Category Archives: Clemson: Auburn With A Lake

“Justyn is in a position to make this decision for himself.”

If you think back to last season’s opener, one thing we Dawg fans were reminded of as the game approached was Justyn Ross’ return for Clemson.  He had been one of the best receivers in college football before he lost a season due to a serious spinal injury.  I don’t know about you, but at the time I didn’t realize just how serious his condition was.

What makes his evaluation even more difficult? Ross is attempting to become the first known player to make the NFL with a congenital fusion in his spine.

“Justyn has a condition that is very rare, and to my knowledge, there is no precedent of another high-level American football player with this condition playing football,” said Dr. David Okonkwo, who performed the surgery on Ross that allowed him to return to play. “So we were paving new road as we went through the process.”

FROM THE BEGINNING, there was one glimmer of hope that Ross clung to: the potential for surgery to relieve the pressure on his spine, which would give him a chance to play again. But even then, there would be no guarantees.

Shortly after the diagnosis, the coronavirus pandemic shut down campus and Ross went back home to Alabama. He continued to work out, telling himself the doctors would realize they made a mistake, that he was fine, that he did not need surgery. The hit he took that started all this was nothing compared to harder hits in his career, and nothing had ever happened to him.

Reality said something different. Over the next several weeks, multiple neurosurgeons told Ross they would not clear him to play football, saying the risks including paralysis or even death. Despite that, Ross pressed forward trying to save his career.

Ross’ condition, Klippel-Feil syndrome, isn’t curable.  He and his family became convinced that it was treatable, though.

“Dr. Okonkwo is very confident in what he says, he’s very knowledgeable about his work, so he made us feel comfortable when we met him,” Franklin said. “He never made me feel like he had any doubt in what he could do. So that’s where we got the confidence that OK, we can go ahead and do this.”

Ross had the surgery in June 2020. Okonkwo removed a disc that was pushing backward to free up space for the spinal cord, leaving behind a graft and plate to hold everything together.

“The procedure itself is a very common procedure, but this procedure for this specific reason is very rare,” Okonkwo said. “It is virtually unique to have done this surgery in someone with Klippel-Feil syndrome, who happens to be one of the most talented football players in the United States of America.

It’s that “who happens to be” part where it starts feeling a little creepy.  And speaking of creepy,

Swinney and chief of football administration Woody McCorvey flew to Pittsburgh to be with Ross and his mother, then spoke with Okonkwo afterward.

“I asked him, ‘How did the surgery go?'” Swinney said. “I said, ‘Did you go 9-3 or 6-6? He said, ‘I went 15-0.’ And I said, ‘Well, I like that answer.'”

But Okonkwo also cautioned Swinney, telling him even if Ross did everything right, there was still a chance he wouldn’t be able to play.

Well, Ross did play last season for Clemson, finishing with team highs in catches (46) and receiving yards (514).  All that led him to being projected as a mid-round pick in the NFL draft.  As it turned out, not only was Ross not drafted, he also hasn’t been offered a free agent contract by any team.  Which leads to the uneasy conclusion that NFL teams are more concerned about his health than Clemson or Ross are.

Look, I’m not saying there are any bad people here.  A pro football career was Justyn Ross’ ticket to supporting himself and his family after school and Dabo Swinney is being paid big bucks to win games, something a contributing Ross would help achieve.  It’s clear that plenty of due diligence was done before allowing Ross to play and, in the end, it was his call to make.  Or was it?  The NFL is more of a business than is Clemson, or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think, and it’s a little sad to consider that Clemson was willing to go where 32 other teams don’t appear to be.

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UPDATE:  Weirdly enough, this makes me feel slightly better.

I hope everyone involved knows what they’re doing.

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Filed under Clemson: Auburn With A Lake, The Body Is A Temple, The NFL Is Your Friend.

Go home, FPI. You’re drunk.

I don’t care what anyone says.  Preseason or not, any computer with a projection that has Auburn — Auburn! — as the nation’s tenth best team needs to be stripped down completely and re-programmed.

That being said, if I’m forced to take FPI seriously, it’s worth noting that it only finds four teams with better than a 10% chance of making the playoffs.  Look for that fun stat to make a steady appearance in opinion columns about Why We Need CFP Expansion NOW! near you.

Even more interesting to me, though, is that Georgia, despite being in a much tougher conference and having to factor co-existence with Alabama into the equation, is seen as having a significantly better chance of making and winning the playoffs than does Clemson.

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Filling shoes at Clemson

Over at The Athletic, both Stewart Mandel ($$) and Bruce Feldman ($$) now rank Kirby Smart third on their respective Top 25 Coaches Lists.  Number One is obvious.  Number Two for both is Dabo Swinney, whom Smart bested last season.

I’m not here to mock the choice.  After all, as Feldman put it, “The Tigers just had a really down year and still won 10 games and finished No. 14 in the AP Top 25. Before that, Swinney led them two two national titles and six top four finishes in the past six seasons.”  Not exactly chopped liver, that.

It’s easy at times to throw snark in Dabo’s direction, but to give credit where credit is due, he has been an elite program manager.  He’s had remarkable staff stability over time and maximized returns from recruiting perhaps better than any other head coach in the country.

But… (you knew a “but” was coming, right?) he’s facing a big challenge in 2022.

After years of being mentioned as a potential target for head coaching positions, defensive coordinator Brent Venables was hired by Oklahoma to replace Lincoln Riley. Venables arrived at Clemson in 2012, and by 2014, he had the Tigers checking in as one of the best defensive units in the country. Swinney’s choice to fill the vacancy left by Venables came from internal options with Wes Goodwin being elevated to the position after 11 years in off-field roles across two stints. Goodwin will be the co-defensive coordinator along with Mickey Conn, who has served as both safeties coach and special teams coordinator since first joining Swinney’s staff in 2017. Another notable defensive adjustment was the hire of Nick Eason, a former All-ACC standout at Clemson, as defensive tackles coach to replace Todd Bates, who left with Venables for Oklahoma.

Tony Elliott similarly had been mentioned as a potential candidate for power conference jobs in the past, so it came as no surprise when he was introduced as the next coach for Virginia. Elliott is the third offensive coordinator since 2014 to leave Clemson for a head coaching position, and just like the previous instances, Swinney has elected to promote from within, elevating quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter to the OC role. The pipeline of home-grown coaching talent again provided for Clemson, as Thomas Austin moves into an on-field role overseeing the offensive line with longtime assistant Robbie Caldwell transitioning into an administrative role. Kyle Richardson, a member of the support staff from 2016-21 and a three-time state champion as a high school coach in South Carolina, takes over tight ends and serves as passing game coordinator.

That is one helluva bet to place on your program’s culture.  Sitting here right now, though, who’s to say Dabo’s right or wrong about that?  After all, he should know his own folks better than anyone on the outside does.  But, boy, does this have a certain potential to be a giant swing and miss.

Let’s just say I’ll be interested to see those two coaching lists next year.

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Stepdaddy issues

My Gawd, this is pathetic.

When did IPTAY become a cult?

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Unhappy today, Georgia fan?

It could be worse.  You could be a Clemson fan today.

Dabo’s gotta replace both coordinators.  His AD is about to bolt for greener pastures in Miami.  He’s got a quarterback problem that makes Smart’s look simple.

All that’s before you get to that hideous purple/orange jersey configuration.  Just sayin’.

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The ass, she whines.

Christ, for a guy who’s enjoyed as much success as he has, Dabo Swinney sure bitches a lot.

“We scored the other seven.”  Your generosity is duly noted.  See you at the CFP… oh, wait.

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Stinger zinger

Not sure whom this is a bigger ouch for:

Let’s split the baby and just say the ACC.

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Filed under Clemson: Auburn With A Lake, Georgia Tech Football

Damn, Dabo. I don’t think I would’ve said that.

Folks, I have been to the Great Wall of China. I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt. I’ve even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel. But never in all my years as a blogger have I witnessed something as improbable, as impossible, as what we’ve witnessed here.

Admitting that you were outcoached by Geoff Collins is not a good look, dude.

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In defense of Brent Venables

Here’s something Smart said at yesterday’s presser:

On the performance of the offense… 
“Well, I think, you’ve got to be careful, because with the receptions, you’ve got to score touchdowns, and we didn’t.  So, we’re a very matter of fact judgement and it’s like ‘okay so we didn’t score but, why?  Why did we not?’  You go through the reasons why and you go through each play.  A lot of it was attention to detail, not converting on third down, missing a couple of explosives.  They played us very different than what you would normally say a Clemson team would play.  They prepared for speed breaks and shots and fast balls because that’s what they had given up.  They did a good job of defending that… [Emphasis added.]

I think a lot of us, after watching the way Clemson’s defense flamed out against Ohio State to the tune of 639 yards of offense, expected at least a certain degree of fireworks from JT Daniels.  That it never happened can be chalked up to some extent to the injuries to the receiving corps, but more so to the adjustments Venables made in his game plan.  What’s interesting to me about Smart’s quote is that Venables made those adjustments not because of what Georgia did well in its last four games of last season, but because of where his defense was vulnerable.

I saw comments leading up to the game that Venables is one of the best at shoring up deficiencies and I think Saturday night he showed that.  That being said, there’s only so much you can do schematically.  As Kirby went on to say, “Any time you can run the ball down someone’s throat in four minutes, it’s pretty obvious that they knew we had to run the ball there and we were still able to, so we did some really good things offensively.”  True dat.  There are few things in life more satisfying to a Georgia fan than watching an offense finish out on a game-ending drive that doesn’t even lead to a score.

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Filed under Clemson: Auburn With A Lake, Strategery And Mechanics

Bill Connelly begs to differ with Dabo.

I don’t think he’s handing out a C-minus to Clemson here ($$).

Georgia has finished each of the past two seasons first in defensive SP+, so it says something that we just witnessed the best defensive performance of the Kirby Smart era in Athens.

Even when you take Clemson’s own issues into account — new starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei was facing an elite defense (that had eight months to prepare) for the first time, star receiver Justyn Ross was shaking off rust after missing 2020 — this was staggering. The Tigers hadn’t been held under 5.4 yards per play or 21 points in 42 games, and they managed just 3.0 and three, respectively, in Charlotte. Clemson receiver Joe Ngata caught six passes for 110 yards, but 54 other Clemson snaps gained just 70. Uiagalelei was sacked seven times. The Dawg defense even scored the game’s only touchdown, a 74-yard pick-six from Christopher Smith.

Georgia’s defense was so dominant that it’s hard to know what else to take away from the game.

Unless he’s grading on a curve, of course.

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