To preview this year's Clemson Tigers football team, we welcome back the boys over at Shakin The Southland for Five Good Minutes.
BC Interruption: There has been a lot of criticism hovering around Dabo Swinney. What are your views on your embattled coach? Would a below .500 season mean the end for Swinney at Clemson?
Shakin The Southland: Coach Swinney's strengths are developing and growing relationships. His weaknesses involve technical aspects of football coaching. Dabo is an excellent recruiter who brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the football program. Swinney has done well recruiting for Coach Bowden and bringing in top notch talent the past couple years. As a person, Swinney is pretty well-liked in South Carolina even though he comes off a little goofy and unrealistic at times. Football isn't a popularity contest and success is dictated by wins and losses.
That being said, Swinney is too emotional in some portions of games. The guy acts more like a cheerleader than a football coach and will make adjustments on the fly and seemingly on a whim. I don't like the way Swinney meddles within his staff. Specifically, it was pretty obvious last season that he and offensive coordinator Billy Napier had differing philosophies. Billy is more of an I formation guy and Swinney prefers to spread the field. The offense suffered tremendously from the two viewpoints clashing and the lack of offensive continuity due to Swinney's meddling.
I also do not think that Swinney is an especially strong technical head coach. A large part of this is connected to his coaching inexperience and never having been a coordinator at the collegiate level. Within these items is practice philosophy. We have been a fairly soft program the past couple years I believe due to practice philosophy.
If Clemson finishes at or below 0.500, I will be ready for the university to move in a different direction. I think that Clemson should be and will be better than that and believe there are a lot of other supporters who also feel this way.
The school will look at this in another way. Clemson will probably give him another year regardless. The addition of Chad Morris along with several other assistant coaching adjustments along with the excellent recruiting that has been going on at Clemson will likely assure Swinney four full head coaching seasons.
Additionally, a lot of people are not happy with Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips. Word on the street is that the university really wanted to fire him in late December but ultimately chose not to remove him. The Board of Trustees will not let him choose another football coach, that is almost certain. Thus, his future is tied to Swinney's success. Clemson will need to replace TDP before making changes at the head football coaching position. It would be logistically difficult/nearly impossible to replace both of those guys in parallel.
BCI: Andre Ellington had a breakout season last year even playing behind Jamie Harper. What kind of season are Tigers fans expecting from the Junior?
STS: Ellington did split time with Harper last season although Ellington was clearly a better back than Harper. Andre is an excellent running back. He sees the hole quickly and is a one cut back. What is impressive is Ellington's ability to accelerate through the hole and get upfield. In open space he can make people miss. He did have an issue holding onto the ball as a freshman but improved dramatically last season. The concern with Ellington is injury recovery. Ellington suffered what effectively was a season-ending foot injury last season at Boston College. Ellington underwent surgery to repair the injury but missed all of Spring practice recovering. He claims to be 100% now, but until you see him go in live action there will be concerns. If AE is indeed 100%, he will have an excellent season.
BCI: Tahj Boyd is taking over the reigns as starting quarterback this season down in Death Valley. What kind of quarterback are you expecting him to be? Are expectations high for him this year?
STS: Tajh is more of a pocket passer with excellent arm strength and better than average running ability. While he has some fundamental issues to work on, he does have a lot of upside. Tajh is a very good athlete and has the physical tools to be good. There are, however, a lot of questions around Boyd (and the QB position in general at Clemson). Boyd saw limited playing time until the very end of the '10 season. Clemson then changed offensive coordinators and offensive philosophy in January, so there will be some growing pains early as Boyd continues to develop in this offense. All reports, point to Tajh putting in a tremendous amount of effort over the spring/summer working on some fundamental items and in the film room. OC Chad Morris praised Tajh's efforts earlier in the summer.
Expectations are tempered for Boyd. While he has the physical tools, he still lacks college experience and is new to Morris' offense. I think that it is good for Tajh that the fan expectations are realistic entering the season and really am looking for improvement as the season progresses, particularly as some of our talented freshmen (hopefully) are incorporated into the offense. Obviously, Boyd's success will depend a lot on his offensive line which is more experienced but thin.
BCI: Last year at Alumni Stadium, Clemson's offense wasn't only able to put up 3 points (the 7 was on a Rashard Hall pick-6). What kind of changes will new offensive coordinator Chad Morris bring to your struggling offense?
STS: Chad Morris brings in a spread oriented hurry up type of offense from Tulsa. He coached under Gus Malzhan at Tulsa and uses many of the same concepts that Auburn used the past couple seasons. EVERY play is from a direct snap. This offense is extremely simple. Morris' strategy is to create advantages through formation and basic play calling and not via complex offensive scheme. He'll also bank on being in better shape than the opposition, as explained below.
The first big key is tempo. Morris wants to run 80-85 plays per game, so the pace is extremely quick. The offense itself is pretty simple. It is pretty much a spread version of the Wing-T. Morris uses a lot of orbit motion to get the receivers in the backfield and utilize them in the running game. Morris runs the Power, Counters, Traps, the Buck Sweep, zone read, inside / outside zone rushes, veer, inverted veer, and dash among other plays.
The passing game uses a variety of screens, specifically backside bubble screens off of designed running plays. Morris wants to stretch the field and will not hesitate to heave the ball deep. He will have at least one receiver getting vertical on every play. Otherwise, our passing attack is straight forward with routes and strategies common to football. One thing that is different for Clemson this season is the simplicity for the receivers. In past seasons, our WR's and the QB had to make reads at the line of scrimmage then adjust routes accordingly. The read and react items have largely been removed from the Clemson offense under Morris.
BCI: Prediction Time. BC-Clemson. Death Valley. Who leaves with the victory?
STS: Clemson has an advantage playing at home and will have better skills players. BC traditionally is a physical team that has simply punched Clemson in the mouth in previous years. These games are usually close contests so I'll expect another tight one this season and say that Clemson is victorious in a close one because the game is in Clemson. To be perfectly honest with you, a prediction made today with all the uncertainties about Clemson's offense and replacements made to the defense is almost worthless. This year's team (strategy, players, etc...) is so different from last year and so many questions are present that a prediction on a single game is nearly impossible and probably meaningless.
BCI: Thanks for joining us.
For more on the Clemson Tigers, be sure to check out Shakin The Southland.