Oct 27

My Take on the Tigers

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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Clemson Tigers (4-3, 3-2 ACC). With so many games going on, and so many teams to try to keep up with, I haven't had a good chance to really take a step back and write about what Clemson has going on so far in 2009. I try to cover all teams fairly on Fans25.com, but just like each of you, I am a fan, and my favorite team is now going to get the front page for a day or two. I thought of several different ways to structure this article, but in the end I just decided to start typing my feelings...
If you are a Clemson fan, 2009 has already been a roller-coaster ride. Whenever you combine a first-year quarterback with a first-year head coach, that is asking for trouble - and the Tigers found some. But after seven games, we as Clemson fans have some very exciting things to think about as we enter the second half of the season.
Thank goodness it is a long season because after the first five games, it wasn't looking good for Dabo Swinney, who I really like. Besides the fact that he is a bright, promising, enthusiastic young coaching mind, he is also passionate about Clemson and cares about Clemson, and for that I truly am glad he is our head coach. But five games in, he was catching major heat. Losses to Georgia Tech and TCU were somewhat understandable, but a loss to Maryland had Tiger fans everywhere saying, "Oh no, what have we gotten ourselves into?" The Tigers seemed like the same ole teams of past days, where finding a way to lose was becoming a program trademark. Weird things happened in each of the three losses, and the boiling point of frustration had been reached by everyone from the fans in the stands, to the waterboys, to the players, to the coaches.
Something had to be done. Here was a team with as much - if not more - talent than any team in the conference, and yet it was sitting at 1-2 in league play. Luckily for Clemson, an open date fell at just the right time. Coach Swinney used that two weeks to regather his team, work on fundamentals, and get some things straight with his first team. Swinney has a football background based on hard tackling and fundamentals as he played for Gene Stallings at Alabama. He knew that this was the problem, and that his team was close to being very good.
When the Tigers came out against Wake Forest in week six, they were a different team, and they did look very good. They could have come out flat as they had a losing record and were out of the national picture for the most part. But they didn't. The defense put on an absolute clinic, holding Wake to just three points and 81 yards rushing, and CJ Spiller and the offense put up 38 points of their own for the decisive win. This got the team back to .500 for the season, and with every other team in the division getting a loss within a week of this win, theTigers had new life.
And this brings us to the excitement of this past weekend against Miami. Clemson entered the game at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the ACC. Miami came into the game at 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the ACC, as well as being ranked #8 in the AP poll. This was the chance Dabo and company had been longing for since the final moments of the Maryland game, when Kyle Parker was sacked to seal the loss. Three long weeks and one league win later, Clemson was back in position to make something good out of this 2009 season.
This was a game that the Tigers had to have. How, you say, can a team that is unranked "have to have" a game on the road against a top-10 program? Well, that is because Clemson considers itself every bit the program that Miami is, and it was time to show it. The Tigers had as much speed and talent as the Hurricanes did, and were sick of being left out of the ACC race. On top of that, for future recruiting purposes, it was vital that CU continued to leave an impression in the southern Florida area.
Clemson took advantage of this situation by not only playing the Hurricanes to one of the most exciting games of the 2009 season anywhere or in any conference, but by taking home a road win in dramatic fashion. The Tigers and 'Canes swapped the lead eleven times, with CU having it after the final play of the first overtime when Kyle Parker hit Jacoby Ford on a crossing route for a 26-yard score. This set off a wild celebration in the end zone for a Clemson team that has lost close so, so, so many times over the last few years. Lost close games that come to mind are Boston College, Auburn, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, TCU, and Maryland to name just a few - the list is actually longer, I'm sure...
This game in Miami was great for the team and the prgram, there is no doubt about that, but it is also great for a most deserving of Tiger players: CJ Spiller. A track star as well as a football star, Spiller has done things on the football field that I will be telling my grandkids about (if I ever get married and have my own kids first). The guy is fast as lightning, and has moves that Michael Jackson would be jealous of. On top of that, he is a guy that represents Clemson with class and has not been in any kind of trouble since he was signed as perhaps our biggest ever recruit in February of 2006. I highly recommend that if you are a Clemson fan, you watch closely everytime he touches the ball from here on out, because there is a good chance we will never have a player this good again. 
So what now for this team? Games ahead are against Coastal Carolina, Florida State, at NC State, Virginia and at South Carolina. Can the Tigers win out? I believe they can. Three weeks ago I would have certainly said otherwise, but now I feel differently. There are several reasons why I think winning outis possible, and that for the first time, the ACC Championship Game will see my Tigers on one sideline (and hopefully GT on the other). Here is what excites me about the rest of the 209 season, and why I see Clemson winning out.
* DeAndre McDaniel and the Clemson defense. McDaniel may be the most under-rated player in the country. On top of his seven interceptions which lead not only the ACC, but the country, McDaniel is hard-hitting and makes plays at the line of scrimmage as well as picking off passes. The Clemson defennsive line is also a gang of beasts. Ricky Sapp, DeQuan Bowers, Jamie Cumbie, Jarvis Jenkins, Brandon Thompson, Macillah Goodman, and Andre Branch give the Tigers a defensive front that will keep them in every game that they play in.
* CJ Spiller. When you have a guy like this on your team, you are always three plays from 21 points. That keeps you psychollogically from getting to down if you find yourself losing big early. Spiller can turn games around in a heartbeat, and did so again last week against Miami with a kickoff return to make the score 14-10, Clemson. He is as diverse as he is fast, scoring via the air, the ground, kickoffs, punts, whatever. If the Heisman trophy hadn't lost track of where it came from, Spiller would be the clear-cut favorite at this point. He is a weapon in every sense of the word. His mind-boggling numbers for 2009 are: 547 yards rushing and three touchdowns, 267 yards receiving and two touchdowns, 459 yards on kick returns and three touchdowns (tied for 1st in touchowns nationally and 3rd nationally right now with 38.6 yard average per return), 295 yards on punt returns and a score.
* Kyle Parker's progress. He has gotten better for sure, and is very close to being exactly what Clemson needs him to be. But he has one problem to overcome: not taking the sack. Twice in the last three games Parker (9 touchdowns, 6 INTs, 1,353 yards) has failed to take a sack and it has resulted in two Clemson turnovers. Fix this issue, and Parker is having a very solid freshman campaign. His "rocket arm" is as advertised, and he seems to have a good football savvy. He also runs well with the ball.
* A point to prove. Ok, I know that football games are won with x's and o's and blocking and tackling. Still though, one cannot be blind to the fact that Clemson has not made the ACC title game since its conception in 2005. Twice the Tigers were a game away and fell just short. This year, they find themselves in the thick of the hunt once again, and the situation (at least right now) is in their favor. CU has the tiebreak over BC and Wake should it come down to it, and Maryland, FSU, and NC State are having very bad seasons. It is there for the taking, and Clemson has to take it this time.
So there are some reasons why I feel Clemson will finish strong and finally represent the Atlantic in Tampa at the ACC title game. Sure, things can go wrong. I am yet to believe that weird things are finished happening to this team, and I also have respect for each of our upcoming opponents. When I look at the teams that Clemson has remaining, each one of them represent a little bit of a different kind of scare. I think the Tigers get by Coastal Carolina pretty easily Saturday, but then it gets a bit trickier.

Florida State is up first after CCU, and though they are down, they have shown twice that they can win on the road (BYU and UNC), and Christian Ponder is a very dangerous quarterback. After a mediocre 2009, a win at Clemson would be huge for them - this game is definetly going to take all that the Tigers have and then some. I think the Tigers are better, and there will be a frenzied home crowd to have their back, but you can bet Bobby would love nothing more than to ruin Dabo's first season. After all, this was Tommy's team last year.

Following the game with the 'Noles, Clemson hits the road for the game that worries me the most in the ACC. NC State has had a bad year to say the least, and therefore are due to put it all together at some point. Just ask Pitt about NC State. The Pack are the only team to beat the 16th ranked Panthers in 2009. Again, CU is the far superior team, but situations like this are trouble, and in no way should NC State be considered a gimme win.

After NC State, the Tigers will come home to face UVA in what could be one of the funnest atmospheres in Death Valley's long history. I am getting way ahead of myself, but if things go as planned, beating the Cavaliers would seal a trip to Tampa. A month ago I would have said this was a sure win. But Virginia has won three of their last four, and aren't as bad as I thought. If this game is indeed for a trip to Tampa though, you can bet the Tigers run 'em out of Pickens County.

Finally, and all ACC matters aside, the Tigers will take the Young buses down to Columbia for a matchup with the Gamecocks. It is so way too early to tell what each team will be playing like entering this contest. Yes, at this point, South Carolina has the better record and a national ranking, but four weeks from now, who knows. No matter what either team has going on though, Clemson will not be worried about it. For some reason, Clemson always plays the Gamecocks well, and with a defense like ours, I see no reason why 2009 would be any different...

I start every season as an optimist, and this August was no exception. Now that the season has settled in, I feel even more optimistic as ever. The three losses hurt, and I just cannot understand how things such as what happened in College Park happen. But after seeing the potential in this team that I saw the last two games, I feel big things are in Clemson's future. Let us all not forget that Dabo Swinney is just seven games into his head coaching career. Yeah, he was the coach last year for half of the season, but things were up in the air and turmoil was abound. He is 4-3 in his first season, and has taken a team that was down in the dumps and turned them into a team that believes again.

I honestly believe this team is heading to Tampa. They will need some breaks, and they will need to stay focused, but it is their for the taking once again, and sooner or later it will go our way. Its like the old saying says, "If you ask enough, eventually you will get what you are asking for." And for Clemson and their fans, the Tigers have been asking for quite some time now!

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