2013 Preview: Clemson Tigers

2012 Review: For the first eight weeks of the year, Clemson had the nation believing. This would be the year that the Tigers would reach their potential and play at a high level for the entire season. The offense was prolific, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, freshman sensation Sammy Watkins, and a veteran offensive line. This unit put up some gaudy numbers; 59 against North Carolina, 56 against Maryland, and 35 against Florida State. Then, in typical Clemson fashion, Dabo Swinney’s squad lost their bite down the stretch, losing four of their final six games to finish 10-4 after a promising 8-0 start. The descent began in Atlanta against Georgia Tech in which the explosive Tiger offense finally looked human. Clemson’s season ended in Miami as West Virginia racked up 70 points on the Tiger defense. Swinney responded to this embarrassing performance by buying defensive coordinator Brent Venables from Oklahoma, giving Clemson arguably the best pair of coordinators in the country in Venables and offensive mastermind Chad Morris.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Sammy Watkins

Offense: Coordinator Chad Morris returns with a loaded group of skill position talent. Sammy Watkins, arguably the nation’s most dominant player, returns for his sophomore year after an 82 catch, 1,219 yard freshman campaign. His counterpart on the outside is junior DeAndre Hopkins, who had a 978 yard season himself. Three talented sophomores, Charone Peake, Adam Humphries, and Martavis Bryant, along with steady senior Jaron Brown round out a dynamic receiving corps. Andre Ellington is back for his senior season after rushing for 1,178 yards a season ago. However, Ellington recently underwent ankle surgery and is out for the spring. D.J. Howard  will get the majority of the carries until Ellington returns. Tajh Boyd returns under center after posting 3,828 passing yards and 33 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. Despite all the talent at Boyd’s disposal, Clemson must replace All-American tight end Dwayne Allen as well as four offensive line starters. As we saw last season, the Tiger offense began to unravel when Boyd was pressured. With only one o-line starter returning, the likely strategy for every Clemson opponent will be to blitz, blitz, blitz, and blitz again.

Defensive end Malliciah Goodman

Defense: The last time we saw the Clemson defense, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was throwing the ball under, over, and around them en route to 70 points. Enter Brent Venables. The former Oklahoma coordinator brings a basic 4-3 alignment with him, replacing Clemson’s scheming 4-3 (basically a 4-2-5). Seven starters are back from the nation’s 59th best defense, which was led by defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and a strong defensive front. However, only one defensive line starter is back, that being senior defensive end Malliciah Goodman. Not only are the starters gone, but the backups didn’t play much at all last year. SBnation’s Bud Elliot crunched the numbers and figured out that only 15% of Clemson’s defensive line production returns in 2012/13. Not a lot. A collective group of youngsters, led by Corey Crawford, DeShawn Williams, Grady Jarrett, Tavaris Barnes, and Josh Watson will attempt to fill the holes along the line. All linebackers of note return, including three starters Quandon Christian, Jonathan Willard, and Corico Hawkins. Hawkins appears to be at risk of losing his job in favor of sophomore and former 5 star Stephone Anthony, who has been taking the majority of the first team reps in spring practice. The secondary is experienced, with seniors Xavier Brewer and Jonathan Meeks returning as well as (basically) corner starter Bashaud Breeland. Darius Robinson played in 11 games last year and should assume the other corner spot.

Impact Newcomer: 6’1 195 pound safety Travis Blanks enrolled at Clemson in January and has gone through spring practice with the Tigers. The Tallahassee native and former 4-star recruit is currently listed as a second string safety behind Xavier Brewer and definitely has the skills to contribute next year. The experience he will gain from January thru September will be incredibly beneficial to his freshman year success.

X Factor: The word “line”. Clemson’s offensive line and defensive line are both undergoing a massive overhaul in personnel. The offensive skill position talent is basically unmatched across the country and the defensive back seven is good enough to win. However, two of Clemson’s biggest strengths from a year ago (hidden strengths, really) are gone, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the team responds. The Tiger defense played well in spurts last year but really was nothing special. Losing 85% off its top unit is a big blow. Meanwhile, we have yet to see how Tajh Boyd plays with an inexperienced group of linemen. He inherited a great situation last year with five seasoned veterans blocking for him; Will this season produce the same kind of offensive success? To be determined.

2012 Clemson Tigers Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Tickets
Saturday
04/14/12
Tigers Orange-White Spring Game 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
4:00 p.m. ET
ESPN3 (live)
CSS (5 pm ET)
Saturday
09/01/12
Tigers Auburn Tigers 
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Time TBA
ABC or ESPN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/08/12
Cardinals Ball State Cardinals 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/15/12
Paladins Furman Paladins 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/22/12
Seminoles at Florida State Seminoles 
Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/29/12
Eagles at Boston College Eagles 
Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, MA
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/06/12
Yellow Jackets Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/13/12
Open Date
Saturday
10/20/12
Hokies Virginia Tech Hokies 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Thursday
10/25/12
Demon Deacons at Wake Forest Demon Deacons 
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, NC
Time TBA
ESPN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/03/12
Blue Devils at Duke Blue Devils 
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/10/12
Terrapins Maryland Terrapins 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/17/12
Wolfpack NC State Wolfpack
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/24/12
Gamecocks South Carolina Gamecocks 
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
12/01/12
ACC ACC Championship Game
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
TBA Buy
Tickets

Schedule Outlook: The Tigers play only four true road games next season, as well as playing Auburn in the opener at the Georgia Dome; A big coup. I’m sorry Clemson fans, but there are definitely losses on this schedule. Auburn’s young talent grows a year older and should be much improved. Playing Florida State at Doak Cambell will inevitably be a dog fight, but again, we go back to the issue of the Clemson lines. (FSU’s D line is stacked, Clemson’s O line is not. FSU’s O line and Clemson’ D line are both young.) Thankfully for Clemson, four of the Tiger’s toughest opponents have to travel to Death Valley: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State, and South Carolina. If Dabo Swinney’s squad can pluck 2 or 3 wins from this group of games, a division title may be on the horizon. Will this Clemson team be as good as last year’s squad? Probably not. Good line play is so vital for success in college football, and Clemson’s lines do not appear to be close to what they were a season ago. However, Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington and the rest of the skill position players are simply oozing with talent, and if the lines simply play solid football, nine wins would be a great season.

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