You’re watching with eight or 83,000 of your closest friends, you’re cooking, enjoying yourself, watching the wrong thing, and something important slips by.
That’s why I’ve started doing this feature – a weekly rewind of Clemson football, the good and the bad. It helps me pick things up, and I think it’ll help you, too.
Without further ado, here’s what I picked up from ESPN’s broadcast of No. 3 Clemson 26, N.C. State 14:
After a week away, we’re welcomed back by the ESPN crew of Rece Davis, David Pollack, Jesse Palmer and Samantha Ponder on the sidelines.
Palmer – who played quarterback for one Steve Spurrier at Florida – does not appear to be a Clemson fan, but we’ll get to that eventually.
This game has the potential to get chippy early, as Tajh Boyd and N.C. State corner Jarvis Byrd exchange pleasantries following a Boyd draw.
N.C. State’s defense would get its revenge quickly. Defensive end Mike Rose gets right around right tackle Gifford Timothy for a big sack of Boyd, although he recovers with a great third-down sideline pass to Sammy Watkins for a first down.
David Pollack: “Clemson’s offensive line isn’t the most physical.”
Chad Morris digs into his playbook early for a Statue of Liberty play that sees Boyd feint left and hand off to Zac Brooks for a solid gain. Really impressive.
Clemson settles for a field goal after Martavis Bryant misses a catchable ball near the goal line and Art Norman gets around Timothy again for a momentum-killing sack.
That’ll be all we see of Timothy: he is replaced on the next drive by sophomore Shaq Anthony, and with good reason. He looked like a liability against State’s defensive line.
State’s first drive features defensive end Vic Beasley whiffing on a long Bryan Underwood run. Originally ruled a 45-yard run, it is called back to an 18-yard gain after officials rule his right foot taps the sideline. (This would be a theme).
Following another near-miss down the field, this certainly looks like an almost-but-not-quite night for Mr. Underwood. ESPN cuts to a State fan in the stands, burying his face in his hands; his friend next to him tosses a hat in anger.
Early this week, Chad Morris talked about Tajh Boyd taking what the defense gives him, i.e., checking down. But I do like him taking some deep shots, even if they’re ultimately a bit long for Martavis Bryant or Sammy Watkins.
I also like Mike Williams, who makes an excellent back-shoulder grab of a Boyd throw for a first down
We’ll be seeing more of him as the season goes on, especially with Charone Peake’s season-ending ACL tear.
Adam Humphries, elevated to a starting role in Peake’s stead, was largely inconsequential, going catch-less.
Also inconsequential: Jesse Palmer, who can suck the air out of any booth he’s in. The guy just never shuts up. I barely remembered David Pollack was even in Raleigh.
Dabo Swinney called a pair of smart timeouts in the first half – one led to a drive-extending third-down play, and another negated what appeared to be a certain pick-6 by N.C. State.
However, I agree with Rece Davis: it appeared that Bryant, the intended receiver on the play, heard the whistle and cut his route short.
I really like the way both Rod McDowell and Zac Brooks ran with power and speed. They’re an impressive backfield duo, and I think Morris would be wise to utilize Brooks on pass routes as well, on occasion. He tried the wheel route again Thursday, albeit with less success than against South Carolina State.
But perhaps the most underrated weapon on Clemson’s roster? Chandler Catanzaro. The man is now the program’s all-time scoring leader, and he’s automatic from inside 45 yards. (Plus, how about that near-perfect impromptu coffin corner pooch punt?)
Not so automatic? Clemson’s tackling.
The Wolfpack’s first scoring drive featured a coverage bust and miss by linebacker Stephone Anthony on Shadrach Thornton’s 32-yard screen pass, and missed tackles by Robert Smith and a host of others as Thornton dragged several tacklers at the end of a 21-yard touchdown run.
It’s safe to say the first half was not the finest half of Boyd’s college career. N.C. State got plenty of pressure on him, and he displayed some poor body language on the sideline. Ponder reports that Morris told him to simply be patient and play the game.
Morris shows confidence in him late in the first half, allowing Boyd to try a fourth and 1 at the N.C. State 20, which he converts with a quarterback draw.
And it was nice to see Sam Cooper – five months removed from a torn ACL – make a beautiful shoe-top snag for a go-ahead touchdown.
“In that case,” Davis says, “N.C. State could not hang with Mr. Cooper.”
Palmer has called a few Clemson games over the years, but he still hasn’t learned how to pronounce Mr. Swinney’s first name. It’s “Daa-BO,” not “DAH-BO,” Jesse.
With Clemson leading 13-7 at the half, Swinney says “that’s about as bad as we’ve played offensively in the first half,” and I’d tend to agree.
The real star Thursday night? Clemson’s defensive line. After Beasley whips past a State guard and wraps Pete Thomas’ legs up for a sack, Pollack declares him a “sudden, sudden athlete” and compares him to Jadeveon Clowney in terms of his burst off the line of scrimmage, calling him “freakishly fast.”
Travis Blanks didn’t have such a good night; the cameras catch Swinney giving him a major ear-ful after a personnel issue on a punt.
Now, Underwood’s second big run. By now, you’ve seen it broken down and re-broken like it’s the Zapruder film. Even ACC head of officials Doug Rhoads came out with a statement Friday essentially saying that they’d examined all angles, and there were angles that supported his right foot touching out at the 47-yard line, and those that showed him tip-toeing along the sideline inbounds the entire way.
“He got 36,” Davis intoned, “but 83 would have been preferable.”
That said, officials could not review the call because the play was blown dead, and such calls can’t be reviewed unless they’re inside the five-yard line.
Davis called it a “miss, and a tough, tough break for N.C. State.”
Having watched it repeatedly Thursday and Friday, I tend to agree with him.
The game turned on that play: three plays later, Beasley stripped Thomas, with Spencer Shuey (who was all over the field) recovering. Four plays later, Boyd connected with Bryant for a huge 30-yard touchdown and 20-7 lead.
Bryant’s game was perhaps the most important of any player on the offense: his back-shoulder catch over a Wolfpack corner iced the game at 26-7. Clemson obviously needs him to play as big as his 6-foot-5 frame allows.
With the game essentially over, ESPN dug into its “garbage time” material, which meant it was time for Palmer v. Clemson.
Palmer states that 2013 “has to be the year” that Clemson wins a national title, stating that the Tigers will lose Boyd, could lose Sammy Watkins and could also lose Morris. He also notes Clemson has 18 junior and senior starters (which is accurate), but seems to think that once the aforementioned trio departs, the Tigers will sink back into irrelevancy, ignoring any current young talent on the roster or in the recruiting pipeline.
Can Clemson win a national title?
“They can,” Pollack says. “I’m not going to say the odds are for them, but they can.”
Undaunted, Palmer jumps in after Davis brings up “Clemsoning” while noting that “people around the country still talk about it but their only two losses last year were to top-10 teams (FSU and South Carolina).”
Palmer: “You find the whole term ‘Clemsoning’ archaic. I think people should still talk about it. It just happened two years ago. Last year was good….”
Davis: “Why don’t we call it Florida State-ing? They’ve done it more recently.”
Palmer, unmoved: “But the fact that Clemson has done it recently (2011 vs. 2012). Georgia Tech, N.C. State, two years ago, guys, they got 70 hung on them in the Orange Bowl! 70!
“So if you want to change the perception, you’ve got to keep winning. They’ve done a very good job of it. They beat two top-10 SEC teams, but they have a lot of big games left on the schedule.”
Pollack: “They did this two years ago, but they did this and this and this…”
Palmer, obstinate: “It was two years ago, David. That’s not long enough for me to stop saying they Clemsoned.”
After N.C. State finishes a mostly meaningless 23-play, 84-yard touchdown drive, Davis introduces Swinney’s favorite graphic, which shows Clemson alongside Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma, USC, Stanford, Clemson as teams who’ve spent the last 30-plus weeks in the top 25.
“It was 16 games ago, it just happened,” Swinney said. “Get through this season, and it doesn’t happen, Rece,” Palmer says, “you can have your archaic term.”
On the field, left tackle Isaiah Battle is so upset with the booth discussion that he uppercuts Byrd, resulting in his ejection. (OK, maybe not, but you get the idea).
Clemson 26, N.C. State 14 wasn’t a work of art, but it was a win, nonetheless. One that raised Jesse Palmer’s blood pressure significantly.