Good morning, Canes fans!
We’re back with another opponent Q&A to get a view of this week’s opponent from behind enemy lines.
Joining us for this week to talk about the ACC Championship Game and the Clemson Tigers is Brian Lewis, Managing Editor of our SBNation sister-site Shakin’ The Southland.
I returned the favor and answered questions for Brian and STS, and you can read that piece here:
We sit down with @TheStateOfTheU to talk Clemson - Miami https://t.co/5Xfm11tWo8— Garbage & Bottle Attack (@STSouthland) November 30, 2017
And here’s our half of the Q&A:
Q1. What are the high and low points of Clemson's 2017 to date?
Brian Lewis (STS): So far the high is probably last weekend's win over South Carolina. There was a lot of talk about "disrespect" and how the 2016 blowout would never be repeated. Then Clemson just sat on the Gamecocks for 60 minutes. The wins against Auburn, VT, and Louisville were great, but there is something satisfying about beating your rival. The low point is definitely the loss to Syracuse. Playing a QB who was obviously injured and limited, breaking in a new kicker, and losing all made it a pretty terrible game.
Q2. What are your impressions on Kelly Bryant as he's taken over for CFB legend Deshaun Watson at QB this year? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a QB?
STS: I think Bryant has exceeded expectations, especially since most of us thought he would be replaced as the starter by Hunter Johnson during the year. Bryant is a better runner than even Watson, though he doesn't quite have the pocket presence. He's bigger and stronger, likely faster as well. Throwing the ball he's not as accurate, but he is better at protecting the ball because he knows his limits, and sometimes underestimates his ability. He may not wow like Watson did, but he's a well above average college QB.
Q3. Clemson's run game has a bunch of talented backs. Who are the names to know, and what do they do best?
STS: Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster are the two primary backs. Etienne has an ability to accelerate through the hole that makes him a rare breed of RB. Feaster is more of an all around back but both will get plenty of carries on Saturday. Etienne may get to 1000 yards this year despite not getting more than maybe 15-20 carries a game. He's explosive and a game changer. If y'all see much of CJ Fuller and Adam Choice it probably means the game is a blowout. Both are decent backs, but they don't provide much beyond a generic college RB so I wouldn't expect to see more than 5ish carries a piece.
Q4. Clemson has receivers for days. Give me an overview of the cast and what each brings to the table?
STS: The big names are Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow. You'll remember Renfrow from his time doing things like catching national title winning passes with 1 second remaining. He's a smaller "grit" WR but he's dependable and a go to guy on 3rd downs. Don't be surprised to see him get open too, he's got a decent amount of agility and uses it well. Deon Cain is the closest thing to a #1 receiver Clemson has. We give him some stick because he isn't Mike Williams, but he's extremely fast, catches the ball well most of the time, and causes problems. Ray Ray McCloud is the other name and you'll hear a lot about him in the return game. But he's also a great jet sweep/motion WR that causes a lot of problems when the staff uses him. One guy to keep an eye out for is Tee Higgins. He's a true freshman and hasn't gotten a ton of snaps, but he's 6'5" and absolutely abused South Carolina last week. He creates matchup nightmares for defenses and I could see him becoming a bit of an X factor.
Q5. Mitch Hyatt won the Jacobs Blocking Award as the ACC's best offensive lineman. Who joins the talented LT along Clemson's OL?
STS: The other name you'll probably hear a lot is Tyrone Crowder who has the most potential out of anyone not named Hyatt. The thing with Clemson's OL is that it is solid if not spectacular. A lot of guys do a decent job, but they have problems with some blitz pickup.
Q6. Clemson's calling card is a strong, tenacious Defense. Who are the leaders/players to know on that side of the ball?
STS: Pretty much the entire DL. But Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are the big guys in the middle. But Austin Bryant out wide is going to generate a big pass rush as well. At LB Kendall Joseph is the leader of this defense. He gets downhill quickly to meet the run and his lateral movement has been critical at stopping various option attacks. You'll also hear a lot about LB Dorian O'Daniel who has coverage skills to match his run support and blitzing. His ability to cover slot receivers and TEs may be critical on Saturday.
Q7. Clemson and Miami have 2 of the top DLs in college football. If you combined those groups, who would be your 4 starters up front?
STS: If we assume everyone is healthy, I'd probably be a homer and take all 4 of Clemson's starting lineman. 3 of these guys will likely be 1st round draft picks in the NFL and Austin Bryant is likely going before the end of the second or third round. Our entire 2 deep on the DL averages out to 4 stars right now, a .5 star more than Miami. But from Miami I do like McIntosh even those his stats may not be eye popping. I'm also curious to see Joseph Jackson and what he can do against Clemson's OL.
Q8. What is Clemson's biggest weakness on Defense that Miami can exploit?
STS: Tempo and aggression. Syracuse beat Clemson with quick short passes and NC State had a lot of success with it as well. They also allowed Clemson's DL to be agressive and undisciplined and took advantage of the mistakes. I think if Miami is going to have success they'll have to perform in a similar way. But even then Clemson's secondary is healthy unlike the NC State game and hopefully our DL will not be undisciplined. If Miami is able to run at tempo and get a lot of quick passes outside I think they'll have an excellent chance to win. Just don't throw any pick-6's like South Carolina id.
Q9. Miami has been great at forcing turnovers this year, but Clemson is also averaging > 1 TO created per fame. How have the Tigers been able to take the ball away from their opponents?
STS: Mostly it has just been making the right reads in pass coverage. I'm not sure Clemson is doing anything special this year outside of getting pressure on the QB. With our DL it is rare that DC Brent Venables has to bring a blitz to generate a pass rush. That lets some of the LBs sit in coverage and QBs don't always see them. This is a change from previous years when LB limitations forced a lot blitzing out of Clemson's defense.
Q10. Special teams gets little love, but has a huge impact on the games. Who in the kicking and return games could have an impact on Saturday's game?
STS: Etienne and Ray Ray McCloud will be the names to watch in our return game. They can break one with their speed and acceleration, but it seems like Clemson's return game is just ok beyond that minimal threat. When punting Clemson has gotten some excellent punts out of Will Spiers, he's finally learning how to pin punts inside the 20 and he's always had a good leg. While he may not be one of the best he's not a liability and occasionally can flip the field.
FGs and kickoffs, well let's just not do those things. Greg Huegel tore is ACL before the Syracuse game and his replacement, Alex Spence started off rocky. He missed 2 FGs against Syracuse, part of why Clemson lost, and doesn't have much range beyond 30-35 yards. Expect Clemson to go for it unless it is a "gimme" FG. On kickoffs Spence has just been ugly. Miami will have plenty of opportunities to return kicks.
Q11. Clemson fans are quick to bring up 58-0, but y'all know that we thank you for that, right?
STS: See I like this. South Carolina fans don't thank us for beating them 56-7 in 2016. I just don't understand why not.......
[editorial response to the response: probably because that didn’t precipitate a full-scale program reset that has South Cak in the conversation for the CFP. But I digress....]
Q12. What would a berth in the College Football Playoff mean for Clemson Football?
STS: It is a continuation of the dominant program Dabo has built at Clemson. A win on Saturday would give Clemson 4 ACC titles in 7 years and 2 national title appearances, possibly a third depending on bowl games. It would arguably make this the most successful era of Clemson football in terms of achievement. And more importantly I think it would show Clemson was not just about Deshaun Watson. The entire team is talented and can succeed.
Q13. Miami wreaks havoc on the defensive front, and can score on any offensive play with their explosiveness. Which of those 2 things most concerns you heading into Saturday's game?
STS: Y'alls DL is my bigger worry. Clemson's defense is 8th in the country in IsoPPP allowed. I also think that y'alls inaccuracy at QB helps Clemson a lot. A coverage bust will be unusual for Clemson's defense so you'll have to make spectacular plays in the passing game to be explosive and in the run game I'm not sure Clemson has allowed more than 4-5 big plays all year. Of course saying that all but guarantees a big run for a TD from y'all I guess.
But if Miami's DL is able to get pressure and kill the running game it will be a long day for Clemson. Then our defense has to work harder and it gives Miami more opportunities. Auburn is the best example of this. Their DL provided them with a lot of cover on defense and made the game against them a real struggle.
Q14. What do you think the fan ratio will be for the ACCCG since it's just 137 miles from Clemson's campus?
STS: I expect a decent Miami crowd, I know y'all sold out your allotment, but with so many Clemson fans my guess is at least 60-40 in favor of Clemson. But it wouldn't surprise me if it becomes more 70-30ish depending on the exact ticket allotment for each school.
Q15. Prediction time: how does the game play out and who wins? (include a score)
STS: I think it is close. Miami is the second best team, behind Auburn, that Clemson will face this year. But I think the accuracy issues at QB and Clemson's abiliity to run the ball will be the difference. But I'm thinking a 1 score game in the area of 21-14 in favor of Clemson, but an "upset" according to the pundits wouldn't surprise me.
Thanks to Brian for joining us in the opponent Q&A this week. You can read his work, and the work of other talented writers, over at Shakin’ the Southland.