In college football these days, just getting a win is important and you can't expect much of a carry over from one week to the next. With that being said, here is how I graded the Tigers win over the Aggies Saturday afternoon.
1. Spread the Field
There were times when Clemson did a decent job of this, but overall it was a strange day through the air. The offensive coaches threw the ball deep twice in the first quarter dead into the wind, then proceeded to not throw it deep at all in the 2nd quarter with the wind at their back. One of those deep balls was intercepted by Utah State and the other fell incomplete. Were the deep throws ill-advised plays by Whitehurst, or poor calls by the coaches?
Needing a first down on 2nd and 7 with under five minutes to play in the half, Clemson proceeded to throw two three yard out patterns, both falling incomplete. It was a situation that left most in Death Valley scratching their heads, and to be honest it made little to no sense to me. In a two minute drill, why in the world would you throw the ball short of the first down marker? Not to mention why would you do it two plays in a row?
Give Michael Collins some credit, as the reserve wide receiver led the team with six catches for 64 yards in place of the much maligned (and suspended) Kelvin Grant.
Whitehurst was able to find Airese Currie on a couple of down field throws that allowed Currie to turn up field and make substantial yardage. And Clemson did throw the running back screen to Duane Coleman which resulted in a 20 yard gain.
So at the end of the day there were some good calls that were equaled by some strange calls to leave Clemson fans cautiously optimistic that the passing game is slowly turning the corner. There are enough question marks, however, to no become overconfident in the least.
2. Run. If Not Now…Maybe Never
We thought Clemson was going to be able to line it up and run the ball down Utah State's throat and that is exactly what happened. Clemson ran the ball 48 times for 222 net yards Saturday with Reggie Merriweather (84 yards) and Duane Coleman (82 yards) getting the bulk of the carries. The 200 yard barrier was my goal for the offense, and the Tigers were easily able to eclipse that mark by sticking with the run for 4 quarters.
Clemson also ran some plays out of the I-formation with a tight end where the guard pulled to create an extra lead blocker for the back. We've seen the Clemson defense struggle with this play against UVA and FSU, and it seemed to work well for the Tigers Saturday.
A broader question is what does this mean about the running game heading forward? I'm not sure that question can be answered until next week when the Tigers host Maryland, but on this day the offensive line and the running backs played well enough for 60 minutes to literally control the game and the line of scrimmage.
3. Reckless Swagger
Utah State may not be the best offensive football team in the country, but the Tiger defense made the Aggies look like the worst. Clemson physically manhandled the Aggies up front to the tune of -20 yards rushing and 11 sacks.
Even taking out the quarterback sacks, the Aggies were only able to rush for 68 yards on 30 carries (2.27 yards per carry). The Tigers shut down the Aggie running game while using a revised 3 man front to help protect against the pass.
For the first time this year, the Clemson defense made some bone jarring hits on an opponent. Several big hits went against Aggie QB Travis Cox and several were delivered to the Aggie receivers. Missed tackles were also fewer this week, another positive step for the remaining games.
The Tigers still were not able to generate many turnovers, however, despite the fact that Utah State is prone to shooting themselves in the foot. The Tigers did get two interceptions, but only one of them was against Cox. The other was a halfback pass that was under thrown in the end zone early in the game.
Clemson is going to have to continue to work on creating turnovers, but at the end of the day this was a good performance by the defense against a team that had put up decent numbers through the air prior to Saturday.
4. Charlie's Comfort Zone
It was obvious that Whitehurst was much more comfortable Saturday due to the lack of pressure by the Utah State defense. Charlie stood in the pocket and went through his progressions much like he did last year at the end of the season.
Utah State was only giving up 177 yards through the air coming into the game, mainly because teams were running the ball so well on them. And that was once again the case Saturday, as the Clemson passing game never was needed like it will be down the stretch of this season.
Whitehurst was 15-of-23 for 179 yards on the day. If you take away the two interceptions, Whitehurst completed 71% of his passes…certainly a good day. Charlie is going to put the ball in the receiver's hands if he has time, and he proved that again Saturday. A broader question would be how much time will he get to throw in the upcoming games? And that will tell the tale more so than what he did in a limited role this past Saturday.
5. Fans Pull Their Weight
What else can you say about Clemson University football fans? Over 77,500 came to Death Valley Saturday to watch the 1-4 Tigers play a team that half the fans in attendance could not name one player for. Utah State also brought less than 65 fans to the game…meaning that the 77,500 was ALL Clemson folks.
While the numbers were there, the atmosphere most certainly wasn't. And that is ok. The team gave little to cheer about in the first half, and the 2nd half the game got out of hand very quickly. That being said, just the fact the folks were in the seats was good enough for me.
Clemson fans will virtually sell out the Maryland, NCSU and they will overflow for the South Carolina game. That could give Clemson an average attendance of over 80,000 for the year…something that has only been done 2 times (2001, 1988) in the team's history.
Clemson now prepares for Maryland, a team that has failed to get over 100 yards of total offense in each of the past two games against Georgia Tech and N.C. State. It will be an opportunity for Clemson to inch closer to .500 on the year and, more importantly, become a step closer to bowl eligibility. A win over Maryland was also virtually eliminate the Terps from any hopes of a post season bid.
Here's the first round of images taken by the CUTigers.com from Saturday's 35-6 win over Utah State…