Clemson: Football at the highest level

You hear all sorts of comments, too many negative ones, in the 48 hours following a disappointing defeat. What is my take on Clemson’s convincing win over Virginia Tech? First, it’s a positive statement about the Tigers. Second, it was not a negative statement about the Hokies.

Tech played hard and they played to the very end. Nobody rolled over. The effort was good, the desire, atmosphere, and want to was all there in Lane Stadium. There is no negative. Just the positive…..Clemson.

Hokie fans now know what the top level of college football looks like. Tech has another step to take, and it’s a big one. There are obvious differences in the two teams. Tech is good in a lot of areas. Clemson is outstanding in almost every area. It all starts with recruiting. The Tigers are getting some of the finest athletes in the country to play for Clemson. It’s that simple. It’s four and five star recruits vs. three star recruits. There is a difference.

Clemson was bigger, longer, and faster, and it was team wide. The Tigers are really impressive. Clemson has spent millions of dollars to put together one of the most impressive football factories in the country. Dabo Sweeney has been provided all the parts, and he has meshed them together very well. He must now be included among the best coaches in the nation.

The Tigers are one of the big dogs, yet, still want to make a statement. They have confidence, but still want to prove something. That’s a great combination. You can see it in everything they do. The Tigers are among the top dozen programs in the nation and that’s about how many there really are who can consistently play at the top level. There are a lot that want to make that last leap into the upper echelon and the Hokies are certainly one of those schools.

But it’s hard. Just break it down. Clemson is awesome defensively. They have 6-5, 270 players that can play out in the flat on pass defense. They are big, long, and athletic on the defensive front. They are just as athletic on the defensive line as they are at wide receiver. That is a huge factor that separates the top level programs. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State. You are talking about superior defensive lines. Fans like to talk about skill positions when it comes to talent. Clemson’s defensive front is loaded with talent, big, long, lean, and fast.

That front allows them to play smaller, more athletic type players at linebacker, speed backers. Josh Jackson was under heavy heat the entire game and the Tigers seldom blitzed, usually just rushed four, and sometimes only three. That means seven or even eight speed athletes are in pass coverage, and if your running back breaks out, they run him down.

Offensively, quarterback Kelly Bryant is good. He’s also a red-shirt freshman. Looks a lot like the last one doesn’t he, only he’s more of a runner. It doesn’t stop there. The Tigers have recruited the number one quarterback in the nation two of the past three years, and guess who’s coming to town next year, this year’s number one rated high school quarterback in the nation.

The offensive line can knock you off the ball. Clemson is quality three deep at tailback. The wide receivers are good and quick. And this is a team that lost a bunch of talent off last year’s national championship team. That’s why Clemson has become one of the nation’s finest football programs. They have been that for about three years now, and I predict will remain that way.

Virginia Tech has some really impressive players. Clemson might have three dozen, maybe more. The Hokies are a good team, are going to have a fine season, and Justin Fuente is getting the job done. There’s no question he wants to take that next step, but it’s tough, and Hokie fans in Lane Stadium and on television, got to see just how big a step it is last Saturday.

But this loss should not define Tech’s season. There are big games yet to be played, Miami and Georgia Tech come to mind. There is a division title to win, and if the Hokies do it, they will almost certainly get a second shot at the Tigers. Would they be an underdog? Certainly, even more than the first game, but it’s a game you want to keep playing as often as you can.

Some Downers:

Tennessee was humbled by Georgia in Knoxville, 41-0. Butch Jones will obviously not be the Volunteer’s coach after this season, if he makes it to the end of the season. I’m sure Jones and his staff work hard. Tennessee has recruited well. It’s just that some can get it done, and some can’t. But Tennessee looked bad last Saturday, looked unprepared. It appears Jones has “lost” his team. It appeared uninspired. There almost has to be a change. When you and your team get booed and you’re playing at home, the writing is on the wall. Neyland Stadium was almost empty when the game ended.

And then you get to Ed Orgeron. A lot of people did not want him to get the LSU job, and the season has already turned into a nightmare. By the start of the fourth quarter, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge was all but empty. It was because LSU had just gotten physically beaten by Troy State. And it wasn’t anything fancy. Troy just lined up and bulled LSU down the field. Tennessee and LSU both draw something like 100,000 fans to home games. Right now that fan base is embarrassed at both places. You know what comes next.

Final Four:

I do this every week knowing at this stage it matters very little, but if the four-team playoff in college football began tomorrow it would be Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, and I think Penn State. Now there are others in the running, and we’ll find our which ones are realistic as the season progresses. Those are Georgia, TCU, Washington, Ohio State, and Michigan. And no, I wouldn’t bet a cup of coffee on anybody at this point. There are also long shots, and you’re in the running until somebody says you’re not, so Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and yes, Washington State are still alive.

Wazzu coach Mike Leach is one of the most interesting characters in college football, and it can be argued that he has done more with less than most of them, but when he was asked by a reporter early this week, “What’s next,” after knocking off Southern Cal last week, Leach responded, “We will endeavor to persevere.” Nothing like a bit of coach speak hey!

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot