OK, right off the top. This was not as close as the score indicated. The Bulls controlled play for probably 50 out of 60 minutes, and they had an 18-point lead with three minutes left before things got out of hand.
I want to go back to a comment GarySJ wrote in the GameThread.
You can see why Clemson is 6-6.
"They just don't do the little things right. Look at USF's first drive of the half. On 3rd-and-long, Landi spun away from a guy who should have tackled him and forced a punt, but was completely out of position. 5-foot-9 Mo Plancher ran over a guy to pick up another first down. Their quarterbacks have been throwing passes to the wrong shoulder all game long. Clemson doesn't look sharp at the point of attack on offense or defense. USF does. And of course Clemson has made a ton of mistakes.
"Clemson's talent is unmistakable. The crawl says it all; they have five players who'll go in the NFL Draft. We have one. That Bowers guy has lived up to the hype; he's tremendous. They've got some guys on offense who are scary when you get them the ball and some room to move. But Clemson hasn't done that. They just don't play to their strengths."
Does that sound like a team you might recognize? It should, because those were the kind of things we would have said about the 2009 USF team while it was getting its doors blown off by a less talented, better coached, smarter opponent. It was uncanny. Didn't the Tigers look like they were going to stick with what they wanted to do no matter how well USF countered it? Didn't the Tigers show flashes of being much more talented, and that all that was holding them back was coaching? Didn't the Tigers have that 10-minute burst of intensity and emotion at the beginning of the game, and then they faded away for most of the afternoon?
It's not like USF played a fantastic game. They still played too soft in the secondary, there wasn't a whole lot of pass rush, and they were only OK at running the ball (ignore the final stats, because those were stunted by a lot of fourth-quarter running where they were trying to drain the clock and Clemson was stacking the line). It's like I said on Twitter after the Bulls went up 31-13. All other factors being equal, if you just took the two teams and gave them equal amounts of coaching, there's no way the Bulls should be 20 points better than Clemson. They played a smarter game, and they took advantage of the Tigers' mistakes.
The only reason USF didn't finish the game 20 points better than Clemson was because of the last three minutes, where the Bulls maybe eased off the gas on defense, and Clemson got hot. What, you thought there was going to be an easy, relaxing win at the end of the season? Come on, you haven't watched enough USF football. I didn't really start to freak out until it got to 31-26, but at that point I was having a little hissy fit in my living room. It was like last year's team made a brief, five-minute cameo in the middle of this season's crowning achievement.
In this time of introspection
On the eve of my election
I say to my reflection
"God, please spare me more rejection!"
'Cause my peers, they criticize me
And my ex-wives all despise me
Try to put it all behind me
But my redneck past is nipping at my heels
(Oh I'm sorry, did you really think we would go the entire month without using this song?)
Fortunately Clemson's second onside kick didn't go 10 yards before a player touched it, or those last 45 seconds would have been really hairy.
Other random thoughts:
- B.J. Daniels finally looked healthy and at full speed. The offensive line and the game plan did a good job taking Da'Quan Bowers out of the game, but Daniels' running ability also helped. The passing plays didn't ask a whole lot of him, but he executed them very well, and he gets points for recognizing that Clemson forgot to cover Demetris Murray on the first touchdown of the game... if only because he might have missed that earlier in the season. There are still some things to work on for next season (I still don't like him throwing passes leaning sideways), but this was the best Daniels has looked since the Cincinnati game.
- The score was actually closer than it should have been because Dabo Swinney can't add. He went for two after Clemson made it 31-19 and failed, which meant when it was 4th and 7 on their next possession, they had to go it instead of kicking a field goal. That led to the questionable touchdown pass to Brandon Ford that the replay officials awarded to the Tigers, even though Jon LeJiste ripped the ball out as Ford fell to the ground. The final score probably should have been 31-23.
- It didn't work, but that reverse pass with Evan Landi made me so happy. I kind of wish they had used Landi's experience at quarterback a little bit more during the season, but I guess it wouldn't have made that much of a difference in the end.
- Lindsey Lamar has a second career as a crash test dummy if this football thing doesn't work out. I didn't know it was legal for a player to pick another player up off the ground and body slam them down.
- You think Clemson should re-do their university commercial so that it doesn't feature Dabo Swinney? The shot of him in his camo pants with "MENTOR" on the screen just killed me.
- Speaking of commercials, ESPN must have been sandbagging really hard when they talked about how well they sold spots for these bowl games. I think I saw 35 "Foundation For a Better Life" commercials today. That is not a made-up number.
- If you were disappointed with the offense this year, just remember: A.J. Love, Sterling Griffin, Darrell Scott, and Dontae Aycock all join the team next season. And that's not even counting incoming recruits or guys who redshirted this season.
- Thanks to all the seniors on this team. Dontavia Bogan, Mistral Raymond, Terrell McClain, Craig Marshall, Jacquian Williams, Moise Plancher, Sampson Genus, Jacob Sims, David Bedford, Richard Kelly, Eric Schwartz, and everyone else I can't think of at the moment.
- 246 days until South Bend. See you there.