2014 CFN Preview - Clemson Tigers

Posted Jul 24, 2014

Preview 2014 - Tajh & Sammy are gone, but Clemson will keep on rolling. (Getty Images)

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2014

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By Richard Cirminiello
- 2014 Clemson Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Dabo Swinney
Sixth year: 51-23
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 27, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Tiger Players
1. DE Vic Beasley, Sr.
2. LB Stephone Anthony, Sr.
3. DT Grady Jarrett, Sr.
4. QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
5. OT Isaiah Battle, Jr.
6. DE Corey Crawford, Sr.
7. WR Mike Williams, Soph.
8. SS Robert Smith, Jr.
9. WR Adam Humphries, Sr.
10. CB Mackensie Alexander, RFr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Georgia
Sep. 6 South Carolina St
Sep. 20 at Florida State
Sep. 27 North Carolina
Oct. 4 NC State
Oct. 11 Louisville
Oct. 18 at Boston College
Oct. 25 Syracuse
Nov. 6 at Wake Forest
Nov. 15 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 22 Georgia State
Nov. 29 South Carolina

New quarterback. Same expectations.

Clemson will no longer have longtime QB Tajh Boyd behind center, or his favorite target, Sammy Watkins, running routes. Huge losses, but don’t expect the bar to be lowered dramatically around Death Valley. Dabo Swinney has a great thing going with the Tigers, and he and his staff continue to thrive on Signing Day. The program is bound to take a small step back in 2014, fading a little further behind Florida State in the ACC Atlantic, but there’s ample talent on hand to realistically be thinking major bowl game for the third time in the last four years.

Clemson is Clemson, with a twist. Although the offense has largely been the catalyst for the program’s 32 wins over the last three years, the defense will be asked to shoulder the load in the early going. Seven starters return to a unit that’s made enormous strides for coordinator Brent Venables, and will be expected to do so again in 2014.

The Tigers will be led by one of the nation’s best D-lines, a deep unit that’ll attack the pocket with the inside-outside combination of Grady Jarrett and All-American Vic Beasley, respectively. You want depth? This line’s second unit would rank among the 25 or so best groups in America. It’s a good thing that Clemson will dominate the line of scrimmage, too, because it might be vulnerable in the back seven. LB Stephone Anthony is a beast. But two of his mates have graduated, as have last year’s starting corners. Quality quarterbacks can solve this secondary, unless Beasley & Co. are in their face for 60 minutes.

Chad Morris is back. You can come in from the ledge now, Clemson fans.

Morris is one of the hottest offensive coordinators in college football, which is why no one is panicking yet over the departures of Boyd, Watkins and five other starters. The Tigers can’t possibly be as potent as they were in 2012 and 2013. Morris, though, is so good at developing attacks that Clemson will still be one of the ACC’s highest-scoring teams.

Boyd’s perennial backup, Cole Stoudt, is the likely starter. The senior brings poise, experience and leadership to the huddle. His supporting cast is a work-in-progress. The Tigers are in the market for reliable targets, a feature back and a couple of new starting linemen. Clemson was a 40-point offense in Boyd’s final two years. With so many question marks, the 2014 edition might have to settle for hovering around the 35-point range.

Clemson has found its groove. But then again, so have Florida State and in-state rival South Carolina. And the Tigers know it. They can’t allow the gap with the Seminoles and the Gamecocks to widen, even in a year when there’s so much turnover on offense. Swinney won’t let the program slip too far, though this could be one of those seasons that ends in December instead of January.

What to watch for on offense: The backs will be fine as long as the passing game is a threat. Is anyone seriously rattled by the graduation of Roderick McDowell? Sure, he was a 1,000-yarder, but he was also a journeyman prior to 2013, testament to the attack’s penchant for producing playmakers. If it takes a committee, so be it. The Tigers house a bunch of capable successors, including junior Zac Brooks, senior D.J. Howard, redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman and junior C.J. Davidson, who arrived on a track scholarship.

What to watch for on defense: The fallout at cornerback. The Tigers feel really confident about the defense. Corner, though, could become a tricky area. Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson have graduated, and it’s not as if the pass defense was unbeatable a year ago. Seniors Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins are serviceable veterans. But the player to watch is redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander, who looked like the program’s best cover guy in the spring. If he can continue to evolve into a stopper, Clemson will have one less worry on defense this fall.

This team will be far better if … it does a better job of protecting the pocket. The Tigers allowed 34 sacks last season, which was the third highest total in the ACC. Now, a seasoned veteran, like Boyd, was able to withstand—and thrive—under pressure. But how will Stoudt, who has never started a game, hold up under those circumstances? The offense is facing enough issues this year. If the unit wants to remain on track, keeping the pocket clean can’t be another one of the worries.

The Schedule: The Tigers will know exactly where they stand in the world right away. If they’re able to beat Georgia and Florida State on the road, they’ll not only be 3-0, they’ll probably be No. 1 in the country. While there are road games at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech to deal with in back-to-back weeks, that’s about it for the nastiness away from Death Valley, getting three home games in a row in the first part of the season and four home games in five weeks. The South Carolina showdown is at home, but with that to end the season, and the Bulldogs to start, this is one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, even with Georgia State and South Carolina State on the slate.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Cole Stoudt. No, you don’t get better by losing a player of Tajh Boyd’s caliber, but a team could do a lot worse than Stoudt. The savvy veteran has been in the system since 2011, which means he knows the intricacies of Chad Morris’ offense intimately well. Stoudt possesses all of the intangibles needed to replace an all-timer, but he’s a skilled passer and an underrated athlete as well. His play in the spring, coupled with Chad Kelly’s dismissal and Deshaun Watson’s broken collarbone, has led to the starting nod. And he’s prepared to make the most of this opportunity.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Vic Beasley. Beasley could have turned pro, and would have been drafted high. He’s still an amateur, though, and the Tigers couldn’t be happier. By improbably staying in school, Beasley became Clemson’s first consensus All-American since 1989 to return for his senior year. He’s the type of pass rusher who needs to be accounted for at all times. The opposition has two choices when it comes to defending Beasley—allow him to wreak havoc in the backfield, or give him so much attention that the rest of a terrific D-line flourishes. Clemson wins either way.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Cole Stoudt. And it’s not even up for debate. Stoudt doesn’t have to necessarily be Tajh Boyd, an unfair comparison because of the disparity in reps. What he needs to be is a reliable caretaker of Chad Morris’ offense. In order words, maintain the accuracy and poise he’s shown off the bench in recent years, while showcasing some of the untapped potential that couldn’t reach the surface when No. 10 was still in Death Valley. Stoudt has no choice but to be the primary accelerant on offense. If not he, then who?

The season will be a success if ... a fourth-straight 10-win season includes a victory over South Carolina. Can the Tigers win the ACC in 2014? Of course. Still, that’s a taller than usual quest this season. Clemson has a new quarterback. Florida State has the reigning Heisman winner. And this year’s matchup between the league’s two powerhouses on Sept. 20 will take place in Tallahassee. The Tigers need to remain on course, overcoming all challenges to once again be ranked among the nation’s top dozen or so teams. Oh, and they’ve got to snap the five-game losing streak when the Gamecocks visit on Nov. 29.

Key game: Nov. 29 vs. South Carolina. For all that Clemson and Dabo Swinney have achieved lately, the inability to take down the Gamecocks gnaws at the program, the coach and the fans. The Tigers have dropped five consecutive Battles of the Palmetto State, their longest losing streak in the series. And no matter where they are in the rankings at the time, they always seem to unravel at the sight of garnet and black. Clemson has a couple of pieces of unfinished business that need to be tended to. Beating South Carolina is bolded and underlined at the top of that list.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Passing efficiency: Clemson 164.2 – Opponents 114.2
- Yards per game: Clemson 507.7 – Opponents 356.7
- Third-down conversions: Clemson 44.7% - Opponents 30.8%

- 2014 Clemson Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players