The Clemson Tigers are in an interesting situation this week. Their winning ways took a hit last Friday in a loss at Syracuse. Coming off only their second regular season loss in three years they head into their bye week. Opinions are usually mixed on whether this is a good thing or not. Sometimes after a loss the best thing is to get right back to work and ready for the next game to have a chance to get the bad taste out of their mouths. However the bye week following a bad performance can be a good time to reevaluate things and correct the mistakes.
Clemson still has all its goals in front of them. One loss didn’t stop them last year, and if they can get back to their winning ways it shouldn’t affect them too much this year. With a tough stretch of ACC games coming up after the bye week, here are few things Clemson should focus on.
Bye Week Focus
Getting Kelly Bryant Healthy
This is the most obvious issue for the Tigers to manage. They need their signal caller to be back to full strength. Kelly Bryant has surprised some folks this season with his solid level of play. After losing Deshaun Watson to the NFL draft, there were definite question marks about how Clemson’s offense would look. The junior quarterback has played well, amassing 1375 yards passing and 393 yards on the ground so far. Like Watson early in his career, Bryant has relied a bit more on his legs to make plays as he continues to develop as a passer.
“We hope he’ll be able to practice this week, but he’ll be out today (Monday) and they’re off tomorrow,” Dabo Swinney said. “Hopefully by Wednesday he’ll be out there moving around, but we’re going to be really cautious with him this week. Come Wednesday we’ll have a much better feel for what he’s going to be able to do practice-wise. Then they’ll be off for the weekend.”
He injured his ankle in the win over Wake Forest two weeks ago, but was able to start at Syracuse. He took a slight shot to his injured leg on the play before he got hurt against the Orange. As he dropped back on the next snap it was evident he was a bit hobbled. Bryant tried to escape the pocket but had little burst and was sacked. Chris Slayton slammed him to the turf and Bryant hit his head resulting in a concussion. The week off couldn’t come at a better time for him, as he will need to pass concussion protocol to return to the field.
Stretch the Field
While the Tigers continue to develop Bryant’s abilities in the passing game, they have been a much more run oriented team in 2017. They have not had nearly as many chunk yardage plays through the air this season. In the loss to Syracuse they had only one completion for more than 15 yards. For the year the Tigers receivers are averaging just under 11 yards per catch. Deon Cain is a big play threat but has yet to get going. He has only one game with more than 55 yards receiving, and only two plays over 30 yards all season.
With Bryant’s ability to run the ball and a talented core of running backs, the Tigers ground game will continue to be the focus of the offense. In order to help that rushing attack, Clemson needs to find a few more big plays through the air. For the season, they only have six passing touchdowns, as opposed to 23 scores on the ground. Cain and junior Ray-Ray McCloud need to become more involved in the downfield passing attack. Tight end Milan Richard could also benefit from more opportunities.
Travis Etienne leads the Tigers in rushing through seven games. This is despite being third on the team in carries. The freshman from Louisiana has been a lightning bolt in the Clemson backfield. He has a run of 50 or more yards in four different games this season. He needs the ball more. Of course his lack of carries can’t be placed solely on coaches or play calling. Etienne, like most freshman tailbacks, is not as adept at pass protection as he is at gaining yards. With a quarterback already recovering from two separate injuries, his playing time could be determined by how he develops his blocking ability.
Back To Normal
While one loss is not a reason to panic, there were a few reasons for concern for the Tigers. Syracuse Eric Dungey threw for 278 yards and three scores in their upset win. Coordinator Brent Venables defense had some uncharacteristic blown assignments in that game. They surrendered season highs in yards, 440, and points, 27. The Tigers also allowed a number of explosive plays, with Syracuse having five plays over twenty yards.
Only time will tell if this was a sign of trouble or just an aberration. With the talent and pedigree of this team, it is likely the latter of the two. Clemson’s defense is predicated on getting a lead and attacking the opposition relentlessly. They never had a lead in their upset loss. The winning ways developed in the upstate of South Carolina over the last few years have been built on the foundation of defense. They still have the talent and scheme to be a dominant force as the season progresses.
Take It Away
The Tigers are all sevens at this point in the season when it comes to turnovers. Through seven games they have both forced and committed seven turnovers. With a young quarterback, and offense overall, it’s not surprising to see this team average one turnover a ball game. It is somewhat surprising to see a dominant defense with this talent only forcing one takeaway per game. It is uncommon for a program near the top not to to dominate the turnover battle. Forcing takeaways, and gaining extra possessions are usually integral to a team’s winning ways. In the Tigers two best performances, statement wins at Louisville and Virginia Tech, they won the turnover battle.
Back To Winning Ways
As stated earlier, one loss should not be the downfall of Clemson’s title defense. They overcame a home loss later in the year and still made the College Football Playoff last season. The Tigers’ schedule gets a bit tougher down the stretch. While they have been tested throughout the season, all their ACC rivals appear in the next four weeks. They come out of the bye week with games against Georgia Tech, at N.C. State, and Florida State. While one loss won’t keep them from their goals, a second loss could know them out of playoff contention and out of the ACC title race. Their conference rivals would want nothing more than to ruin the Tigers season.
For a team that has is 34-3 since 2015, there aren’t a lot of reasons for concern. Clemson will look to shore up a few things during the bye week to ensure they can get back to the winning ways they have enjoyed in recent years.