The Clemson Tigers have been one of the surprises of the college football world this year. New Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris has the offense, led by Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, clicking on all cylinders and seemingly ready for all challengers. Reginald Eller of Unconquered Noles had the opportunity to talk with Clemson Tigers play-by-play guy Pete Yanity.
Clemson – being 8-0 has taken the nation by storm. In your mind’s eye, where did you think Clemson would be after 8 games, before the season began?
I thought 6-2 would have been a credible guess as I thought that three game stretch early in the season (vs. Auburn and FSU and at Va. Tech) would be tough to sweep and I thought winning two of three in the stretch of vs. BC, at MD, and vs. UNC was also a reasonable expectation.
Dabo Swinney and “Hot Seat talk” went hand-in-hand during the off season. What do you make of you turn of events from a year ago in the Clemson program?
There are several factors involved.
Dabo bringing in Chad Morris to run the offense has been a huge plus as Morris’ system has worked perfectly with the players here.
The infusion of talent in the freshman class with WR Sammy Watkins making the biggest impact and others like RB Mike Bellamy and WR Martavis Bryant also contributing. The elevation of redshirt freshman such as DB Bashaad Breeland.
And there were some talented guys coming back like WR DeAndre Hopkins, TE Dwayne Allen, and RB Andre Ellington as well as most of an offensive line with several guys who’ve taken a bunch of snaps this season.
You also can’t forget about the play of a first-year starting quarterback and not only the skill that Tajh Boyd has shown but the decision making. It’s a case of some of the best passes he’s made are the ones he hasn’t, if you know what I mean. His 24 TD passes compared to just three interceptions tells the real story there.
I also think you have to keep last season in perspective. Five of the seven losses were by six points or less. Another loss to Miami was by nine points but was decided late. If this team had lost a bunch of games 35-7 a year ago then I’d say that the turn-around this season was stunning. Instead, it’s essentially a case of making a few more plays per game that’s been the big part of the 8-0 start.
Defensively Clemson has question marks. Versus Georgia Tech is an interesting match up. What are key match ups to watch for in the game?
I think their duo of Smith and Jones out of the backfield and the many others they use in their running game, and the style they use make them a tough team to defend. It helps that Clemson faced an option team already this season, Wofford. Dabo Swinney says they actually take a portion of time during spring drills and August practice to work on Georgia Tech’s attack because it’s so unique. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele says the key to containing their offense a year ago, and holding them to just 13 points, was that Clemson’s defensive line controlled the game. So, I think DTs Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore will be keys as will outside linebackers Quandon Christian and Tig Willard, which is always the case when you face an option team. The cornerbacks, Coty Sensabaugh and Xavier Brewer, with Breeland seeing plenty of snaps, will also have huge roles because Tech has a couple of decent wide receivers that they’ll try to make you forget about with their running game and the next thing you know they hit them on a quick fade.
Clemson wins If?
The offense continues its explosive ways and is able to continue to protect QB Boyd against what will be a pretty radical 3-4 look that Ga. Tech DC Al Groh shows. I would think he’ll try to come at Boyd with a variety of blitzes. Getting Ellington close to 100% (he sprained an ankle last week) will be vital to counter such situations. Defensively for Clemson is probably where the game will have to be won as they’ll have to do a significantly better job with assignments against the option than they did against Wofford (giving up 478 yards) and a better job with filling running lanes and tackling than they did against Maryland (allowing a good running quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards). I think it’s tremendously important to build a quick lead on Ga. Tech because of the style of their offense and to force them out of their comfort zone. That will happen by making them give the ball up as they lead the nation in third down conversions at 59%.
If I made you choose one between Chad Morris, Dabo Swinney, Tajh Boyd, or Sammy Watkins – at who has been Clemson’s “Most Valuable Person” in changing the Tigers fortunes in one season. Who would it be?
Probably Swinney for hiring Morris, helping to close the deal in recruiting to land Watkins (Swinney credits former assistant Brad Scott, who’d followed Watkins since his early days in high school and had great connections there), and not forcing the issue with Boyd last season when it was clear that former QB Kyle Parker was affected by an early-season injury and wasn’t 100%.
Bonus- Should Sammy Watkins be considered for the Heisman trophy?
Bonus answer: Why shouldn’t Boyd, as well?