This week I spoke with Matt Goldin of Shakin The Southland about the game this weekend. He answered some questions from me below, and you can find my answers to his questions at STS.
1.) While I know there’s been consternation over the results this season, it’s not like Clemson is that far off from being 6-1, either. Do you think the criticism of the Tigers has been overblown given that they’re probably better than their record?
I think that’s why things are so frustrating. It’s not like this is a bad or untalented team, but a team that can’t get out of their own way. The FSU game, to me, showed that Clemson still has the guys to run with anyone in the nation. And in that game you can really circle two disastrous plays (Cade Klubnik fumbling on a sack and FSU running it back for the game tying TD, and then Cade’s decision to throw a screen on 3rd & 1 in OT) that got Clemson beat. There is some criticism that’s justified, but I do think there’s some misunderstandings on some things.
One thing you will hear people harp over and over again on is Dabo not using the transfer portal. The thing is, while Dabo is on record saying he prefers recruiting guys from high school and growing them over snagging some guys from the portal, the big thing that kept Clemson out of the portal this past season was the fact Clemson was over the scholarship limit. Some of that comes from poor planning (being liberal with giving scholarships to walk-ons) but some also happened because Clemson had the pleasant surprise of guys like Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro come back for their senior year. My feeling is that this offseason you will see Clemson’s staff plan better and have room to pick up a few guys from the portal. It’s not going to be a lot, but really this team just has a few big needs that 2-3 guys from the portal could go a long way in filling.
2.) What is it that’s made Clemson’s defense so effective this season?
This is probably one of the most talented defenses in Clemson history. The defensive line is very deep with both veterans and young guys. Freshman TJ Parker has been elite as a defensive end and might get his second start this weekend with Justin Mascoll, who has really impressed me in his last year, being day to day with injury. Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. and Barrett Carter are probably two of the most athletic linebackers Clemson has ever had. Nate Wiggins has my vote for best corner in the nation. I could go on and on. I think defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin probably doesn’t get enough credit because he will always be compared to Brent Venables. There’s a few things I’ll ding Goodwin on, but I really like what I’ve seen from him and look forward to continue to watch him grow as a coach.
3.) When the Tigers are moving the ball consistently, what are they doing well? What are some of the issues hampering them?
While Cade Klubnik has definitely caught some grief for some things, he’s absolutely showing flashes of how good he’ll be, and that’s been evident when Clemson moves the ball. Freshman Tyler Brown has been an outstanding weapon for Cade. Tight end Jake Briningstool has come on a little slow this year but exploded in the Miami game for 2 touchdowns and 126 yards. The 126 yards are the most for a tight end under Dabo Swinney. I hope to see him continue because he can fill the role of the “50/50 jump ball” guy that Clemson is lacking. And when the passing game gets opened up, those two stud running backs, Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, have more room to do their thing as well.
The two things killing Clemson are turnovers and the red zone. Clemson is worst in the nation in fumbles lost, and it’s derailed so many promising drives. The Tigers also don’t seem to have the ability to lineup under center and bully their way for 2 or 3 yards. A lot of it is struggles on the offensive line. It’s frustration to see Clemson execute all over the field and then get to the 2 and stall because we can’t just go under center, bring a tight end in the backfield, and hammer 230 pound running back Mafah ahead for the score.
4.) Which players, on either side of the ball, do you think have the best opportunity for big performances on Saturday?
l feel like Brinningstool has a good shot to continue keeping things rolling. His height and ability to bring down the jump ball is just such a big thing for Clemson and opens up another side of the offense. Defensively, I’m looking at Xavier Thomas. The 6th year senior missed the Miami game due to an undisclosed team rules violation. He’s a guy who game in on fire as a freshman in 2018, but injuries and Covid kept him from hitting his full potential. He spent the past two years completely reshaping his body and has had some big plays this year. I’m hoping to see him take off the last half of the season in his last audition for NFL scouts.
5.) How do you see this one playing out?
Man, I’m trying to keep a positive outlook even though the Miami game was devastating. I don’t have a score in mind, but I think if Clemson wins, this one is going to be similar to the Syracuse win where Clemson gets points early and then has defense sit on the opposing team for the rest of the game. I think for Clemson to win we’ll also have to force turnovers in some capacity. I’m not confident in us winning the turnover battle, but I think if we keep that close, we can win