game out. That leaves a lot of one on one opportunities for undersized DT Rennie Moore. A lot of people questioned his size prior to the year, but he's stepped up in a big way and erased doubts that others may have had. He uses good leverage and his quickness to beat the opposition and make plays down the line.
The linebackers have struggled a bit. WLB Tig Willard has come on strong the last two games, so there is hope. I also expect to see more of the 5-star freshmen Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward in the coming weeks. Anthony has been very good when on the field and if he can keep his head in the playbook enough to read the formations and adjust the fronts, I expect him to overtake Corico Hawkins at MLB. He's that good.
BCI: With the big turnaround on offense, is Dabo still the man to lead this team going forward, or is he getting a bit assist from Morris and the offense? What is the fan base's opinion of Swinney as HC at this point.
STS: Some fans love Dabo for his energy and enthusiasm, while others were tired of his goofy antics and his fluff-filled press conferences where he continued Tommy Bowden's 'one play away' motto. I write for Shakin' the Southland, so you can guess which side I fall on. I do think winning has been a great recipe for silencing his critics. There isn't too much to complain about right now. The guy is a great recruiter and has surrounded himself with a great staff. Is he the best X's and O's coach in college football? Hell no. Does he make boneheaded decisions like trying a fake field goal while up 8 points midway through the fourth quarter (Wofford game)? Unfortunately, yes. His game management skills still need refinement. But if he continues to stay out of Chad Morris' way on offense and keeps pulling in top 10 recruiting classes, I think the coaching staff around him is good enough to carry him through his game management growing pains.
BCI: 5-0 Clemson has just two more upcoming opponents ranked in the top 25 -- at #13 Georgia Tech and at #18 South Carolina. What is one game you have marked on your calendar as a potential trap game.
STS: UNC comes to Death Valley two weeks after our game with BC. I think that contest is going to be very tough. UNC has great athletes. Donte Paige-Moss and Quinton Coples will give our offensive tackles one heckuva time. I'm definitely not overlooking that game.
But an even more under the radar game is the road trip to NC State. NC State isn't very good right now (maybe that's an understatement). But if they get some guys healthy along the defensive front and Mike Glennon gets more polished as the season goes on, that's a potential trap game. It has a couple of the quintessential characteristics for a trap game: a road contest the week before a big rivalry game. If the players are looking ahead to South Carolina, this game could be a stumbling block.
BCI: Eagles fans can't like their chances on Saturday as BC comes into the game as more than a 3 TD underdog. What would have to go wrong for Clemson for the Eagles to have a shot in this one?
STS: I think Clemson 'Pulling a Clemson' is one possibility. 'Pulling a Clemson', as many know, means beating a good team and getting some positive attention from the media, only to follow it up with a stinker. Now we are getting close to throwing that notion out the window this year after 3 straight solid performances with the national spotlight on. The other scenario is turnovers. Clemson hasn't turned the ball over nearly as much as I expected and I feel like they are due for a game where the ball just isn't bouncing their way. I anticipated that happening in Blacksburg last week with the poor weather conditions, but it didn't happen. If BC doesn't create turnovers, I think Clemson's offense is able to move the ball up and down the field and put some points on the board.
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Who ya got? What's the final score?
STS: I'm taking Clemson, but I'm hesitant to take Clemson by too wide a margin just because of their history with BC. That being said, I think Boyd plays well. Morris has preached to Boyd that he wants to end every possession with a kick (extra point, field goal, or punt). So far he has done a good job of that and has kept the turnovers down. I believe if that continues Saturday, Clemson has too much firepower on offense for BC to keep up. I'll go 35-17 Clemson....or if I were a betting man I'd take BC and the 21 points.