Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney seems to be embracing a philosophy shared by Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer -- just win, regardless of how many points the offense accounts for.
The difference is, that’s Beamer’s fundamental philosophy – something along the lines of manage the offense, just don’t screw it up. That’s not the mantra Swinney intended when he was auditioning for the job, and how he explains an average-at-best offense that features two of the fastest, most explosive players in the country to his fan base will be interesting if the offense keeps this pace.
Defense and special teams are what have the Tigers at the top of the Atlantic Division standings, and at this rate, that’s what they’ll need to keep them there. Clemson has scored just five offensive touchdowns in three games heading into Saturday’s matchup against TCU, and three touchdowns on special teams. It’s not like they’ve been playing Alabama’s defense every Saturday, either, though Boston College has looked fundamentally sound and smart scheme-wise despite the inexperience among the front seven.
Veteran running back C.J. Spiller, who has now been hindered by injuries in two games, has yet to score a rushing touchdown, though he has scored three times this season – once on a punt return, once on a kickoff return and once on a reception.
The offensive progress under the new staff has hardly been a lights-out difference so far from last year, and that’s mainly because Clemson is continuing to struggle up front. That wasn’t Rob Spence’s fault last year, and it’s not Billy Napier’s fault this year.
Clemson’s longest drive against BC was six plays for 40 yards. When they get into the red zone, the Tigers can’t seem to buckle down and finish. Teams have to be able to run the football in the red zone and Clemson couldn’t. When the field gets cut down, it’s much tougher to throw a deep ball. Defenses don’t respect it, and they start to press their coverage and make it difficult to throw the ball in a limited space. While the defenses are doing their job, Clemson’s offensive line is struggle to protect and run block well enough to make a difference.
The offensive line, which has shown some improvement, will need some help against TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, especially if left tackle Chris Hairston misses the game with a sprained MCL. In two games (including one against Virginia), Hughes has five sacks and is ranked third in the nation. The Horned Frogs, in large part because of Hairston, rank first in the nation with 11 sacks in two games.
Clemson’s defense is scary good. Clemson allowed just 25 yards passing against Boston College, the fewest by a Clemson opponent since 1991 when Temple had just 15. The seven turnovers on offense haven’t been too detrimental only because the defense has gotten nine takeaways.
Offense is only a problem if the Tigers start losing. After all, the last time Clemson beat TCU, it only took three points to get the win, as the Tigers won 3-0 in 1965. And Virginia Tech’s philosophy – while not always a fan favorite, has resulted in three of the last five ACC titles. When offense isn’t the strength, Beamer Ball is really the only alternative.