Nov 10

My Take on the Tigers

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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The Tigers got off to a rough 2-3 start in 2009, and many thought the program was a mess. But Coach Dabo Swinney was going to have none of it. Now, Five weeks and four wins later, Clemson is once again thinking big. All Tiger fans know the situation, and they know that their team has been close before, but none of that past matters with three regular season games to go this year.

The latest Tiger game saw them defeat Florida State in a big way. It is odd to say that considering FSU had the lead (and the ball) with about ten minute left. But that is when Clemson showed that it was time to close the door on a team that it was better than - something it has had trouble with doing. The Tigers rattled off 19 straight points in the last 9:00 to send the Seminoles out of Death Valley, and showed the depth and talent that they have accumulated.

Now, this article isn't a Clemson love-fest for my favorite team. I understand totally that they are just 6-3, and that an ACC Atlantic Division crown is still a very long way from in the bag. And trust me, not a soul on Earth needs to remind me that this team lost to lowly Maryland back in early October. That game will haunt me for years. But what I am saying in this article is that what could have been an absolute disaster with CU eliminated early from ACC contention, has turned into them having a dadgum good chance to make it to Tampa. Instead of hearing "fire Dabo," we are hearing "All in!" instead.

So at 6-3 and 4-2 in the ACC, Clemson is wins over NC State and Virginia from reaching the ACCCG. Here are some thoughts that come to my mind concerning Clemson football:

* The BC win is not being talked about, but should be. This is the game - way back in week three - that has helped Clemson as much as any other. The Eagles also have two losses in the ACC, but fortunatley, Clemson has the tie-break over them. Boston College had given the Tigers fits in previous years, but this year CU took care of business in the pouring rain for a huge Atlantic Division win. BC has three conference games left (at UVA, North Carolina, at Maryland), and could lose again, but it is great to know that if something went wrong, we still have a shot at reaching Tampa by having that tiebreak.

* TCU and GT having big seasons. Ok, we all know about the Maryland loss. I may go see a hypnotist to try to get that thought removed from my head. But let's look at how Clemson's other two losses' opponents have fared. TCU has won every single game on their schedule and sits at number 4 in the AP. Georgia Tech has been on a tear, with their only loss of the year at Miami, and they sit at number 7 in the AP poll. I know this is a silly game to play, but hey, the more they win, the better it is for Clemson. By regular season's end, both should be in the top-5. I wonder who is kicking themselves more - Clemson for losing to Maryland?! Or Ohio State for losing to Purdue?!

* The Hill view from ESPN. Fast forward to the 3:15 mark and enjoy. The guy in the orange jacket and white hat talking to Dabo is Lucas Glover (yes, the 2009 US Open Champ), 2001 Clemson grad. ESPN did a great job covering this - pause at the 4:27 mark to see perfection defined in a photo....I have been to a lot of venues, and there are still many more to see. But nobody will ever convince me that any entrance will get you more fired up than the one that Clemson has for a big game, especially at night.

* Kyle Parker's development. At the beginning of the season, Parker was very hyped up, and now we can see why. Yes, he made freshman mistakes against Maryland, TCU and GT that hurt us in each of those games. And in the rest of 2009, there is a very good chance that he will make a couple of more mistakes. But he has shown week by week that he is improving, and he has learned, most importantly, when to get rid of the ball and not to make too much happen. He has also learned to buy time for his receivers to get open, and to check across the whole field instead of eyeing down one man. Having CJ Spiller makes any quarterback look good, but Parker is coming of age in a big way. Parker's numbers for the 2009 season thus far are 1,665 yards and 14 touchdowns (one rushing td, also) with nine interceptions. Against FSU Saturday he was 18 of 30 for 242 yards and four scores.

* Andre Ellington - the future. With all of the talk on CJ Spiller, CU has quietly developed a solid "replacement" for Spiller in 2010. A guy like Spiller can never be totally replaced, but Ellington looks as if he has the moves, the speed, and the toughness to be another outstanding Tiger running back. The freshman from Moncks Corner has 335 yards on the year on the ground, and another 48 yards receiving - not numbers that will blow you away, but let's remember where 75 percent of the touches are going - Mr. Spiller. Ellington has those two touchdowns in the last two games, and against FSU had 54 yards on just 6 carries, showing fancy footwork many times.

* De'Andre McDaniel perhaps the best safety in America. While leading the nation in interceptions with eight, McDaniel is also one of the most physical players on the team. Saturday night he delivered a blow to FSU quarterback Christian Ponder that will be on Tiger defensive highlight reels for years to come. Now, please understand that I do not like to see any player seriosuly injured, after all it is a game. But quarterbacks are taught from day one to protect their bodies, and this is why: McDaniel, who grew up in the Tallahassee area, said he was as ready for this game as any he has ever been in. Ponder, who admirably prevented McDaniel from scoring the touchdown, is now out for the season with a seperated shoulder.

* CJ and the Heisman. It took 11 weeks, but finally CJ Spiller is on nearly everyone's Heisman list, and rightfully so. Some even have him as the favorite now. No, he does not lead the nation as a running back. But the last time I checked, they don't have a rule that says only your running yards and running scores count. He is an all-purpose player. He is UNIQUE. He is SPECIAL. Against Miami and FSU, Spiller had 310 and 312 yards respectively all purpose and three scores. With three regular season games to go, he has 1,073 yards via the pass/run combo, and four kick returns for touchdowns. He is well on pace for a 1,500 yard offensive season and over 15 touchdowns. By the way, he is literally the fastest player in the NCAA, as proven on the track. Not a Heisman guy, huh?

* Dabo Quotes. Coach Swinney has a lot of quotes he loves to use. From "All in!" to "Nothing is less important than the score at half-time", Swinney sometimes goes overboard with his one-liners. But there is one quote he likes to use that I couldn't agree more with. "A winning streak can start at anytime," he has been known to say, and that is the truth. After a terrible start, CU has now won four straight, and they don't want to stop there. With three regular season games left, and possibly two more after that, the Tigers can keep this streak going and climb back into the national picture, making 2009 a resounding success.

* Deep breath, here we go....Two winnable - but scary - games are left on the Clemson slate for 2009. Win them both, and Clemson goes to Tampa with a one game shot for the ACC crown and a BCS berth. Lose one of these two, and those chances fall tremendously. First up is a road trip to NC State where an under-acheiving Pack team will be waiting to do anything to pull the upset. They beat Pitt back in week four, so it is possible. State is bad, but they have just good enough talent, and a decent home-field advantage, and that game could be tricky. Following that is the home game with UVA. Again, a very sorry, under-acheiving team are the Cavaliers. But with Al Groh coaching perhaps his last few games, and with some decent NFL talent, you never know what UVA will do... The Tigers should win both, and I feel like they will. I hope I am not cursing myself by saying this, but I feel this is the year Clemson finally reaches Tampa. They have weapons on offense and defense, and have great senior leadership in CJ Spiller, Ricky Sapp, and others.

So there it is, my look at the Tigers as we get into this last final stretch of the regular season....Thoughts?


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