Coming into the season I really didn't know what to make of the 2011 Clemson Tigers. In 2010, they went 6-7 and I really didn't have much confidence in Dabo Swinney other than his ability to recruiting really well. In our ACC Preview we picked them second behind FSU in the Atlantic (pretty much what everybody else picked). I personally picked them to finish third in their half of the conference. Yep, I was wrong on that one!
Clemson came out gangbusters and won eight straight to start the season. Many were starting to think they were this years Auburn. Why not, they were the ones that ended Auburn's winning streak and they also had signature wins over FSU and Virginia Tech. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was not to be as they lost their first game to Georgia Tech on the flats and then dropped two more in the regular season to finish 9-3.
On December 3rd Clemson took a big step when they beat Virginia Tech for the second time this season and won their first ACC Championship since 1991. Clemson handled VT easily winning 38-10 and it looked like they were back after getting blown out in back-to-back weeks by North Carolina State and South Carolina. Then came the Orange Bowl. West Virginia opened up the floodgates in that game and destroyed Clemson 70 (yes 70) to 33. That game was the end of Kevin Steele as Defensive Coordinator and turned a really good season into a nightmare finish. To get the pulse of the Clemson Tigers we caught up with Cory Fravel of the new Clemson blog Cemetery Hill.
CFBZ: Some had Dabo Swinney on the Hot Seat going into the season. Clemson got hot at the start of the year and went on to win the ACC Championship but got embarrassed in their bowl game by West Virginia. What is the overall feeling on Dabo right now?
Cemetery Hill: For Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney he is safe. Having said that if he loses to South Carolina for a fourth straight year he might not survive that. For Dabo to go to the next level he has to win the "tough" games and not get pushed around. with 4 losses of 14 points or more this year that is in question.
The dismissal of Kevin Steele was the right thing to do. The elephant in the room is Joey Batson; strength and conditioning coach. In my view and a good portion of the Clemson nation this needs to be addressed
CFBZ: Clemson had a phenomenal year on offense under first year OC Chad Morris. Do you think Morris and Clemson are going to be able to sustain this offensive firepower?
Cemetery Hill: Morris will be more effective in year two by a lot. With only half his offense installed look for lots of new wrinkles in 2012. With Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington back the ceiling is high.
Morris is installing a gap blocking scheme for 2012 which will be more friendly for the "HUNH" hurry up no huddle offense. This is what Rich Rod and Gus Malzahn have employed success with.
CFBZ: On the defensive side of the football Clemson gave up over 400 yards 7 times this season and DC Kevin Steele has been recently let go. What positives do Clemson bring back next year on defense and who must step up for the Tigers?
Cemetery Hill: Kevin Steele was dismissed. The new defensive coordinator will be challenged with installing a more easy to grasp scheme than Steele's press man scheme. The players not understanding his scheme was his undoing ultimately.
Tackling was an issue all year for Clemson. Most people would be surprised that Clemson doesn't tackle to the ground in practice. Ok, now you understand right? This has to stop for the Clemson defense to go to the next level.
The new DC will be challenged with installing fundamentals and establishing a new physical mind set for the Clemson defense.
CFBZ: Freshman Sammy Watkins really made a name for himself this year. Who needs to step up next year and become a household name for Clemson to repeat as ACC Champs?
Cemetery Hill: For Clemson to repeat or go to the next level it needs a game in game out running back to emerge. SR Andre Ellington is the guy but has been hampered by injuries and hasn't played a 12 game season yet. If he could watch out.
RB's Mike Bellamy and Zac Brooks will look to switch things up for Clemson. The new gap blocking scheme will make all this work better.
At WR, Sammy Watkins is back. Look for him to have a run at Heisman. He is the best WR in the nation, With Tajh Boyd at the helm Watkins will be sure to shine again. Look for freshman Hopper, Hopkins, Bryant and Peake to step up at WR.
Clemson will score points in bunches and be elite on offense.
CFBZ: Heading into the off-season what are the biggest concerns about this team for 2012?
Cemetery Hill: Going in to spring ball the #1 concern for Clemson is the lack "toughness" "physical" tag they have. OC Chad Morris has been very critical of the lack of physical play. Opponents sense it, fans sense it and it has to change otherwise those back yard fight type of games Clemson will lose.
Get a new strength and conditioning program, establish toughness on both lines, tackle better and the sky is the limit for Clemson.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Pac-12- Oregon State Beavers