2011 ACC Blogger Football Preview: Atlantic No. 3…Clemson

Posted by Brandon Rink on July 5, 2011 under ACC Football | Comments are off for this article

Part one of our 2011 Clemson football preview…

New Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris unleashes his 'smashmouth spread' offense on the ACC this season - how much damage can it do in year one? (Pic per OrangeandWhite.com)

2010 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
2011 Projected Record: 7-5 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: 16 (9 on offense, 5 on defense, 2 kickers).
Schedule Difficulty in ACC: First.
Offense Rides On… Andre Ellington’s health – Tajh Boyd is arguably the make or break for an ACC run, but if Ellington isn’t back to full-strength, Boyd’s progress in the new Chad Morris offense won’t matter much.
Defensive Deficiency: Finding the next d-line star – Da’Quan Bowers tripled up the nearest Tiger defensive lineman in sacks last season. Returning DE Andre Branch was the closest with five sacks and no other lineman had more than two in ’10. Branch and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson have received some NFL Draft hype this offeason – Clemson will need that level of play to replace a playmaker like Bowers.
Keyword: Youth – The offense features a sophomore QB with no career starts in a new system, and you can figure that a freshman running back and a wide receiver corps comprised mostly of underclassmen will be key facets in Morris’ scheme as well. On defense, the strong freshman class of linebackers should be in the mix. They’re talented, but we’ll see just how much Swinney and co. can get out of them this season.

Schedule Analysis + W/Ls

9/03 Troy W 41-17
9/10 Wofford W 49-10
9/17 Auburn W 24-17
9/24 FSU L 27-24
10/01 @ Virginia Tech L 31-17
10/08 Boston College W 24-20
10/15 @ Maryland W 24-21
10/22 UNC W 28-24
10/29 @ Georgia Tech L 28-24
11/5 BYE
11/12 Wake Forest W 38-21
11/19 @ NC State L 28-26
11/26 @ South Carolina L 31-21

Bye Week: Before Wake Forest, November 5.
Toughest Game: At South Carolina, November 26.
Must-Win Conference Game:  FSU, September 24.

Stats and records…

Coach: Dabo Swinney (19-15 career record, 13-9 against ACC, fourth year as head coach at Clemson).

Offense (2010 ranks): Spread (Total offense: 88th/Rush offense: 79th/Pass offense: 78th)

Defense (2010 ranks): 4-3 (Total defense: 19th/Rush defense: 28th/Pass defense: 22nd).

2010 Special Team Ranks: Net punting – 24th/Kickoff returns – 39th/Punt returns – 29th/Punt return yardage defense – 41st/Kick return yardage defense – 31st.

2010 Misc. stats: Turnover margin – 69th/Fewest penalties – 64th/First downs – 88th/First downs allowed – 16th/Third down efficiency – 67th/Red zone efficiency – 110th/Red zone defense – 98th/Time of possession – 82nd.

Outgoing starters: 8.

2011 Starters (2010 stats)

Returning Offense (9)

RB: Andre Ellington (Junior, 686 rushing yards/109 rec. yards/12 TD [10 rush/1 rec./1 kickoff return]).
WR: DeAndre Hopkins (Sophomore, 637 rec. yards/4 TD); Bryce McNeal (Sophomore, 187 rec. yards); Jaron Brown (Junior, 405 rec. yards/3 TD).
TE: Dwayne Allen (Junior, 373 rec. yards/1 TD).
O-line: C Dalton Freeman (Junior, 6-5 285/22 starts); RG Antoine McClain (Senior, 6-5 330/27 starts); LG David Smith (Senior, 6-5 315/14 starts); RT Landon Walker (Senior, 6-6 310/35 starts).

New Projected Starters (2)

QB: Tajh Boyd (Sophomore, 329 passing yards/52.4% cmp/5 TD [4 passing/1 rushing]/3 INT).
O-line: LT Phillip Price (Senior, 6-5 300/1 start).

Outlook: As we referenced above, new offensive coordinator Chad Morris and the Tigers will be relying on youth, but they also have experience with nine starters back.

All eyes are on sophomore QB Tajh Boyd after he saw limited action down the stretch last season. With two true freshman behind him, Boyd won’t have anyone looking over his shoulder, but that leaves Clemson in a predicament if Boyd were to get injured. He had his moments in that limited action plus this year’s the spring game, but really, it’s a mystery what we’ll see from him in year one.

Andre Ellington was one of the more dynamic running backs in the ACC last season before going down with an odd toe injury during the BC game. Ellington had to take the spring off and his road to recovery holds the cards for the Tigers’ success this season. Behind him, 5-star fast frosh Mike Bellamy should get ample playing time.

The receiver corps is stacked with top talent – sophomore DeAndre Hopkins anchoring the crew that has an influx of likely freshman contributors as well. Dwayne Allen has the potential to be one of the better tight ends in the ACC in his junior season.

On the o-line, new OL coach Robbie Caldwell has four starters back, but the spot that they’re replacing is crucial with left tackle occupied by former walk-on Phillip Price on the depth chart.

Returning Defense (5)

D-line: DT Brandon Thompson (Senior, 1 sack/6.5 TFL/40 tackles); DE Andre Branch (Senior, 5 sacks/8.5 TFL/54 tackles).
LB: MLB Corico Hawkins (Junior, 73 tackles/10 TFL/3 sacks).
DB: CB Xavier Brewer (Junior, 2 INT/4.5 TFL/50 tackles); FS Rashard Hall (Junior, 2 INT/62 tackles/TFL).

New Projected Starters (6)

D-line: DE Malliciah Goodman (Junior, 1 sack/3.5 TFL/32 tackles); DT Rennie Moore (Senior, 2 sacks/6 TFL/21 tackles).
LB: SLB Quandon Christian (Sophomore, 31 tackles/1.5 TFL); WLB Jonathan Willard (Junior, 29 tackles)/Stephone Anthony (Freshman).
DB: CB Coty Sensabaugh (Senior, 1 INT/31 tackles); SS Jonathan Meeks (1 INT/24 tackles).

Outlook: Good news for the ACC – defensive monster Da’Quan Bowers is gone. The defensive line cupboard isn’t bare though with a couple starters back and more regular contributors from last season in the mix.

Linebacker has been a weakness in the Clemson D for awhile now, but at the very least, talent is coming in from the latest recruiting class to help that out. Junior Corico Hawkins patrols the middle as the Tigers’ top returning tackler back.

With the departures of DeAndre McDaniel, Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell – Clemson loses over 50 percent of their interceptions from last season, but they have two starters returning and experienced upperclassmen in the other two spots.

Returning Kicker/Punter (2)

PK: Chandler Catanzaro (Sophomore, 14-22 on FGs/9-16 from 30+ yards).
P: Dawson Zimmerman (Senior, 42.7 yards per punt average).

Outlook: Catanzaro won the job in fall camp last season and went through a wildly inconsistent season. He’s still atop the depth chart after spring ball with freshman Ammon Lakip coming in to compete in fall camp. In yards per punt, Dawson Zimmerman is the ACC’s second-best returning punter to FSU’s Shawn Powell. He had a long of 79-yards last season.

Notable Backups (2010 stats)

RB: Mike Bellamy (Freshman).
FB: Chad Diehl (Senior).
WR: Sammy Watkins (Freshman)/Marquan Jones (Senior, 184 rec. yards).
O-line: LT Brandon Thomas (Sophomore, 6-4 300); Mason Cloy (6-3 295/19 starts).
D-line: DE Corey Crawford (Freshman).
DB: CB Bashaud Breeland (Redshirt freshman).

Position by Position Grades

QB: B-
MVP: Tajh Boyd
Gotta Step-Up: Cole Stoudt/Tony McNeal

RB: B+
MVP: Andre Ellington
Gotta Step-Up: Rod McDowell

MVP: DeAndre Hopkins
Gotta Step-Up: Jaron Brown

OL: C+
MVP: C Dalton Freeman
Gotta Step-Up: RT Landon Walker

DL: B+
MVP: DT Brandon Thompson
Gotta Step-Up: DE Malliciah Goodman

MVP: MLB Corico Hawkins
Gotta Step-Up: SLB Quandon Christian

Sec: B+
MVP: FS Rashard Hall
Gotta Step-Up: SS Jonathan Meeks

K/P: C+
MVP: P Dawson Zimmerman
Gotta Step-Up: K Chandler Catanzaro

The Why…

Why Third?: 1) Learning curve on new offense – Nine starters back on offense is nice, but Chad Morris will break in new QB Tajh Boyd for what he described as his ‘smashmouth spread’ offense. Morris said over and over this spring that the Tigers were going to take it slow and learn to run a set of plays really well. The newness of the offense will help and hurt Clemson enough to keep them from competing for the Atlantic, and not sinking to the bottom either.

2) Defense taking a small step back – Hard not to with Bowers gone to the NFL. Overall, nobody on this Tigers team knows what it’s like to not finish in the top 20 nationally in total defense. They’ll be somewhere around there this season too, but lacking the playmaking ability of Bowers.

3) Tough schedule – Clemson draws ACC champ Virginia Tech, and not only that, they hit Blacksburg this year a week after facing Atlantic champ FSU in Death  Valley.

Could be higher if…: Those plays the Tigers do learn work pretty well, special teams are improved (yes, that’d be consistent field goal kicking) and the defense sees little drop-off.

Could be lower if…: Those plays the Tigers do learn don’t work pretty well, special teams are much like last season and the defense takes more of step back than I’m thinking.

You pick’em! I’ll compile a post using these polls so vote your thoughts and comment why below…

2011 ACC Preview: Where does Clemson finish?

  • 1st (42%, 22 Votes)
  • 2nd (29%, 15 Votes)
  • 3rd (12%, 6 Votes)
  • 4th (10%, 5 Votes)
  • 5th (4%, 2 Votes)
  • 6th (3%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 52

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