Larry Williams, who covers the Tigers for Rivals, was gracious enough to answer these five questions for me heading into the ACC championship game:
1. How is C.J. Spiller’s injury? Did it affect him during the South Carolina game? Has he practiced this week?
His toe injury has consistently nagged him all season. The Oct. 10 open date did him some good, but he’s going to need several weeks of rest to resolve it. He’s been limited in practice all year, so I doubt he did a whole lot this week. He was more affected by a stomach bug in the South Carolina game. He said he was holding down vomit on the sidelines after his 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early. He definitely wasn’t himself. He also suffered a groin injury early in the game, but that appears to be fine.
2. Clemson’s defense seems to have given up quite a few more big plays the past few games, compared to the first few. Is there a common thread to the plays?
Virginia gashed the Tigers on one possession with Mikell Simpson running the Wildcat, and the Cavaliers also caught the Tigers off guard on another possession by running a ton of trick plays.
South Carolina ran some Wildcat as well while also flummoxing the Tigers with a steady dose of zone reads, quarterback powers and mid-line option runs. The Gamecocks also hit for a few big passing plays.
Clemson has had some trouble stopping the run this year. From my vantage point, offenses are taking advantage of the fact that the Tigers are playing a lot of nickel. The Tigers are smaller with the extra DB and thus easier to block.
The main problem, in my mind, is the stong-side LB position. They just don’t have a natural fit there, so they’re forced to play nickel. And when they go big and put DE/LB Kevin Alexander there, they’re vulnerable in pass coverage.
They’ve also had problems with their other linebackers attacking the wrong gaps and getting out of position.
3. How has Kyle Parker developed as a game-manager?
He’s come a long way. I was really impressed with the kid in that game against Georgia Tech, but he’s progressed a lot since that game. He has really improved his pocket presence and overall knowledge of the offense. He didn’t play all that well against South Carolina, but he didn’t have a whole lot of help from his offensive line. He was really good in the previous two games against Virginia and N.C. State.
South Carolina surprised Clemson by playing zone almost the whole game, and that’s usually been what gives Parker the most trouble. So you have to think Wommack will pick up on that and use a good bit of zone Saturday.
4. How’s the team been acting this week? Their loss to South Carolina seemed to be more about bad luck and turnovers than anything else.
They did commit some turnovers and have some bad luck, but they were also dominated up front on both sides of the ball. When you give up 223 yards rushing and produce 48 on the ground, you aren’t going to win many games.
This game presents a completely different set of challenges, and I think the team realizes that. They were in a tough position last week playing a desperate team while knowing the biggest game in decades loomed a week later. I’d be surprised if they came out flat in Tampa.
5. Has there been a commonality in Clemson’s losses this season?
They’ve averaged 92 rushing yards a game in the losses, so that tends to stand out.
They’ve committed 12 turnovers in their eight wins and eight turnovers in their four losses, so protecting the ball has been a factor as well.
The Maryland and South Carolina losses were marked by an offense that really struggled. They scored a grand total of two touchdowns in those games, and they didn’t even have a snap in the red zone last week in Columbia.
Prediction and why?
I’m really struggling with this one, and my prediction is subject to change by the minute.
I’ll go with Tech 35-31 because I can’t envision PJ losing back-to-back games. He’ll have the offense rolling after the disjointed effort against UGA.