Monday, January 16, 2017

The Best Day Ever

I meant to write this all out after rewatching the game a few times this weekend, but thanks to Charter I couldn't until today.

I bought tickets to Tampa back in the summer, knowing that we had the talent and the depth to get back. Along the way, I wavered a little in my belief that we would, especially after NC State and Pitt, but I knew Ohio State would be a favorable matchup for us, and I have felt all along that we were the only team with a QB good enough to beat Alabama straight up. Now that we have, its just such a great time to be a Tiger fan, its been a long road.

I was so giddy after we shut out Ohio State that I was 100% confident that we were going to Tampa last week to win a national title. I had my worries about what could go wrong, but never believed we would lose the game. A good QB can beat Alabama straight up, any others would depend on them making mistakes.

I drove the 10 hours from Huntsville to Tampa and met FF and another friend of ours and of course we stayed out drinking all night. After about 4 hours of sleep we got up and started to tailgate outside the stadium, pretty close to the huge Buccaneers flag (Clemson needs one, we should build a mountain and just put it on top, I dont care what it costs). Random Texas and Florida fans showed up with jager and mezcal, and we had a great time. After we finally got into the stadium - thanks CFP for having only a couple gates in/out - I saw it was about 60-65% Clemson. We were in the upper deck but they were good seats, hell any seat aside from the endzone is good enough, and the upper deck at Raymond James doesn't feel like a skyscraper like DV does.

The only real worry I had going into this game was whether the OL could give DW enough time to get rid of the ball. Bama can be exposed in M2M coverage but you have to have the time to do it. I knew Wayne wasnt going to get much. I wasn't terribly worried about turnovers or Special Teams. I knew we could get plenty of pressure on Hurts and make him throw to win. If we did that and they beat us, well then they deserve it.

In the beginning, we really didn't give DW that time. I thought the plan was a little conservative, as if we were feeling them out, at first. Wayne didnt have room but was effective early on, but they were so good at secondary support in the alley that nothing was going anywhere outside. Bama strangely seemed to be doing the same thing on defense. They were playing mostly Robber coverage in the 1st Q and into the 2nd, they always had a Robber (or spy) on DW. I think that Saban switched to C2 once he was confident that he was going to stop the run. He actually switched before we started having success throwing downfield.

At several moments I felt like we were a hairs breadth away from getting killed, not from DW or the skill guys playing bad, but moreso because the OL was so inconsistent inside and that would cause negative plays and mistakes made out of trying too hard. Alabama disguises so well, and some linemen just did not pick up the stunts and twists well. They just outblocked us on the first Counter Trey TD and the 2nd stretch play, but Hurts wasnt going to beat us unless we had a huge bust in coverage. Once we scored our first TD I knew we'd be fine.

In the stadium, they continually give you the game stats, and you can see the play count rising. I noticed at the end of the 1st half that we were way up on TOP and that we'd run north of 40 plays. It really didn't feel like it at all. We at times played bad enough inside that we could've been down by 2 scores but to hold it to 14-7 was key.

I did see on replay how much Desmond Howard was saying the plays were there downfield, yeah, DW didn't see a couple, but there weren't that many. Our guys got "NFL open", which is about 1 step. Thats not "college open". They were sticking with us as long as they needed to do so.

At about a minute into the 4th, I counted up the plays again and saw we were pushing 80. I leaned over to FF and pointed it out that if we have 80 now, thats basically a full game for the Alabama D. Most pro-style teams can't break 75 plays per game on average, and fewer still get over 50-60 against Alabama. Here we were with 80 already. 100 plays is like playing an extra Q. We can wear their asses out if we get a first down and push the tempo to full speed.

And that is exactly what ScElliott did. Alabama was having issues in matching patterns with criss-crossing receivers the further along we got. The DBs weren't switching off the coverage as they're supposed to do in pattern match. When we got man coverage it really messed them up. The more tired they got, the less penetration we saw from the DL, and the DBs were going the wrong way and running into each other. Alabama was keeping a safety over MW at all times, even with short routes they would always have one defender with outside leverage and another with inside. Renfrow usually sits in the 5 position in the slot, inside of MW many times. They were so worried about Mike that Renfrow had no one on his inside and the outside guy was trying to watch MW while playing Hunter.

When we had the first go ahead score the crowd went bonkers and I didn't think the D would give them anything. It was loud even in the upper deck. But they made some plays, especially the WR Pass downfield, and we quieted down when Hurts went into the endzone to make it 31-28. I saw they had left us too much time though. I knew we were going to win.

The last drive was just a thing of beauty. Their DL was worn out, and the defensive backs had hands on hips too. DW just cut them up. He's the coolest under pressure college QB ever.

When he hit Renfrow I started crying, a national title is all I ever wanted for Clemson. I cry when I watch the replay of it, hell I could cry just thinking about it. I probably would've cried harder if FF wasnt jumping all over me and about to knock me down. A lot of folks around us were crying too.

We watched replays all night afterward and I drove back the 10 hours fueled only on caffeine and chocolate. I've watched the replays all week long and will continue to watch them until September.

Reaction from Bammers here in Huntsville has been muted, to say the least, but they have generally been very complimentary of how we played. A lot of excuse making on sports talk radio, but they are breaking things down just as we would and realize that DW is exceptional. Finebaum is another story altogether and attracts a different crowd. Auburn fans have thanked me every day. I'm wearing orange every damn day until I run out. I'm buying every piece of 2016 title memorabilia I can get my hands on. I don't care what it costs.

FF and I grew up when Clemson was good, and Max Lennon taking it away really crushed me personally. I know I'm not the only one that feels cheated. If we had gotten beaten down it would've been different, but our own people took greatness away from us, and we had to spend 20 years in the wilderness, and wait on some people to retire or die, before Dabo got everyone on the same page again. He and the players deserve all the credit for where we are now. If we were running STS still today, I'd quit. To get here is all I ever wanted. I don't care if we go 7-5 next year. I'm sure we'll be here as long as Dabo stays at Clemson, which I believe will be forever now.

But we started this all as a place to vent, and no one else was really talking about football without being shouted down as a coot. Far too many Clemson fans were happy with 8-4 seasons. They thought we'd never have the money or be able to recruit at this level consistently. They didn't want to spend anything on facilities because they were not convinced that having nice things really improved anything else. We however, had seen us when we were up there with the best, and can't stand not being the best, and wrote about it. I went to LSU and saw all the things Saban had done and saw no reason why Clemson couldn't have upgrades to the Stadium, an IPF, the huge support staff, or anything else. I didn't see any beat writers harping on any of it. They just fed their readers whatever Clemson fed them. I bet not many people will admit that they were wrong about spending the money that we've spent over the last decade. Hell, Dabs had to take some of his own salary and pay extra staff -- basically taking the Sikes/McFadden Hall along kicking and screaming until they've now created those positions permanently.

It took the 6-7 season to get enough people riled up and spamming BOT members for real momentum to get started. It turns out that terrible year was the kickstarter to where we are today. Do I take back anything I said? Nope. I stand behind every opinion I have ever written as being what the facts, and especially the film, led me to at the time. I was wrong about his potential as a coach but he has grown into a great one. I treated several hires with healthy skepticism but they have proven me wrong. That is all I ever wanted them to do. You folks who want to look back at something we wrote 7 years ago and saying that I pull for us to fail can go right ahead and do whatever makes you feel better. I'm incapable of pulling against Clemson in anything.

But we've said all along that if he wins one national title, he gets carte blanche. He can do whatever he likes now. Pay him and his assistants whatever he wants. If he wants a swimming pool shaped like a tiger paw and it be half the size of Lake Hartwell and costs $2billion, then give it to him.