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Paws up, Paws down

Nathan Wener, staff
Kelly Bryant

Paws up: Kelly Bryant’s ankle:

Kelly Bryant injured his ankle against Wake Forest three weeks ago. He went into the tent to be looked at, and although he practiced throwing on the sideline, did not return the game. Bryant started the game against Syracuse the following Friday, but it was obvious after Clemson’s first possession that he was not healthy. He was later pulled in favor of backup Zerrick Cooper, and the Tigers eventually lost that game 27-24. 

Clemson had a bye week after that which gave Bryant a chance to rehab his ankle further. What a difference a bye week can make. Bryant looked like his old self, maybe even a shade better. He made 12 rushing attempts for 73 yards, good for a 5.6-yard per rush average, which is exactly two yards per rush higher than his season average. He looks better and the offense is more dangerous for it.  

Paws up: Linebackers

Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar and Dorian O’Daniel comprise the starting linebackers corps. They make up three out of the 11 starting defensive players, or 27 percent in a base 4-3 defense. In other packages, specifically the nickel and dime packages, which substitute a linebacker for a quarterback (two linebackers in the nickel, one in the dime), linebackers are represented even less. 

Yet, the starting linebackers accounted for 34 percent of the total tackles, 75 percent of the sacks, 33 percent of the forced fumbles, 100 percent of the pass breakups and 33 percent of the quarterback hits. The reason for those stats is because defensive coordinator Brent Venables employs a defensive strategy to stop the triple option, which uses the defensive line to disrupt and contain the play and the linebackers to finish it. 

For Clemson to win, the linebackers needed to be their best, and they absolutely were. They are easily a top-five corps in the nation that help steer a top-five defense in the nation.  

Paws up: Offensive line

Zero sacks. None. Kelly Bryant took no sacks and just two quarterback hits. Behind the line of scrimmage, Bryant was virtually untouched. Bryant often scrambles if the pocket starts to tremble, but even when he did, there was enough running room for him to at least make the line of scrimmage. While some may say this could be because Georgia Tech has a terrible defense, that is not true. They rank 26th in total defense. 

If we look at rushing defense, they still rank 35th, which is in the top third of all FBS teams, only allowing 131.7 yards per game. Clemson gained 250 on the ground. The offensive line created holes for the running game and protected Bryant when he was passing. It was their best performance all year. 

Paws down: Tanner Muse

It is possible for a top defense to have an underperforming player. Muse has already been penalized twice and ejected once for making a questionable head-to-head hit on a player. Lamar Jackson was ruled defenseless when Muse came in for the hit because he could not get out of the way. He lapses in judgment on a regular basis. The other penalty was for unnecessary roughness which came on a late hit out of bounds. These lapses are not only when he tackles, but also in pass coverage. 

In the second quarter, Muse was set up over the top of the defense with Van Smith, the other safety.The slot receiver made his way past the linebacker covering him and passed through the zone that Muse was covering. Muse did not immediately jump on that coverage, which allowed the receiver to get open with no one to catch him. Luckily, Georgia Tech’s quarterback missed the throw by a wide margin, but the mistake was there. Muse cannot let a receiver run right by him when he is the last line of defense. 

Paws down: Play-calling with a lead

Yet again, the Clemson offense sputtered and died in the second half when it was humming like a finely- tuned engine in the first half. Twenty-one of the total 24 points were scored in the first 30 minutes of play. Just three were scored in the second half, and that was on the first possession of the third quarter. 

The offensive game plan banks on scoring points early in the game and riding the results of the defense for the rest of the game. The one time this didn’t work, they lost. Even against Auburn, when they didn’t score first, the defense maintained the small points gap to help the offense catch up. Every other game that they have won has been that game plan, and it is incredibly unfair to the defense. This should be a team effort. Granted, it’s not always possible if one side of the ball has better players than the other, but with the amount of talent on the offense, it is unfair that the defense must shoulder the load. 

Paws down: Officiating

No this is not Clemson’s fault. The problem with a lot of penalties is that they are a judgment call. I’m not saying that being a referee is easy by any means, but sometimes calls are a little bit too by the book. 

Deon Cain was called for an offensive pass interference (OPI) penalty on a play where he didn’t even catch the ball. Cain made a stiff-arm type of move in the direction of the corner, but he ended up making very light contact against him that equates to a flick. It wasn’t pass interference. Another penalty was called during a sack play made by Dorian O’Daniel. It was a defensive holding penalty that occurred after O’Daniel had tackled the quarterback. If the holding occurs when the quarterback is on the ground, it didn’t affect the play and doesn’t warrant the bestowing of yards.

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