I really don’t know what to say after a game like that. We all knew that Clemson is historically good; no one thought we would win this game, and I don’t think anyone national thought it would be close. I said last week I’d be fine with a 26 point loss. Instead I sat through the largest margin of victory in ACC history - 66 points.
I can accept a beatdown from a dynasty team with two Heisman candidates and I can accept only scoring 7 against an elite defense, but giving up 73 points is where my patience ends. At no point should a power 5 team with a reasonable roster allow that to happen.
And before we get into this, let me cut off the “but Dabo ran up the score, that’s why it’s a historic loss” - Dabo trotted out their 4th string walk-on QB and he lit us up for 2 TDs. We gave up 52 points in the first half. Their punter completed two passes. Sometimes teams play with a running clock against bad FCS opponents in the second half - is that what you would’ve wanted Dabo to offer us? Should Clemson have just knelt the ball on every possession? Sure, their playcalling was probably aggressive given the situation, but at no point did we look interested in stopping their fourth stringers from doing whatever they wanted so I don’t want to hear about it.
Okay mini-rant over, back to the main one. Something has to change defensively. Like I said, I’ll excuse the offense here - I’m tired of hearing about it, but there is some truth to the “greatest offensive transformation” rhetoric. It’s gonna take a while for us to get comfortable on offense. But that whole transformation thing doesn’t fly with the defense. We are hemorrhaging yards and points right now; Clemson was just a microcosm. We’re now at 39.8 points and 493 yards per game in 2020. Oh you want Clemson taken out because it’s an outlier? Sure - 31.5 points and 449 yards. Feel much better about those? 2019? 32.4 points and 423 yards.
The big point here is simple: you cannot win games if you give up 30+ points per game. For the last few years the numbers are pretty consistent - about a third of the teams nationally score more than 30 points per game on offense. So right off the bat, giving up 30+ means you need an offense in the top third of the country to have a chance in games. Anyone think we have that right now? Quick reminder that we’ve scored 30+ exactly one time across 2019 and 2020.
Shall we walk through some defensive highlights?
- 73 points to Clemson in 2020, the largest ACC margin of victory in conference history and the most points we’ve given up in the modern era. Also included a 35 point quarter and Trevor Lawrence’s career highs in yards and TDs basically all earned in just the first half.
- 37 points to Syracuse in 2020, a team that only scored 21 against LIBERTY
- 27 points to The Citadel in 2019, an FCS team that runs an offense our defense has extensive knowledge of
- 52 points to UGA in 2019, a team that averaged 30 points per game that season and the most we’ve ever given up to them.
- Two 21-point quarters given up to UCF
- 5.8 yards per play in 2019 - 84th nationally
- 44.7% third down conversion rate allowed in 2019 - 105th nationally
- 47.6% third down conversion rate allowed in 2020 - 62nd nationally (out of 77)
- 4 out of 5 opponents in 2020 have scored more than their season average against us
- 7 out of 12 opponents in 2019 scored more than their season average against us
- 1.42 sacks/game in 2019 - 111th nationally
- 34 plays of 20+ yards allowed in 2020 - 74th nationally (out of 77)
Defense and special teams were supposed to be the emphasis. Yet here we are with arguably one of the worst Power 5 defenses in the country. Someone needs to figure something out on the defensive side of the ball. There is no excuse for what’s going on right now, especially for a defense-focused staff. There’s plenty of defensive talent to produce something better than this.
And sure, building a program takes time. But 2020 hasn’t shown much defensive improvement from 2019, if any at all, and a defensive transition should be smoother than an offensive one. We’re on target for a second straight year of having a firmly below average defense and right now that ain’t good enough. There needs to be real visible improvement in the second half of this season.
ok rant over.
Up next is Boston College (4:00pm on ACCN). The Eagles are currently favored by 3 points, but like us have looked pretty inconsistent this season. They notched a good win against Pitt but were stomped by both Duke and Virginia Tech. SP+ grades BC as slightly better overall, but this is an interesting matchup of strengths and weaknesses with us being the 77th ranked offense and 49th ranked defense and BC being the 45th ranked offense and 72nd ranked defense (again according to SP+). I think this will be a low-scoring affair, which means the defense and special teams really need to play a complete game. If we do that then I think this game is perfectly within reach as a win.