Never was Clemson's need for improved talent on defense more evident than Saturday night in Tallahassee. Florida State racked up 49 points despite losing a possession to a muffed punt, missing two field goals and taking a knee deep in Clemson territory.
New Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables had stopped Florida State with great effectiveness in his two previous years at Oklahoma. That he couldn't fully run his Oklahoma plan, or anything close to it, shows that the Tigers lack talent. Sure, it takes time to implement a new scheme. And Florida State's offense is much improved. But the type of offense on display Saturday night doesn't happen without a lack of defensive talent.
Heck, Florida State's offensive linemen told the 'Noles third-string defensive tackles that they were tougher in practice than Clemson's starters were in the game.
Clemson used to have stars on the defensive line. No more.
When you lose Bowers, Jenkins, Branch and Thompson over a two-year span and can't reload with quality DL that's a major problem— Travis Sawchik (@travis_sawchik) September 26, 2012
To me this is the root of Clemson's defensive issues: CU has two defensive linemen contributing from the 2009, 2009, & 2010 classes— Travis Sawchik (@travis_sawchik) September 26, 2012
It's not the coaching, it's the players.
The staff has recruited enough shiny bauble talent to get it high marks by the recruiting guys on an annual basis, but the net result is a lot of talent at positions like quarterback, receiver, running back, but not nearly attention has been paid to the big structure - the offensive and defensive lines.
With a truly special offense likely to be around for more one more year before Sammy Watkins and Tahj Boyd head to the NFL -- and Chad Morris to a head coaching job -- Clemson needs to do everything it can to shore up its defense and not waste perhaps the best offense in the country. That's particularly true given that the Tigers host Florida State in Death Valley next season. With what Florida State stands to lose to graduation and the draft, Clemson has a real shot to win the conference. Maybe more. But only if the Tigers can fix their defense.
The best way to quickly fix a defense is to bring in JUCO players. No, they're not guaranteed. But they are physically mature as men in a way that most high school recruits are not.
Unfortunately for Tigers fans, it appears Clemson is unwilling to do so.
I had seen the authors at SBN's Shakin The Southland mention Clemson's unwillingness to admit junior college players in the past, but I wasn't sure they were serious. In the press box Saturday, I ran into Larry Williams of Tiger Illustrated, and he said the same thing. Clemson just does not take JUCOs.
Travis Sawchick echoed those thoughts Wednesday on Twitter:
Clemson's philosophy of not admitting JUCO players means it can't fill voids, like on the DL, quickly. In effect, no de facto free agency— Travis Sawchik (@travis_sawchik) September 26, 2012
That's three sources with excellent knowledge of Clemson's program all saying the same thing. What in the world?
I'm not saying that Clemson is a poor academic institution. But it's not one of the BCS's tops like a Stanford, Vanderbilt or Northwestern. Why would Clemson refuse to admit players from junior colleges?
Shakin The Southland explains:
Clemson will not go after JUCO players...
I believe that has more to do with the administration and the academic advisory board and not necessarily derived from the coaches (though the coaches don't necessarily seem to care). Ideally, you would like to develop players from HS through their college careers...unless of course you can pick up a Nick Fairly, Cam Newton, or Mettinberger type player who can come in and [play well] early.
To which I responded:
That's dumb on their part
Four or five students won't impact a school's academics.
You are preaching to the choir...but when you realize that
our academic committee will not allow Tom Bowden to sign a jam up receiver (Dwight Jones) but it is no problem for him to get into UNC, you start to see how the administration handcuffs our coaching staff.
And I further pressed:
I am not trying to bash Clemson's academics
But they don't have a reputation as anything special outside the mind of Clemson supporters. Is the admin that insulated? 2-4 kids yearly...
And they told us a little more:
There was a big power struggle when coach Danny Ford left and I think that has something to do with it
Otherwise, President Barker initiated this Top 25 initiative when he arrived. If seems as though he was concerned that a good athletics program would hurt that objective (which is complete [nonsense]). Anyway, we put in all these programs to assure the athletics programs are "kept in check" and essentially handcuffed on a lot of these issues.
Over the past 1.5-2 years, there has been an attitude adjustment initiated by members of the BOT who are sick of sucking at football. Still, though, no dice on JUCOs. Longer answer than you wanted but you have to understand the whole culture up there to get why they would implement extremely stupid policies that effect a half dozen people in a 15,000 person student body.
Clemson does have some extremely impressive incoming freshman, assuming they sign, including elite defensive line commitments Robert Nkemdiche, Elijah Daniel and potentially Montravius Adams. All three have a shot to make an instant impact on the defense.
But high schools recruits are far less likely to have a big impact than a top JUCO player. It's a physical maturity thing, given that JUCO recruits are two or three years older than players coming out of high school.
Clemson's defense is very likely to improve in 2013 simply because it will be Year 2 of Venable's system. They'll probably improve by a good margin. But not as much as it could if the Tigers could take some junior college defenders.
It seems the administration isn't willing to do all that it can to turn a very special offense into a special team for 2013.