I decided last week to forgo the Miami game By The Numbers because there was absolutely nothing good coming out of that. We all saw the performance, or lack thereof, and there isn't a stat from that game that was going to make it any better. GT posted it's worst rushing and total yards of the season and frankly, that looked like a 2010 game that I just want to forget about it.
However, Coach Paul Johnson & Co. got this team back on track and prepared for the game against Clemson. In fact, I'd say it was one of the most complete games we've seen all year. The execution was greatly improved on both sides of the ball and the play-calling was timely and efficient from both CPJ and Coach Al Groh. There are still a few things that need improving, but no game is perfect.
Hit the jump to see the full breakdown.
Let's start with the things that still need work. I feel that the punting improved this week. We punted three times for 132 yards (44.0 avg) which is seven more yards than our season average (37.81 yds/punt). More importantly, they were all high punts that allowed our coverage team to get down the field and force the fair catch. That improvement needs to continue and be consistent.
The kickoffs continue to be an issue for me. At this point there may be nothing more to say as by my count we have tried at least five different kickers for the year and none seem to be able to handle the job. Honestly, I'm not even asking for them to get it into the end zone anymore. I just want them to be consistent with their kicks. It boggles my mind that from kick-to-kick, the difference in receiving yard line is greater than 10 yards or even 15 yards. I'm fine if you can't kick it past the 10 or 15 yard line, but please stop trying so hard that you pooch the damn thing to the 30 and pretty much force the opposing team to fair catch it like a punt. To me, that screams mechanics and a lack of attention.
Hey, everyone laughs when a NFL team drafts a kicker, but not I. To me that says the team understands that they have a clear problem and they are doing their best to address it immediately, instead of wading through the murky free agent waters hoping that no one offers that guy more than you. Now, as it relates to the college game, most fans might ridicule a coach for "wasting" a scholarship on a kicker or punter, and to an extent I agree that for 95% (determined by minutes) of the game, the kicker and punter more than likely will not have any impact on the overall outcome of the game. However, the other 5% belong solely to the kicker/punter and everything they do during that 5% greatly impacts the outcome of the game. A punt of the side of the foot leads to a short field for the opposing offense and forces the defense to play tight. A short kick doesn't give the coverage team time to close the lanes and could allow for a huge return, setting up a short field again. Poor kicking is simply handicapping you before the opponent even has the ball. There is no excuse for it.
Yes, kickers and punters are a scketchy bunch overall, but it's a problem we have and it needs to be addressed now. Get on the trail and go find the most consistent one you can and recruit the heck out of him. He'll be no more of a guarantee than any other player you'll recruit, but if he pays off, he'll probably have a bigger impact on the overall success of the team moving forward because good special teams leads to good offensive and defensive play. It's not the most important part of the game, but rather the glue player that should know it's role and perform it at a nice rate and do so consistently.
Ok, so now that I got that out of my system, let's look at the defense. The run defense showed up Saturday night posting it's third best performance of the year with a total of 95 on 3.96 ypp allowed. Granted, Clemson was without Ellington and was playing catch-up pretty much the entire game, but that's still a good sign for the font seven. I want to point out that since Attaochu returned, the run defense has been much better, averaging 3.4 ypp instead of roughly 5.6 ypp. Barnes and Walls probably played their best game of the year as well and I am hopeful that they will continue to improve.
The secondary is quickly becoming one of my favorites to watch each week. Sweeting, Young, Thomas, and Johnson are playing completely in sync and I feel that they are truly grasping everything that Groh is giving them. Sweeting and Young are becoming some serious head-hunters. I honestly believe this may turn out to be one of the best units we've seen in a long time. The best part is that outside of Sweeting, they are all Sophomores, so you can reasonably expect them to only get better.
As a whole, the passing defense was really good in my opinion. Some may look at the stats and see 304 yards on 41 pass attempts for 7.41 ypp and think otherwise, but I would say that you have to remember that Clemson was playing catch-up almost the entire game and couldn't get their running game going at all. I'd also add that there was one particular instance of perfect timing on calling a certain offensive play during one of their drives. That call would be the bubble-screen to Watkins. During that drive, Groh had called two corner blitzes already and was getting excellent pressure on Boyd. Unfortunately, he dialed it up again and Sweeting showed early. That's when Boyd hit Watkins on the screen and he was off in massive open space.
Those things combined led to the defense giving up the most yards passing all year since allowing 211 against Kansas. That still puts us tied for 17th nationally on the year and compared to last year we are allowing 1.1 ypp less. I'm impressed and I'm excited to watch this squad grow.
Finally, the offense. Hey there, how you doing? Been so long since we've seen you, but boy are we glad you are back. Here's the skinny. 67 rushes (the most of any game this season) for 383 yards (the most since UNC) on 5.72 ypp (the most since Kansas). Clemson had no answer for the rushing attack, especially the QB draw. There were still some missed reads by Washington, but none were as harmful as they have been in past games. And finally, we saw some development in the B-back game. Both Sims and Lyons were busting through the line all night long. On one specific play, they actually left both gaps on either side of the center uncovered and for whatever reason decided to play the gaps on the outside shoulders of the guards. Obviously that didn't end well for Clemson as Washington made the easiest read and let Sims rumble for about 15 yards.
The passing game wasn't as good, but I don't feel that it needed to be. It was effective enough to keep Clemson off-balance and open things up for the running attack, which is exactly it's true intent to begin with. Pedestrian might be the word one would use to describe it. 9 for 60 on 6.67 ypp. There was probably about 100 more yards left on the field from dropped passes, but hey Hill made an amazing catch and again, it didn't hurt us. Obviously, that still needs work, but I'm not sure we're going to see much more against the likes of VPI and uga.
Obviously I'm extremely pleased with the game put together by the players and the coaches. I've griped about skillsets and I've griped about play-calling over the last few weeks, but I'm going to put all that to bed. We beat a top ten team, an undefeated 9-0 team, a major rival, and a conference opponent all in the same night. There's no reason to be unhappy. Sure, there are things that need to improve, consistency being the most important one, but let's enjoy the bye week and think back on all those Tigers we left purple and sad on the field last Saturday.
TO HELL WITH VPI!