The Q&A this week chats with Tom Dianora of SBN’s Clemson site, Shakin The Southland. He weighs on the excellence that is Trevor Lawrence, whether or not Tech stands a chance this weekend, and the ACC rivals he would most and least like to see become dynastic. You can read my answers to his questions here.
1) Does Trevor Lawrence have any weaknesses? It seems unfair he’s still there. On behalf of the teams that have to play y’all, we’re tired of him.
It sounds somewhat ridiculous to say given how good he’s been in the past, but so far this season, I think Lawrence is playing the best football of his career. Last season, he had some trouble with interceptions in the first half of the year, as he seemed to be forcing things. But he adjusted and did not throw another pick in the final eight games of the season. He also has not yet thrown an interception through four games this season, while tossing 10 touchdown passes to go along with 1,140 yards through the air, and a sparkling completion percentage of 72.4 percent. And that’s without his best receiving weapons from the past two seasons, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. Oh, and he has four rushing touchdowns as well.
If I can nitpick anything, it might be that sometimes Lawrence, in looking to get the ball out quickly, makes his play before fully going through his progressions, coming at the expense of what would have been a better read. But that’s happened less often so far this year than in previous seasons. His pocket presence is the best it’s ever been, his deep-ball accuracy has been stellar, and he just seems to be in complete command all the time.
Luckily for you guys and the rest of Clemson’s opponents, this is his last season.
2) Dabo famously does not have, say, the most progressive views as a head coach... I know Clemson weathered a COVID outbreak during fall camp, so what has changed since then to keep the team healthy and on the field?
Haha, I won’t take the bait on your Dabo comment, other than to say that, net-net, I would agree. But we still love him.
As for the COVID-19 protocols, I know that the players are all tested three times per week, that they use more buses when traveling to allow for social distancing, and that they do not go out the night before games while on the road, as they would in a normal year.
Other than that, based on (knock on wood) the relative health of the team so far this season, I have to think that the players and staff are doing a good job practicing their own safety measures when they’re away from the field as well. While that’s just me speculating, it’s not hard to imagine them taking it seriously after that outbreak during camp.
3) From watching this Clemson team this year, is there any path to upset whatsoever for Georgia Tech? If you’re on the Tigers’ staff game planning for Saturday, is there anything that gives you concern?
At the risk of sounding overly confident or even cocky, I want to say no, there is no path. I mean, maybe if the Tigers aren’t fully awake, given that it’s their first noon game of the year. Or if they are beset by injuries or illness (this latter one is admittedly not hard to imagine, sadly).
Otherwise, it’s possible Clemson will perhaps be a bit sluggish coming off what was billed as a big game against Miami, and one in which they dominated even more than the final score of 42-17 indicates. But they already had a sluggish performance (albeit in an 18-point win) against Virginia the week before, and they made sure to come out better against the Hurricanes, so my hope would be that they continue with that level of focus.
One thing that might give me some concern is Jeff Sims’ mobility at quarterback. I know the Yellow Jackets have moved away from the triple option, but I see that Sims is still their leading rusher, so he’s more of a true dual threat. That gave the Tigers some trouble against Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, but they did a good job containing Miami’s D’Eriq King last week. So I will be interested to see how they fare in this game against another mobile quarterback.
4) Tech is rolling with a true freshman QB and an improving, but young, offensive line. Who on defense is going to spend the most time chasing Jeff Sims around on Saturday?
Building off my previous answer, my guess is that Brent Venables is going to dial up a lot of blitzes again this week, as that approach was extremely effective against Miami’s King and a suspect offensive line. Freshman defensive end Myles Murphy (2.5 sacks this season, and second on the team in total tackles) and freshman defensive lineman Bryan Bresee (1.5 sacks) were two huge recruits and will thus be fun (for Clemson fans, at least) to watch. But I’d also watch for junior linebacker Baylon Spector (who also has 2.5 sacks on the year), who has really emerged as a force on this reloaded Clemson defense. Senior linebacker James Skalski is also sure to be in the mix, as always.
5) Say another ACC team got their act together and built a Clemson-style dynasty in the coming few years. What team would you most like to see do that? And which team would make you most upset that they were that consistently good?
Hmm, these are good, interesting questions. While Georgia Tech becoming really good again to rejuvenate the rivalry with Clemson would be fun for me, since I live in Atlanta and would be around the buzz (no pun intended), I would ultimately have to go with Virginia Tech. It’s for personal reasons, as my brother went to school there. So it would be a fun family rivalry dynamic. Beyond that, though, I think it’s realistic for them to become consistently excellent again, based on the history and culture there. Lane Stadium in Blacksburg is also an awesome place to see a game. I can say that now after being there in person for a Clemson win in 2017, after previously having only seen a Clemson loss there in the pre-dynastic period.
On the other side, I would be annoyed if NC State ever became consistently good, mostly because I have really grown to enjoy making fun of them. Their coach, Dave Doeren, is pretty whiny, and he and Dabo have had some great episodes of melodrama over the years. Really entertaining stuff, especially because Clemson always ends up winning. Also, for all the talk about their good quarterback history and this largely exaggerated notion that they give Clemson trouble, they are 1-15 in their past 16 games against Clemson, and have exactly one 10-win season all time. I love to fall back on these stats to continue to feed my “NC State stinks” narrative, so if they ever got really good, I would lose that pillar of my football fanhood.
If any Wolfpack fans are reading this, I am sorry. But not really.
6) Besides Lawrence, who will have the biggest day on offense against the Tech defense?
This one’s pretty easy: Travis Etienne.
Etienne is back for his senior season, and might finally be getting more recognition as one of the most electrifying players in the nation. It’s possible that both he and Lawrence will be Heisman finalists this year. He will also go down not only as one of the greatest running backs in Clemson history, but as one of the greatest players in Clemson history, which is really saying something.
Etienne has always had elite speed and game-breaking ability, but over the course of his career, he has become a more complete player. He’s become stronger and incredibly difficult to bring down, and has also become a threat in the passing game. Last season, in 15 games, he had 37 receptions, blowing away his previous high of 12 from the year before. This season, through four games, he already has 17 receptions for 245 yards. He has the ability to turn check-down plays into huge gains, which he has done several times in the past couple of games.
7) How many points does Clemson win by? And how many points does Tech’s offense score in non-garbage time?
I’m going to go with a 31-point Clemson win (let’s say 48-17), with Tech scoring 10 points before true garbage time. It’s 2020 though, so who knows.
Thanks again to Tom for taking the time to chat with us this week. Y’all make sure and head over to STS to check out our end of the Q&A and say hello.
Kick is at noon on Saturday. Go Jackets!