Here's a look at the first round of images taken from Saturday's game against the Texas A&M Aggies…
Grading the Tigers at Texas A&M
Reggie McNeal looked like a Heisman Candidate Saturday evening, completely and efficiently carving up the Clemson defense. McNeal rushed 17 times for 129 yards (7.6 average) while throwing for another 178 yards that pushed his individual game stats to an astonishing 307 total yards.
McNeal also played smart, throwing only one bad pass the entire game. Facing 2nd and goal from the one yard line, McNeal lofted a lame duck ball into the end zone that went through Anthony Waters' hands. On the next play, the Aggies would score to put them up 7-0 and leaving the Tigers without a possible game changing play defensively.
While McNeal made some questionable pitches and reads on the option, he otherwise was nearly perfect in the game. Obviously, Clemson did very little to disrupt his rhythm and timing, and the Tiger defense paid for it dearly.
2. Turn Over The Turnovers
Coming into the game, Texas A&M had not turn the football over on a fumble or interception. On the other side, Clemson had been making mistakes and turning the ball over more times than they would like. For Clemson to have a chance last Saturday, the Tigers were going to have to change that trend. Unfortunately, it was the same old song and dance.
The Aggies did not turn the football over on Saturday, extending an incredible streak of zero turnovers so far this season. And other than the near miss by Waters in the end zone, the Aggies did not even come close to turning the ball over.
Unfortunately for Clemson, it was another game where the Tigers could not stop from stepping on their own tail. Charlie Whitehurst fumbled once and threw 3 interceptions giving the Tigers an un-winnable -4 ratio in the turnover department.
The frustrating thing about the turnovers is that some of them are preventable with simple execution. Whitehurst was blindsided on his fumble because of missed block on a blitz. Two of his interceptions bounced off the hands of Clemson receivers…which seems to be a recurring negative from the receiving corps. And one ball was tipped by an Aggie defensive player before being picked off.
The missed block and the balls that bounce off Clemson's receivers are things that can be corrected. But this now has happened for three games, so it is becoming a major concern. Clemson is not going to win football games turning the ball over 4 more times than the opponent. And the start of this football season, at least turnover wise, is eerily similar to the 2002 season.
3. Give Charlie a Chance
Charlie Whitehurst led the Clemson team out onto the field at the start of the first half and the start of the 2nd half. That is the only lead the team followed from their quarterback leader. Let's start with the receivers. Dropped balls continue to plague everybody but, ironically, Kelvin Grant and Ben Hall. Grant and Hall have shown consistency catching anything that Charlie throws near them. Hall had the catch of the season on the touchdown, where he was nearly decapitated by the Aggie secondary. But Airese Currie and Chansi Stuckey continue to drop balls…sometimes in crucial situations.
Both players had drops that were picked off by Texas A&M. Both players had drops on third downs that would have extended drives inside of Texas A&M territory. Stuckey, no doubt, is still a work in progress considering this is only his 3rd game at receiver. But Currie is a senior that has not had the dropsies in his first 3 years, so that is a bit perplexing to me.
The offensive line shoulders some blame as well. After playing decent in the first two games, the line took a step back Saturday. Whitehurst was harassed all day, and even when there was good protection, it was not for long. There were also several missed assignments that allowed Aggie defenders to get into the backfield untouched.
And that is not to say Whitehurst does not shoulder some blame as well. And, to his credit, he at least publicly is shouldering a great deal of the blame. After bailing out of the pocket too early sometimes against Georgia Tech, Whitehurst seemed to hold the ball in the pocket too long at times Saturday. Much of that could be due to the fact he was looking deep and trying to buy an extra second before making the throw. Much of that could be due to Charlie trying to make plays to get the team back in the game.
But with the running game so bad, giving up a sack is almost a sure precursor to a punt right now with this offense. And it is very hard to overcome since the receivers are not catching the ball very well.
Overall, right now the problem with Charlie Whitehurst has more to do with those around him than himself. And Charlie is the one player that can carry this team on his shoulders…but he can't do it without some help.
4. A Secondary Concern
Texas A&M only threw for 178 yards on the day, but that has little to do with the play of Clemson's secondary. Because the Aggies were able to run the ball so well, Reggie McNeal only threw 26 passes on the day. But his 14 completions averaged out to a 13 yard per pass play average…still not a good day overall.
The tight end was unaccounted for Saturday, harkening back to the Virginia game of last year. And Justin Miller gave up a deep ball when the Aggies were backed up to their one yard line early in the game. But Miller's play, overall, was his best of the year.
But at the end of the day, it's hard to terribly criticize the secondary in this game. The corners and safeties spent a good deal of the day making tackles on McNeal and Courtney Lewis, which of course is not the ideal thing for a secondary to have to do.
On a positive note, C.J. Gaddis spent most of the day as the nickel package corner, replacing Eric Sampson in passing situations. And Tremaine Billie continues to see a bunch of snaps as well. The secondary will get a shot next week against FSU to step up their play. Let's just hope FSU is forced to throw the ball more than Texas A&M was on Saturday night.
5. Big Play Special
No big plays on special teams were made on Saturday. That being said, it was an overall good day for the Clemson special teams despite the lack of a huge play.
Cole Chason punted outstanding…maybe his best day minus the Tennessee game in the Peach Bowl. Geoff Rigsby rebounded nicely with his snaps, and that was great to see. Justin Miller gave Clemson solid field position all day on his kickoff returns. And Chansi Stuckey made some great catches on punts that were kicked so short he had to make a running grab so the ball would not bounce on the ground and get some roll. Clemson also is very close to blocking punts every time an opposing team faces a punting situation. And don't forget Cole Chason made a touchdown saving tackle on a punt return where he (ironically) out kicked his coverage with a booming punt INTO the wind.
Stephen Furr pushed his extra point, and he will now bow to Jad Dean this Saturday in College Station. Furr has been given a fair shake by Coach Bowden, despite 2 misses in the first 2 games. But the extra point miss was the proverbial last straw…at least for now.
All in all, it was a good day for special teams. Nothing spectacular, but good solid play all around (minus Furr).
Finally, a special thanks to the Dallas Fort Worth Clemson Club for hosting us at their tailgate site and for feeding us the bar-b-que. Other than the outcome of the game, it was a great trip to College Station that I was happy to get to do. Clemson fans represented themselves very well in College Station, and I am sure they will be out in full force next week.
Speaking of next week, Clemson travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State in Bowden Bowl 6. Stay tuned to CUTigers.com all week long for game coverage.
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