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Talking Wake Forest-Clemson With Shakin The Southland

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29:  Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a call during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a call during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With the game on Saturday going a long way to determining the Atlantic Division, we turned to our fellow ACC SB Nation bloggers at Shakin The Southland. They do a great job covering any and all things Clemson, and we hit up FigureFour for the Q&A. You can find our answers here.

In the meantime, we talk Dabo, Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd and more after the jump...

BSD:  What a turnaround from a year ago, huh? No fiery collapse, no players thrown under the bus, just peace love and kumbaya. How much of this is Dabo? Have fans come around to him?

STS: You said it best, Clemson has changed a lot over the past year and Dabo should be credited for this turnaround.  First off, he adjusted his staff on the offensive side of the ball well, bringing in former CU player Tony Elliott to coach the backs, stud offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, and--in most people's mind the program changer--Chad Morris to run the offense.  Morris deservedly gets most of the credit for turning the offense around, implementing a more fundamentally-based no huddle hurry up offense that has developed existing players and featured some very athletic newcomers.  Ultimately, you have to give Dabo his props for making these adjustments to win more games.  Equally important, Swinney realized the expertise of his staff and has taken a more hands-off approach to leading this team, letting Morris do his thing.  This has been well received by the Clemson faithful.

We still have some issues that need to be revised.  We think Swinney needs to address strength and conditioning items, recruiting depth, and practice philosophies--particularly the physicality of practices.  These items, along with Rashard Hall's injury and lack of depth up front, have hindered the Tigers' defense.  We'll wait until the end of the season to fully evaluate the defensive unit but will definitely take these items into consideration.

All in all, though, we are definitely encouraged by the vast overall improvement we've seen from this squad since the 2010 campaign.

BSD: Detail Tajh Boyd’s progression as a quarterback. How has he improved throughout the year? What else does he need to work on?

STS: Tajh has improved his mechanics tremendously since late 2010, and a lot of this credit goes to QB's coach and OC Chad Morris.  Boyd's footwork and release are much, much better than what we saw last season and throughout Spring drills.  Additionally, Tajh has picked up an increasing amount of the offense as this season has progressed.  Finally, Boyd is in much better shape than he was a year ago.  It is clear that he has put the effort into becoming a good QB and Morris has driven him to improve in all areas. 

Tajh still makes some questionable decisions that stretch from trying to do too much when nothing is available to reading defensive looks.  I think these items will improve as Tajh continues to mature.  All in all, though, Chad Morris' guidance and Boyd's willingness to do the necessary work have him on a path to meet then exceed the large expectations he brought to the table as a highly recruited player.  All being said, we are encouraged by Boyd's rapid development and think he still has room to grow.

BSD: There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about Sammy Watkins. How do you stop him? What is the most dangerous part of his game?

STS: I don't know how to stop Sammy.  He has seen all kinds of coverages this season and still manages to get his game going.  To his benefit, Clemson's receiving corps is very good all around so it if you spend all your resources isolating him, someone else will make a play.  Outside of the core receivers, TE Dwayne Allen is a matchup nightmare and commands respect from opposing defenses.

Sammy Watkins has a ton of attributes.  He has amazing hands, is very quick, and very fast.  Watkins is an amazing blocker and runs great routes.  I am repeatedly impressed with his ability to attack the football and think he is just a tremendous, tremendous player even at this young point in his career.  I encourage you to watch his blocking skills while watching the game Saturday and also notice how quickly he finds a crease and accelerates upfield after catches.  I guess you could say his overall awareness, pure yet polished talent, and superb effort on every play make him an all around great player.

BSD: Defensively, Clemson has been mostly average outside of the Virginia Tech game. If you’re Tanner Price and the Wake Forest offense, how do you attack the Tigers?

STS: Clemson has been susceptible on defense all year in all facets of the game.  Maryland killed us with a quick, mobile QB.  GT out-schemed Clemson and killed Clemson by exploiting each defensive look given in our last game.  Also, when placed on an island, Clemson's defensive backs have had trouble this season.  The final overall point I'll make is that CU had trouble with fundamentals, particularly making tackles.

If Price can get a guy like Sensabaugh into Cover 1 or 0, he should attack him.  Also realize that our safeties have been limited in pass coverage.  Rashard Hall has been hurt all season and clearly has not been able to play up to his previous standards.  Long and short, if Wake can give Tanner some time, he has opportunities against the Clemson secondary.

BSD: Clemson had a bye week to think about the loss to Georgia Tech. Are they taking Wake lightly or do you see the Tigers with renewed focus and the Demon Deacons as the last big obstacle in the way of an ACC Atlantic title?

STS:  Clemson has a lot riding on this football game.  First off, a win assures Clemson a trip to Charlotte to play for a BCS birth.  It also gets this program closer to its first double digit win season in over two decades.  I do not think anyone is taking Wake for granted, especially since the Deacons have been a thorn in Clemson's side over the past decade or so even when Clemson was the victor. 

Wake Forest is a dangerous team.  They beat FSU and are a contender in the Atlantic Division race.  These items along with the goals that could be reached with a win should keep this team focused on the task at hand.

BSD: Play this thing out. Who wins?

STS: As of last night, Clemson was a 16 point favorite.  I think the game will be closer than that but, considering the overall talent advantage Clemson has, home field advantage, the momentum this team has built to date, and the goals that could be reached with a win, all signs point to Clemson overcoming issues it has had in the past and winning this football game.


Thanks again to FigureFour and Shakin The Southland.