The Clemson Tigers come to town to take on the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon. To get primed for this game, we did a home and home Q&A with Ryan Kantor of Shakin' the Southland. You can read my answers to his questions here.
State Of The U: How do you feel about the season for Clemson so far?
Shakin' The Southland: This team is further along than any objective fan could have expected coming into the season. I'm blown away by the players and coaches on the defensive side of the ball. After losing so much from the starting unit, it's almost inconceivable that there is so little drop off from last season. DC Brent Venables has done an outstanding job since joining the program after the ACC Championship season.The offense is loaded and only scratching the surface of the potential so far. If this team keeps improving, things are shaping up for a special year, but they absolutely have to beat Florida State for it to mean anything.
SOTU: Deshaun Watson is good. What makes him so good as a player?
STS: There's so much you have to account for when you play this Clemson offense. We like to stretch the defense out wide with a lot of quick outs to Artavis Scott - our best receiver. We also have shown more dedication to the running game with RB Wayne Gallman, who is currently third in the ACC in rushing yards. That makes Watson's ability to attack the middle of the field with slot receiver Hunter Renfrow and TE Jordan Leggett that much more effective.It's rare to have a QB that has his combination of maturity, accuracy, arm strength, vision, and speed. For his rushing touchdown against BC, he rolled left and saw nothing so turned and ran right. When he saw the open lane he waltzed right into the end zone. I hate to see Watson run between the tackles, but his ability to keep plays alive with his legs adds an extra element.In the second half of the BC game, we saw his deep ball start to click again as he connected on a couple and pushed his passing yardage over 400 for the night - against what is said to be a premier BC defense. I think he's due for a huge second half, in part because he is so multi-dimensional, as is this offense. There's no one thing you can take away that really will stop him completely.
SOTU: Who on offense makes plays that Canes fans should know about?
STS: So we've talked about QB Deshaun Watson, WR Artavis Scott, and RB Wayne Gallman, but let me give you someone a little off the radar.Deon Cain is a blue chip recruit out of Florida who is tasked with helping fill the big shoes of WR Mike Williams while he is out with a neck injury. It took a few weeks, but he is emerging as a legitimate deep threat for Watson. Cain has 7 catches for 193 yards in his last two games after just 6 catches for 70 yards in his first four games. Clemson will work hard to establish the run, but take a few shots deep. Look out for Deon Cain downfield.
SOTU: The defense has a lot of changes since last year. Who are the playmakers and what do you think of the D overall?
STS: As mention, this defense lost a ton of playmakers. DE Vic Beasley and DL Grady Jarrett are making an impact for the Atlanta Falcons. LB Stephone Anthony is on the Saints and LB Tony Steward is on the Bills. That's just the top of the list. You'd think they'd be dramatically worse after losing so much talent, and to be sure, they definitely don't have the depth they had last season. I'd worry if this team ran into an elite up-tempo attack like Baylor that could wear out the starters, but as it stands, this unit has far exceeded expectations.I'll call out three players that did not start last season, but are currently playing a big role in making this defense so effective. Shaq Lawson at DE is Clemson's best pass rusher on the line and is tied for 10th in the nation with 10.5 TFL (four of the guys with more have played one more game).Cordrea Tankersley was thrust into a starting role at CB after the ever-underrated senior Garry Peters departed. Playing opposite Mac Alexander, the best CB in the nation, he is constantly picked on and generally holds his own. He has one sack and two interceptions so far this season.Finally, Ben Boulware at WLB has taken the spot of the departed Tony Steward and prevented any drop off at the position. With a true freshman behind him, Boulware seems to be in on every play. He's a warrior stuffing the run and attacking on blitzes that disrupt opposing offenses. Contributions from these three have been crucial. Look for them to be relied on heavily if Clemson is to beat Miami.
SOTU: Any lingering bad memories of SLS from the Orange Bowl when West Virginia scored about a million points?
STS: The last time we played at Sun Life Stadium we beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. The last time we played the 'Canes there it was an overtime win for the Tigers... So no.
SOTU: What's your prediction for Saturday's game between Clemson and Miami?
STS: Clemson will be looking for their 35th straight win over an unranked opponent. Doing it against Brad Kaaya on the road will be tough, but this is more than just a contest between the two top QBs in the conference. Clemson has about 250 more rushing yards than Miami so far this season (more attempts and a better YPC). I expect they'll do a better job establishing the run and setting the tone.Brad Kaaya is a star, but he can't do it all himself. Maybe I'm dead wrong and he'll earn the title of best QB in the conference, but I don't believe that to be very likely. As long as Clemson gets the turnovers under control, they should win. I'll take the always consistent Tigers to win this one by a score of 34-24 or something similar.
We thank Ryan for giving us his insight into the Clemson Tigers. You can check his work, and see all kinds of Clemson content over on Shakin' the Southland.