ACC: Alabama Crimson Tide

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Video: No Heisman hype for David Wilson

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
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Heather Dinich explains to Virginia Tech fans why Trent Richardson is getting the Heisman hype over David Wilson.

Is VT's Williams CFB's best running back?

July, 8, 2010
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Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams is the best player the Hokies have. He could be the best player in the ACC this fall. But will he be the best running back in the country?

The Heisman Pundit says yes.

I'm not quite ready to go there yet -- not with Alabama's dynamic duo returning, or that mighty mite at Pitt just getting warmed up. I don't see Mark Ingram repeating as Heisman winner, but until Williams or anyone else makes a legitimate push to unseat him, he's my pick for the top running back to start the season.

Ingram, though, is only the first in a long line of talented players who will push Williams for title of college football's best running back in 2010. Pitt's Dion Lewis and UTEP's Donald Buckram are the only returning running backs who ranked higher than Williams last year in rushing, but there's plenty of talent capable of creeping up the NCAA rankings. Take Ingram's backup for example, Trent Richardson. He's so good it's possible the Heisman Trophy winner's backup could be the next Heisman winner.

How Virginia Tech and Alabama wind up splitting their carries will be interesting. I'd guess Bama makes a more even split and Virginia Tech eventually leans more toward Williams while using Darren Evans to help keep Williams fresh. It will also be interesting to see how their production while sharing time affects their places in the Heisman race.

Combined, though, Virginia Tech and Alabama enter this fall with the best PAIR of running backs in college football.

Hokies deserve credit

December, 5, 2009
12/05/09
9:59
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Yes, I'm at the ACC championship, but I couldn't help but realize today that Virginia Tech went 2-1 against nonconference teams that played/are playing for for their conference title games. The Hokies beat Nebraska and ECU, and lost to SEC champ Alabama. And, might I add, Virginia Tech put up a heck of a better fight against the Crimson Tide than Florida did today.

The Hokies deserve credit for this, as Nebraska is trailing Texas 7-6 at the half, and ECU beat No. 21 Houston, 38-32. Not only did Virginia Tech have the guts to schedule those teams, but the Hokies came out on top against everyone but Bama. Good luck finding another team in the country that can lay claim to that today.

Bonus mailbag question

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
10:34
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

A coach in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: If Florida State has to vacate wins and Alabama has to vacate wins, then who actually won when Florida State defeated Alabama in Jacksonville in 2007?

Heather Dinich: Great question, and technically, according to the NCAA, the answer would be nobody. This goes back to the definition of "vacate." IF Florida State has to vacate wins, that game will still go down in the books as an Alabama loss. It will not affect Alabama's record in that game. However, the win would be erased from Florida State's records. Vacate is different from forfeit in that it doesn't affect the opponents' record. So Alabama is stuck with the L. 

Alabama's Jones has surgery

May, 5, 2009
5/05/09
2:58
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Considering the importance of the Alabama game, I thought Virginia Tech fans might be interested to know that receiver Julio Jones, one of the best young receivers in the country, had surgery to repair a sports hernia. It looks like he'll be back for fall camp.

He'll obviously be one of the keys to that game, but it's worth watching his recovery from this.

Makeup Mailblog

April, 14, 2009
4/14/09
2:40
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Well, since I shirked my duties last week, I felt like I owed you one. Here's a bonus mailblog, in addition to Friday's:

Someone calling himself Bourbonstreet, who happens to hail from Blacksburg, writes:

Buy or sell HD: the 'Bama season-opening game for my Hokies is gonna be a defensive struggle; a race to 13 points. Therefore, the first team there...wins.

HD: I'll buy it, considering Alabama will be under the direction of a new quarterback and only has four starters returning on offense, and Bud Foster will have the Hokies' D jacked up and ready to go. That said, Bama has Julio Jones, who was one of the most electrifying receivers in the country as a freshman last year, and he'll make any quarterback look good. Lately, Greg McElroy seems to be the frontrunner. He was 12-of-26 for 128 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the second spring scrimmage. He threw four touchdowns in the first scrimmage. I do expect Virginia Tech's offense to be better than it was a year ago, but considering this is the opener for both teams, odds are there will be a few kinks to work out.


Loyal commenter vthokielover8 writes: Hey HD, Just saw your post on the USA Football team for the youngins'. Is this going to be televised in any shape or form?

HD: You're quick, VT. It is, but USA Football is still in discussions with who the official broadcast partner will be. It should be announced in the next couple of weeks.


Micah writes: I'm a student at NCSU and I'm planning on attending the spring game this Saturday. I'm excited to see if Baker is truly back to form and get a look at Glennon. Other than those two what/who should I be looking for? Any chance I'll get to see Brandon Barnes since Eugene probably won't be playing?

HD: Toney Baker, from what I'm told, is looking pretty good. He led the running backs with eight carries for 19 yards, and was also the leading receiver with six catches for 68 yards. The defensive line is looking good, should be a strength. Secondary, particularly safety, is still an area of concern. For more on the Pack, check the blog Wednesday morning.


JT in Tallahassee writes: Hey Heather, How long do you think it will take for FSU to know something on the Appeal of Surrency and the Sanctions?? Thanks HD for all your hard work!

HD: No prob, JT. As for Surrency, the countdown was three to five weeks since the announcement, which came April 6. So, I guess anywhere from April 27-May 11-ish. As for the NCAA appeal, still waiting to hear back from some folks.


Tommy in Marietta, GA writes: Hey Heather, I was wondering if you could take care of some myths about stopping GT's option offense. It seems like all I hear is "teams will figure out the option next year" or "the option is a high school offense that will never go to a National Championship". Paul Johnson has made it clear that he's in it for championships but do you think that his offense (or something else) can keep NCs out of reach for GT?

HD: If Paul Johnson's offense was good enough to beat Georgia on the road and win nine games in its first season, then it's good enough to win 11 or more games.


Jason Patterson in Wichita writes: Who do you think will have the starting QB job at Clemson in September? Korn or Parker?

HD: The coaches say it won't be determined until summer camp, and after reading this, you might be convinced of that.

FSU and Miami building championship-caliber recruiting classes

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
10:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

If Miami and Florida State continue to add to and develop the speed and athleticism that is already in their current recruiting classes, then look out -- both of these programs will be back in business.

Florida State had the better season in 2008, but Miami's recruiting is a step ahead. If the Canes hire the right offensive coordinator and get the kinks worked out at quarterback, then Miami is going to be one of best teams in the country in the next two or three years. If they're not, then something is wrong, because all you have to do is look at the talent they're lining up, not to mention how many young impact players like Sean Spence are already on the roster.

Miami currently has seven -- seven! -- recruits committed who are ranked among the ESPNU 150, a list of the top 150 prospects in the country, and nine players who have earned a grade of 80 or higher. If you're not familiar with ESPN's grading system, you should check it out, because there is no other evaluation like it.

Players who earn a grade of 80 or higher are deemed outstanding prospects who can contribute as true freshmen. Miami had the No. 1 recruiting class a year ago, and it panned out. This one should too, thanks to the staff's late push on the recruiting trail.

Florida State is not far behind. It has to have helped to have coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher out recruiting when other head coaches cannot. Defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel is the real deal, and the No. 1 prep tackle in the country. Back to that grading system ... McDaniel has a 91, meaning our evaluators consider him a rare prospect who "has all the skills to take over a game and could be an impact player as a true freshman." Translated -- wow.

Both of these programs have improved their recruiting in the 2008 and 2009 classes. FSU jumped from No. 25 in 2007, when it had a very average class, to No. 12 last year and is currently No. 10. Miami is currently ranked No. 7. (Don't forget, though, who had the No. 2 class a year ago -- Clemson. This is the year for Da'Quan Bowers, Kyler Parker and Jamie Harper to remind us why, although Bowers has already lived up to the hype.)

The first step in earning a top 10 ranking in the BCS standings is building a top 10 recruiting class, and that's exactly what Florida State and Miami have been doing. They're in good company with the likes of USC, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU -- all programs that were in contention for the national title the past few seasons.

If Florida State and Miami are getting the same quality players, then reason stands they should have the same chance.

Clemson on brink of hiring d-coordinator

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
6:51
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It appears that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will add Alabama defensive head coach Kevin Steele to his staff after the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Steele and Alabama coach Nick Saban have worked together closely the past two seasons, as Saban is involved in coordinating the defense, too. Steele will reportedly get a significant bump from his current $360,000 salary, and the Tigers' defense will be entirely in his control.

They've still got to go through background checks and paperwork and whatnot, so I don't think the school will officially announce anything for a few days.

Not sure who Swinney will sacrifice from his current staff, but because they're only allowed nine assistants, somebody's gotta go.

Friday Mailblog: Bama vs. Hokies

December, 19, 2008
12/19/08
2:59
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

John, from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Do you think the Hokies have a chance against Alabama in the opener next season?

Heather Dinich: Well of course they have a chance. But Alabama's got receiver Julio Jones. Look, even though Alabama will be breaking in a new quarterback, the Crimson Tide returns nine of 11 defensive starters, and 20 of 22 players who reached double digits in total tackles this season. The offensive line will be Bama's biggest concern next year. It will certainly help that the Hokies are another year older and wiser.


As Jim, from Athens, writes: How did Frank Beamer take one of the worst D1 programs I have seen in the beginnins of this season and win the Acc. I am amazed. I watched their first couple of games and I am amazed they won more than a couple games. Best coached season in his history?

Heather Dinich: Yes, I would have to agree, all things considered, Frank probably did his best job this season.


Marsha, in Kokomo, IN, writes: What does the term greyshirt mean? Thank you.

Heather Dinich: It's a trendy term to describe recruits who enroll in January. Coaches do this when they have run out of scholarships but still really want to sign a player. They'll try to convince the player to enroll in January and their scholarship will count towards the next year. Most kids don't go for it unless they've got few scholarship offers or love the school.


Joe, in Phoenix, writes: Hey have there been any news about Clemson's hiring a defensive coordinator? What ever happened to John Chavis?

Heather Dinich: I talked to Dabo Swinney this week and he said he's not going to make anymore staff changes until after the bowl game. Chavis reportedly interviewed, but if Swinney hires another coach, he'll have to let go one of the nine assistants he already has. The NCAA limits coaching staffs to nine assistants.


Harry, in Salem, Va., writes: Why only 11 teams in your season recap? Where are the Hokies? In your blog this year you were sometimes negative towards VT, but how could you forget about the ACC Champs?

Heather Dinich: This is really bothering me because I got about a dozen comments like this. I'm not sure how y'all missed it, but I wrote it, and you can see the date and time on the blog post it ran the same day as all the others.

Virginia Tech to face Alabama

December, 19, 2008
12/19/08
6:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech will face Alabama next year in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff. Expectations for the ACC in this game will probably be tempered, considering the 34-10 pounding Clemson took this season, but the ACC champs will no doubt be a better team after this year of growing pains. As to whether or not they will have improved enough to beat a young, 12-1 contender for the national championship? Let's not push it.

Alabama beat Clemson with 14 freshmen on its two-deep roster. Nick Saban's team will be better, too.

Making sense of the nonsense

November, 10, 2008
11/10/08
10:45
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There are no other BCS conferences still as wide open as the ACC. Heck, the SEC already has things all wrapped up with a pretty little bow in Alabama and Florida. Is there anyone else in the Pac-10 besides USC and Oregon State? Same can be said for the Big Ten, which this season has been the Big 1 -- Penn State. The Big East isn't convoluted, it's just not very good. You can argue the Big 12 South is just as messy, but at least in that conference it's pretty clear who the top teams are. In the ACC, that depends on what week it is. This week's round of games will either clear things up a bit or make it even muddier.

If you take a closer look, though, there is one thing we know for sure:

Three teams -- Virginia Tech, Maryland and Boston College -- control their own destiny. All three can win their respective divisions if they win all of their remaining games.

That's an interesting scenario because you can argue (and I will) that Florida State and North Carolina are the best teams in the ACC this year. Virginia Tech just found its offense last week. Boston College is still winning with its defense. And Maryland? It doesn't have the defense or the playmakers on offense to match the talent on Virginia Tech's roster, let alone Florida State's. UNC separated itself with its win over Georgia Tech and beat Miami on the road with its backup quarterback. The Tar Heels have an opportunistic defense that the offense finally seems to have caught up to.

(Read full post)

Clemson turns to Swinney for remainder of season

October, 13, 2008
10/13/08
3:49
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Clemson, in need of a new head coach in mid-season, expectedly turned to its own staff for a replacement. Unexpectedly, though, the administration snubbed the only two assistants with head coaching experience on their resume in favor of wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney.

 
 Rex Brown/Getty Images
 Dabo Swinney will take over as head coach for Tommy Bowden.

Who?

Swinney, who is 39 years old and in his sixth season at Clemson, has never been a head coach before. He got his start in coaching at Alabama, his alma mater, where he coached the receivers and tight ends until 2000. Swinney took over Clemson's receivers in 2003. Much was written about Swinney this preseason because of his ties to the Tigers' opponent in the season opener.

This story in the Birmingham News covered the ups and downs of his career, including last season when Swinney was almost lured back to Alabama by Nick Saban.

Swinney has earned a reputation as a top-notch recruiter who's a smooth talker and good with boosters and the media. He was chosen over defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who was head coach at Wyoming and more than capable of taking over the team. Koenning is a good coach whose candor with the media might have been a factor in the decision.

Swinney was also chosen over associate head coach Brad Scott, who was head coach at South Carolina. His 23-32-1 record there from 1994-1998 might have hurt a bit. So might the struggles of the offensive line, the position he coaches.

Then again, it could be as simple as a vote of confidence in Swinney.

"I think that just speaks about how much respect they have for [Swinney]," center Thomas Austin said. "We have a lot of veteran coaches on our staff. I just think the kind of person he is, and I think he can bring a level of intensity and enthusiasm that can really help the team."

Right now, heading into a tough game against Georgia Tech, this team needs all the help it can get.

Clemson challenged to get tougher, move forward

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
11:06
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that somebody mailed toilet paper to the Clemson football office.

"Trust me," defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said, "that's the least of it."

After all, Koenning found a (non-traditional) use for it. He showed it to his players and told them that's how soft people think the Tigers have been playing.

"We're not what the prognosticators probably originally thought because they really didn't look at our lines on either side," Koenning said. "We're having to work hard to get a little better every day. It's a little bit of a struggle at times. So there's a lot of negative input from outside from our fan base and that was one of the things I could relay to the players, that's what everybody thinks."

And fans haven't been shy about letting the Clemson staff know how they feel. In fact, Koenning said he's got somebody sifting through his emails for him so he doesn't have to "see some of the negative stuff."

Nevermind that Clemson is ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press, or that the Tigers are 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the ACC. They lost to Alabama, 31-10, and the national perception of Clemson's potential took an immediate nosedive. The Tigers have since reeled off three straight wins, but they have been against less heralded opponents. Saturday's noon game against Maryland will be the first real chance Clemson has to prove it is a better, tougher team than the one that didn't show up in the Georgia Dome.

For the most part, those within the program say they're ready to move on and get into the heart of their conference schedule.

"That loss to Alabama, it was tough because expectations were so high around here and Alabama came out and beat us pretty good," said quarterback Cullen Harper. "They were more physical than us. They were tougher than us. ... But really this is the meat of our schedule, when we start playing our ACC games and our goal is to win the ACC championship. This is really where it starts."

Clemson has earned a reputation, though, for its often inexplicable collapses. Have they already gotten that game out of the way?

"It's like having a bad nightmare and every once in a while it comes back," Koenning said of the loss to the Crimson Tide.

"It was just something we had to live for for those six days," receiver Jacoby Ford said of the week before The Citadel game. "Six terrible days."

Alabama exposed Clemson's weaknesses up front, and the coaching staff has since been extremely demonstrative about getting tougher. Safety Michael Hamlin said the players were kept an extra 20 minutes after practice last week to repeatedly lower their shoulders and hit the sleds.

"We really had no choice but to get motivated," Hamlin said. "Everyone responded to it and showed what type of man he really was."

Injuries haven't helped the Tigers up front. Clemson will start two redshirt freshmen on the offensive line in Mason Cloy and Landon Walker. David Smith is out with a sprained ankle and will probably be replaced by senior Bobby Hutchinson, a student assistant coach who played 37 snaps against FSU last year but didn't think he'd play a lot this season and decided to try coaching. Coach Tommy Bowden kept him on scholarship just in case. Now it looks like he'll start.

On the defensive line, true freshman Da'Quan Bowers will start again at defensive end. Brandon Thompson, a true freshman, will see significant time at defensive tackle.

Koenning said his defense still didn't play with the kind of physicality he was looking for last weekend against South Carolina State.

"It's a sad state when they don't have the personality the head coach wants them to have," Koenning said. "We really have to look at our recruits now and go back and make sure we're getting guys that have a tough nature to them. You tend to forget about that sometimes when you're trying to get the biggest and the fastest and the guys that can jump the highest."

Bowden has given the go-ahead for more hitting at practice during the week, and some players have gotten nicked up as a result, but Bowden said he thinks his team is tough enough.

"We did not play very physical in the first game and I think we've gotten better ever since then," Bowden said. "I think this will be -- other than the Alabama game -- this will be the ultimate test because of Maryland's plan of attack and how they attack you. They've got a big, strong, physical offensive line. That's a huge concern because they've got two guys that weigh over 330 pounds. I think this will be the best indication to date how much we've improved in our style of play."

Clemson, ranked No. 9 in the preseason, dropped out of the top 25 rankings and popped back in at No. 23 after beating NC State. But the Tigers are no longer blinded by the national spotlight.

"I think that's probably a good thing," Ford said. "We're just kind of digging ourselves out of the weeds right now, and trying to get back up to the top. We're slowly inching our way up there week by week. If we keep playing hard I think we'll be where we want to be by the end."

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