CLEMSON — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney described his own team as “good” but not “great” earlier this season. The Tigers made strides toward becoming the consistent program Swinney desires with back-to-back, 10-win seasons. But losses to South Carolina and Florida State demonstrated Clemson is still flawed in some areas.
As No. 14 Clemson prepares for No. 8 LSU in the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in the 2012 regular season:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
1 – Consistency
For years, Clemson had been dogged by inconsistency. Clemson better played to a standard in recording a second straight 10-win season this fall, something not achieved at the school since 1987-90. Clemson did not stumble to any ACC opponent it was expected to beat for the first time in a decade. Clemson was 8-3 against the spread in 2012. Even it its losses, the Tigers were competitive.
ESPN national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said this was a key step in regard to the perception of the program.
“If you’ve followed Clemson they’ve had their moments where they start off hot and take a nose dive and they’ve done that several years,” Luginbill said. “I think for the first time you’re starting to see consistent progress. I said before the year I thought it was very important for Clemson to have back-to-back, 10-win seasons.”
2 – Chad Morris’ encore
Many wondered whether defenses catch up to Morris’ offense this fall. Would Clemson regress, losing three starting linemen? Would Tajh Boyd take a step back as a second-year starter?
Instead Clemson rewrote much of the program’s offensive record books, finishing eighth in the nation in total offense. Morris proved he did not just copy mentor Gus Malzahn’s system, he’s adept in teaching technique and a good problem solver in implementing the pistol to help he is offensive line. It is why CBSSports.com rates him as the fifth most attractive head coaching candidate this offseason.
3 – Player development … on offense
Some have questioned Clemson’s ability to develop players but this fall receiver DeAndre Hopkins went from solid to stardom, the offensive line exceeded all expectations and Boyd slimmed down to become an athletic, dual-threat quarterback. Beyond coaching and commitment by players to self improvement, Clemson has added a training table and has a renewed commitment to nutrition.
WHAT WENT WRONG
1 – Defense
We learned in 2012 that the 2011 defensive issues were not solely, or perhaps even mostly, related to former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Tackling, suspect secondary play and a lack of front-four difference makers remained common themes and it was defense that was in large part culpable in losses to South Carolina and Florida State.
In part because of the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes eroded by coaching change, Clemson had little proven depth in 2012. Sixty of the 85 players on scholarship were freshmen or sophomores. For example, when a key player like cornerback Martin Jenkins went down with an injury there was no competent backup to replace him.
3 – The 2011 recruiting class:
Rarely does Clemson sign multiple five-star prospects like it did in 2011, signing four. Clemson received little production from the class in 2012. One of the five-stars, Mike Bellamy, was dismissed from the team. Stephone Anthony lost his starting linebacker position, fellow linebacker Tony Steward was limited to special teams and Sammy Watkins regressed.
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