Embarrassment. Last week after the Western Carolina game I wrote that we just needed to chalk that game up as an anomaly. It was a bad game before our annual contest against our biggest rival, and surely we were going to pull things together and play a competitive game against Clemson.
Instead, the game against the Catamounts should have set off flashing red lights and sirens all over the place. Our bend but don’t break defense that had experienced extraordinarily good fortune in the red zone for most of the season was gashed by one of the worst teams in the FCS. If we couldn’t get off the field against WCU, what in the world made us think we could against Clemson? Yes, our red zone defense had been stellar for most of the season, mostly due to timely turnovers – some born of good plays by the defense, but some that could be attributed to boneheaded plays by our opponents.
The fact is our coaches never wanted to be a bend-but-don’t-break defense, that’s just the way things played out over the course of the season. I guarantee you Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson would’ve preferred we stop teams before they ever got over the 50. But we simply weren’t good enough any phase of our defense to stop teams between the twenties, and we had to rely on stopping them once they were faced with a smaller field to work with.
Unfortunately, there was no bowing up, no locking down, and most certainly no luck for the Gamecocks on Saturday night on any part of the field. Clemson was light years better on offense than we were on defense. They were more physical, faster and more talented across the board and it showed more than at perhaps any other time in the history of the rivalry. The game was quite literally over at 14-0, and the Tigers could have scored 80 points if they had felt so inclined.
What about our offense against their defense? It was no better. Our turnstile offensive line was beaten on virtually every play. Our freshman quarterback who couldn’t be rattled was beyond rattled. We couldn’t run, couldn’t pass, and had to resort to a trick play to avoid being shut out.
The 2016 Carolina-Clemson game was the thing of nightmares. It was domination, and it was swift and decisive. It was also a complete and total embarrassment.
NO-ffense. A few years ago I was the offensive coordinator for a youth football team. I remember one game in particular where we were not only not moving the ball, but were losing yardage on practically every play. We had decent skill players, but our offensive line was atrocious. Around the third quarter I starting hearing rumblings of frustration from the fans in the stands, which were right behind us. The rumblings grew louder, until finally I heard…
“COME ON COACH!”
I had literally run ever play in the playbook (granted, they were kids, it wasn’t a very big playbook) and nothing was working. I was helpless.
I remembered this when I saw some folks complaining about Kurt Roper on Saturday night, and I felt kind of bad for him. I could just imagine him sitting in the press box looking at his play sheet wondering what the hell in front of him might work. I know there are plenty of your who think Roper is a bad OC. There are some who think he is a good OC, but doesn’t have the talent (OL specifically) to run his offense at the moment. I lean towards the latter personally, but will admit that may only be wishful thinking.
What I do know is very little of what he had planned for Saturday night had a chance of working. Not because he had a game plan, and not because his guys did know what they were supposed to be doing. It was because they didn’t have the ABILITY to do what needed to be done. They didn’t have the ability to beat the man in front of them. And until we fix that, our offense will always look pedestrian, or worse.
Onward and upward. Last week on our podcast we were asked what could put a damper on this season. Well, a 56-7 loss to our rival has certainly done it for the time being. Our bowl destination, opponent, and a positive outcome in that game could certainly put some salve on the wound, but there is obviously quite a bit of work to be done.
As far as next year, I still think this team can be a contender for the SEC East title, mostly because just about everyone will be a contender for the SEC East title. But seriously, we found a quarterback in Jake Bentley, and skill players in Rico Dowdle, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards that should make the offense more consistent and more explosive provided the offensive line can improve. On defense we need significant help at defensive end, linebacker and safety, and will hopefully find that in the offseason. I think an 8-4 regular season would not be too much to ask for 2017.
Can we close the gap on Clemson? I certainly think so, mostly because they should come back to the pack a bit next year. Now, some Tiger fan will get a hold of this and tell me about all the talent they have waiting in the wings, which is fine. But they have to replace the best quarterback in school history, who also happens to be the best player in the country and will be a first-round draft pick. They have to replace a first-rounder in Mike Williams and others who will be in the NFL next year including Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman, Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware.
The last two seasons have cemented Clemson as a recognized national brand, and that’s something we’ll have to deal with for a while. The best way to deal with it is to recruit better, coach better and play better. All those things are on Will Muschamp, and he has his work cut out for him.
Extracurricular. It really made me sick(er) to wake up on Sunday morning and read about all of the accusations of racial slurs, disrespect, etc. being thrown around. I have mixed feelings about most of it and pretty strong feelings about one specific aspect. So here are my stream of consciousness thoughts:
- Racial slur by a Clemson player – I’m not sure what to think of this. I find it hard to believe a Clemson player would direct a racial slur at a South Carolina player when the make-up of both rosters is overwhelmingly black. At the same time, it’s an odd accusation to just make up out of thin air. Something happened, but what we’ll probably never know.
- Racial slur by a Clemson fan – Honestly, would anyone be surprised by this? And I don’t mean because it’s a Clemson fan, I mean because it’s a fan, period. Out of millions of Clemson fans, and millions of South Carolina fans, do you not think there are more than a handful of raging racists on either side? And do you not think those people would throw out a racial epithet if given the opportunity? It’s disgusting, it’s humiliating, and it is unfortunately part of the world in which we live. It’s not a South Carolina or Clemson problem, it’s an everybody problem. And it’s up to you and me to stop it when we see or hear it.
- Disrespect, Part I – Ah, yes, the “d” word. I get it, nobody likes to have trash talked in their face then they’re getting their asses handed to them. The old man in me is always inclined to say “if you don’t like it then do something about it”. And if you can’t do something about it, don’t whine about it. But on the other hand, sometimes there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, even in the brutal game of football. Which brings me to…
Disrespect, Part II. So here’s what I had a problem with – the curtain call. I’ve seen a lot of curtain calls in my 40 years of being a sports fan, but never one quite as showy at the one at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Dabo Swinney took out a lot of his starters in the third quarter, including Watson, Williams and Scott. At that point, up by six touchdowns, it was obvious he was not going to need the services of those guys or his three remaining time outs. It would have been easy to do the curtain call right then and there, and have those same guys run off to the same applause they got later in the game.
Instead, that group sat until late in the fourth quarter. Swinney called time out, and when the Tigers ran back on the field the starters were back in. They stood to rousing applause, waving their arms and gesticulating to the crowd, until the play clock ran down and Swinney called another time out. They then ran off the field to more applause and smiles and hugs.
I’m sure it was humiliating for our guys to have to stand out there for the better part of five minutes and have their noses rubbed in the worst loss of their football careers. At that point all they wanted was for the clock to run out and get the hell out of there. Yes, yes, if you don’t like it, do something about it. But for Dabo Swinney to be such a champion of integrity and respect and doing things the right way, that was one hell of a bush league move.
I have no doubt in my mind Will Muschamp didn’t appreciate that one bit. Hopefully someday he’ll have a chance to do something similar in return, and he’ll pass.