The DOOM portion of NC State's conference schedule rolls on with Clemson, and I spoke with Shakin The Southland contributor Ryan Kantor to try to get a sense of just how much DOOM we should expect this weekend. His answers to my questions are below, while my answers to his questions will be at STS.
1.) Deshaun Watson is off to a heck of a start for a true freshman quarterback. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses you've seen from him thus far?
RK: Deshaun Watson was recruited to Clemson as the #1 dual-threat QB according to Rivals and 247. Although he was always going to compete for playing time, the preferred plan was to redshirt him while Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt battled for the starting job. Of course, Kelly was dismissed from the program meaning Watson couldn't redshirt for obvious depth reasons. Meanwhile, Watson's early enrollment allowed him to learn the offense and gradually close the gap between himself and Cole Stoudt until finally surpassing him and earning the starting job during the FSU game.
Watson has a rocket arm and throws with impeccable accuracy. He's quick and manages to evade pressure while keeping his eyes up-field. One of his best plays against FSU came when he was scrambling away from a should-have-been sack and hit Adam Humphries in the chest with a bullet pass. He is well-rounded and has an extremely high-upside.
As you might expect, he is so talented that he takes some chances he probably shouldn't. He sometimes tries to fit passes into tiny windows, and he's so skilled he will generally get away with it, but sometimes it will lead to bad results. In that way, he's a bit of a (Brett) Favre-ian gunslinger.
He still needs to work on some things such as calling out blocking assignments, taking snaps under center, and hitting the check down route rather than forcing the ball downfield, but with our schedule as brutally front-loaded as it was, we should be able to win as he learns these finer points even with our unproductive run game, until we face South Carolina.
2.) Considering the production Clemson's offense lost from last year, have you generally been pleased with the way that unit has performed in 2014? What still needs work?
RK: In the Georgia game, Clemson's offense lacked explosion. It required long methodical drives to score points, and as a result, it ran out of steam in the second half. I was very dissatisfied with what we saw there.
Since then, the passing game has opened up as some of the young receivers like Artavis Scott and Mike Williams have emerged. Watson has also been appropriately eased into the college game and is now performing well beyond his years. He set the Clemson single-game passing TD record last week with six.
My gripes come with the run game. We failed to recruit sufficient quantity on the O-line and had some attrition since the start of last season so we find ourselves thin and suspect across the position group.
Our ability to run between the tackles has been laughable. Against UNC, about a fifth of our runs were stuffed for no gain or a loss. We are averaging just 3.1 YPC and even that humble number is skewed upward by the SC State game. Further we don't break long runs like we used in the Spiller and Ellington days. Part of this is due to our running back corps which boasts a handful of capable backs, but nobody playing great football, however this problem may fall moreso on the shoulders of the offensive line.
Kalon Davis - a redshirt senior - was slated to play guard, but struggles at tackle have forced him to shift to right tackle where he started last week. Isaiah Battle, the other tackle is pretty solidly entrenched there, but in between those two there has been struggles.
David Beasley was suspended for the Georgia game but is now back filling the guard spot opened up by Kalon Davis's move to tackle. Graduate student Reid Webster is playing a lot at guard which nobody expected from someone who has always been a "depth guy." Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo have switched back and forth at center. Guillermo wrestled the job away from the smaller Norton, but had a minor injury during the FSU game and did not start last week. Barring that injury, I believe we beat FSU. The interior offensive line must get better.
3.) With the exception of the Georgia game, Clemson's defense has been great at stopping the run. Was there anything in particular UGA did to exploit Clemson up front, or have you pretty much chalked that one up to Hurricane Gurley and moved on?
RK: I think the Georgia game gets a little mischaracterized by ESPN and those reviewing the stats because of all the numbers they accumulated in garbage time. Clemson held Georgia to 24 points through three quarters, but numerous three-and-outs kept the defense on the field until they finally broke. Georgia found most of their success running outside the tackles, because Clemson's interior run defense is outstanding. In fact, Clemson's front held FSU to less than a yard per carry. I blame Clemson's offense and credit Georgia's amazing running back unit more than I knock Clemson's defense.
I don't believe NC State will have much success running between the tackles against Clemson, and instead should focus on more zone read or HB toss type rushing plays.
4.) How are Clemson's coaches utilizing Vic Beasley this year? Is he moving around a lot?
RK: Beasley leads all active FBS players in career sacks and is third all-time in Clemson history. He fared much better in his matchup against FSU's tackle Cameron Erving this year and created pressure on the quarterback. As you'd expect, Beasley remains one of the nation's best speed rushers and has been given the opportunity to aggressively pursue opposing quarterbacks. He has lined up in a three-point stance as well as standing and has dropped into coverage on occasion as DC Brent Venables disguises his blitz packages.
5.) After the shaky place kicking in the Florida State game (I'm sorry to bring that up), are there lingering concerns about that aspect of the special teams?
RK: Our special teams are not very good and place kicking remains a weakness. Ammon Lakip hit a beautiful 45-yard field goal from the hash against UNC, but the question remains, would he have hit it in a tie game on the road? He is very talented, but he is in his own head. It would not surprise me one bit if he looked sharp for the next seven games only to falter in the Palmetto Bowl. He doesn't need to prove his talent, only his mettle and he won't get an opportunity to do that until there is no room for error. I think he has a lot of potential and I am rooting for the RS junior from John's Creek, Georgia.