Tag:Andre Branch
Posted on: March 7, 2012 6:07 pm
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Spring Practice Primer: Clemson



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Clemson.

Spring Practice Starts: March 7

Spring Game: April 14

Three Things To Look For

1. Raised expectations. The hope of returning the ACC title to Clemson had driven Tigers' programs for two decades until Dabo Swinney finally delivered the crown in December. But after the 2011 team "broke through the walls," as Swinney put it several times, the expectations changed completely for 2012. Bringing back all of the primary offensive skill players but Dwayne Allen, and hiring Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables has made 2012 a BCS or bust season. No longer will Clemson fans hope to avoid a letdown, instead they expect to compete for hardware from opening day. Not even a record-setting blowout loss in South Beach could shake the confidence of a new-attitude program hungry for more titles.

2. Improving the offensive line. With Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Andre Ellington all back, the Tigers are set with All-ACC talent at the skill positions. However, troubles along the offensive line prevented the unit from clicking during their late-season slide in 2011. The success of the offense relied too heavily on individuals like left tackle Phillip Price, and this spring should be an opportunity for offensive coordinator Chad Morris to get some depth and a solid rotation along the line. Price and fellow tackle Landon Walker are gone, leaving center Dalton Freeman as the only lineman with any significant game experience. Conditioning should no longer be an issue for offseason practice, either, with one full year of Morris' system under their belts.

3. Brent Venables' impact. The Tigers return just six starters on defense, and have a huge need on the defensive line to replace All-ACC graduates Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch. Former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables enters as one of the most praised (and highest-paid) defensive coordinators in the ACC, but will have his work cut out with this young group of defenders. On one hand, it might be easier to teach a new system rather than have to un-teach Kevin Steele's complex scheme. On the other, he could end up seeing the same youthful mistakes that plagued the Tigers in 2011. Venables will have all eyes on his defense in 2012, and getting through to his unit this spring will be essential for Clemson's success in the fall.

For much more on Clemson as they go through Spring Practice, including the Top 3 Position Battles for the spring, follow Travis Sawchik's Tigers' RapidReports. For more spring previews around the ACC check out Spring Practice Home.

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:25 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 12:57 pm
 

Orange Bowl coaches ready for a close BCS game

Posted by Chip Patterson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The four teams in action in the first BCS bowl games combined to score 162 points on the first college football day of 2012. But despite all the offense on display, the outcome of each game has been one score or less and determined by big plays on defense and in special teams.

Whether it was Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis dropping the ball just inches from the sideline, or Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson unable to hit a potential game-winning field goal from 35-yards out; the plays that have determined the first BCS bowl games have come in unexpected ways.

"You can't relax, however many plays are in the game, 160, plus your special teams, you've got to play every play like it's the play that's going to determine the outcome of the game," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney explained on Tuesday.  "That's the mentality you have to have, because when you look back, that's what you see. It's usually four, five, six plays that changed momentum, created opportunity and so forth."

In fact, neither of these teams would be in South Beach this week if it wasn't for a few key plays that led to wins earlier this season. Clemson's hot 8-0 start included huge comeback wins against Maryland, Florida State, and Auburn. West Virginia overcame a fourth-quarter deficit in each of their final four wins in the regular season. If Monday's BCS games were any indication of the way the Orange Bowl will play out, both of these squads should be ready to face the challenge.

"It's a three-sided game, and that's the one thing that we learned about a month and a half ago when we lost to Louisville," said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.  "Our team came together, and on all three sides of the ball we figured out that if all three sides of the ball don't play together and pick each other up to try to be fighting for the same goal, then you're probably not going to win very many games.  That's the one thing we did over the course of the last three games was play together."

More highlights from Dabo Swinney and Dana Holgorsen on Tuesday:

- While there are many upsides for the extra preparation time given to BCS bowl participants, Holgorsen did offer one interesting take on a downside. As coaches try to to do the best to prepare for the contest, the West Virginia head coach pointed out it is important not to over prepare.

"Yeah, you've got to be careful with time on your hands," Holgorsen said.  "Coaches have a tendency to outsmart themselves at times, so you've got to figure out what your team does well, which we've had a lot of time here in the last four months to figure out what our team does well, and we've just got to put them in those positions to be successful."

- Dwayne Allen is clearly a focus of this game. He is a key weapon that needs to get going for Clemson, and one of the primary concerns for West Virginia's defense. Dabo Swinney, ever the salesman for his program, gave his glowing explanation of why Allen is the best tight end in the country.

"Well, Dwayne is 6'4", about 255. He runs like a wide out. He blocks like a tackle and has really improved in other parts of his game as far as running with the ball after the catch, his flexibility, and he's got great ball skills, and he's got a high football IQ. So you put those things together, you're going to get a very, very good football player. He's tough and aggressive, likes to play. The moment is never too big for him. And he practices hard, studies and prepares."

- There was plenty of discussion on both sides about the opportunity to showcase and promote their program around South Florida this week. Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, and Ivan McCartney all hail from nearby Mirmar, and Swinney mentioned a Monday night visit from the family of wide receiver Jacoby Ford, now with the Oakland Raiders. With the recruiting potential in the area - not to mention the competition to land those recruits - the opportunity to play in South Florida as the only bowl game of the night is one that any program would hope to seize.

- Both teams spent Monday night attending the Miami Heat's game against the Atlanta Hawks in American Airlines Arena. The experience of watching LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and the rest of the defending Eastern Conference Champs in person was a huge deal to the players.

Also? A huge deal to Dabo Swinney. When asked about the most fun part of the week, Clemson's head coach quickly and enthusiastically mentioned Monday night's activity.

"Lebron James, man! Even thought I didn't get to meet him, I love basketball. That was pretty neat to get to go down to the Heat game. What a great arena that is. I really enjoyed that."

For all the latest on Clemson and West Virginia up until kickoff, check out the Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 11:40 am
Edited on: January 3, 2012 12:50 pm
 

Orange Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Chip Patterson


A look at the matchup that could decide the Orange Bowl

Najee Goode, LB, West Virginia vs. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson

West Virginia's first team All-Big East linebacker is one of the most important pieces of the defense, and will be counted on step up in his last game as a Mountaineer. The redshirt senior is tied with offensive lineman Don Barclay and defensive end Julian Miller as the most experienced players on the team, with all three appearing in 51 career games for West Virginia. Goode has done everything the Mountaineers needed this season - from starting games at all three linebacker positions to recording seven tackles and forcing the game-saving fumble against USF in the regular season finale.

Now Goode needs to deliver one last memorable performance in order to contain the many weapons in Clemson's offense. Arguably his toughest challenge will be keeping an eye on tight end Dwayne Allen. In head coach Dabo Swinney's own words: Allen runs like a wide out, blocks like a tackle, and has improved his flexibility and football IQ. With dangerous deep threats like Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins on the outside, the duties of containing Allen will often fall on the linebackers.

Clemson's goal will be to exploit holes in the West Virginia coverage the way Syracuse did with Nick Provo in their 49-23 upset victory earlier this season. The Mountaineers struggled to keep Provo marked, particularly in the red zone, and eventually gave up six catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns. Dwayne Allen is arguably an enhanced version of Provo, and Goode must help the linebackers keep the 6-foot-4 Mackey Award winner from pulling down passes in the end zone if they hope to leave South Beach with their third BCS bowl win since 2005.

For all the latest on Clemson and West Virginia up until kickoff, check out the Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 10:49 am
 

Keys to the Game: Orange Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

CLEMSON WILL WIN IF: They maintain a balanced offensive attack. Before the ACC Championship Game, CBSSports.com's Travis Sawchik suggested that Clemson had strayed from a run/pass balance late in the regular season. He told me in the moments leading up to kickoff that if they brought that balance back against the Hokies, Clemson would win. The Tigers threw the ball 30 times and ran 45 times, led by Andre Ellington's 125 yard performance, and ran away in the second half of a 38-10 win. So heading into another primetime battle with a potent opponent, I'll piggy back Travis' key. Ellington will play a huge role in keeping West Virginia's defense honest. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme has given quarterbacks as talented as Sam Bradford trouble in bowl games, and the best way to open up the passing attack is make them fear the run. With Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Dwayne Allen all healthy there should be opportunities for mismatches with the coverage. But you lessen the chances of getting those matchups if the opposition doesn't respect your ground game.

WEST VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: The offensive line can protect Geno Smith from the Clemson pass rush. With leading rusher Dustin Garrison sidelined earlier this week with a knee injury, the Mountaineers will rely on the offensive line and backup running back Shawne Alston to keep Clemson's pass rush at bay. In the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers held All-ACC running back David Wilson to a season-low 32 yards on 11 carries. Once the Tigers had neutralized Wilson and forced the Hokies to become one-dimensional, defensive end Andre Branch explained it was time to "pin our ears back" and get after Logan Thomas. Branch, Brandon Thompson, and the rest of the Tigers' pass rush terrorized Thomas throughout the second half. The onus will be on the Mountaineers offensive line to give Smith enough time to check through his progressions and find a receiver in space. With Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Ivan McCartney on the outside Smith should be able to find an open man against a secondary that has given up at least seven combined touchdowns and at least 200 yards in their last three contests.

X-FACTOR: Dwayne Allen. Arguably West Virginia's worst loss this season came at the hands of Syracuse in a 49-23 blowout loss in the Carrier Dome. The Mountaineers defense was burned by all-conference tight end Nick Provo, who had a team-high six catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns in the game. Jeff Casteel's unit will see a similar threat to Provo in Clemson's all-conference tight end Dwayne Allen. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, the Mackey Award winner has used the time off to recover from a nagging toe injury that limited him late in the regular season. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris moves Allen around the formation, and he is one player the Mountaineers cannot lose track of anytime he is an eligible receiver.

For all the latest on Clemson and West Virginia up until kickoff, check out the Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 10:58 am
 

PODCAST: Previewing Sugar Bowl & Orange Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

The CBS Sports College Football Podcast begins to wind down the Bowl Preview Series with a close look at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 and Orange Bowl on Jan. 4. The ACC is sending two teams to BCS bowls for the first time in conference history, and hope Virginia Tech and Clemson can improve the league's 1-4 record in the last five BCS appearances.

Brady Hoke's impressive first year at the helm takes the Wolverines to New Orleans, and Denard Robinson will look to find the end zone against a Hokies defense that has allowed just 17.2 points per game. ACC and Big East fans are expecting fireworks in South Beach with the high-powered offenses of West Virginia and Clemson on the field, but tune in to hear what Adam Aizer and J. Darin Darst think will be the difference-maker in the first BCS head coaching experience for both Dana Holgorsen and Dabo Swinney.

Remember, all of the CBSSports.com College Football Podcasts can be downloaded for FREE from the iTunes Store.


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Get all the latest on both bowl games right up until kickoff at the Sugar Bowl Pregame and Orange Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 7, 2011 6:49 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 7:05 pm
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-ACC First Team

Posted by Chip Patterson

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the ACC.

Awards

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

David Wilson, running back, Virginia Tech

Throughout the regular season, no player was more consistent than Virginia Tech running back David Wilson. Championship game performance aside, Wilson was the answer every single time the Hokies needed a jolt for their occasionally-sputtering offense. As Logan Thomas grew into the starting quarterback position, Wilson was there as a crutch to help draw the attention of the opposing defense and deliver that home run play to seal a victory. He led the conference in rushing, totaled over 2,000 all-purpose yards, and was one of major reasons Virginia Tech made the ACC Championship Game for the fifth time in seven years.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Boston College

Arguably one of the best linebackers in Boston College history capped off his junior year by leading the nation in tackles for the second year in a row, and the . Kuechly sense for where the play is going is uncanny, and his physical abilities on the field make him deserving of his nickname: Superman. Off the field he'd remind you more of Clark Kent, but Kuechly credits that intense film study as a primary reason for his success. He averaged over 15 tackles per game in 2011, and added three interceptions including one pick-six. This is likely it for Kuechly, who is eligible for the NFL draft, but it has been a privilege to watch him dominate the position for the last three seasons.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Clemson

The thing that makes Watkins a nightmare for opposing teams is the different ways he can have an effect on the game. Any time the explosive wide receiver has the ball in his hands, he is a threat to break loose and reach the end zone. Watkins lines up at wideout, slot receiver, H-back, runs end-arounds, and is both a kick and punt returner. On defense you have to be aware of where #2 is at all times, and in the special teams you have to decide whether you want to put the ball in his hands. Watkins also totaled over 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2011, something that has only been done six times in ACC history.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Mike London, Virginia

London's second season at Virginia was supposed to be another building block for the promising young coach back in his home state. After pulling in a top-ranked recruiting class in February, you could see the momentum moving towards Virginia becoming a player in the ACC once again. But with a roster of Al Groh's leftovers, the media picked the Cavaliers to finish only ahead of Duke in the ACC's Coastal Division. Virginia head very few stars, but London had them playing tough and physical football late in the season as they tore through the conference schedule and came within a game of clinching the school's first share of the ACC Coastal Division title.

All-ACC Offense

QUARTERBACK

Tajh Boyd, Clemson

Throwing for over 3000 yards with 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions is not simply the product of a "system." Boyd struggled some down the stretch - possibly the result of injuries along the offensive line - but when he was rolling no quarterback was better than the Tigers' redshirt sophomore. Boyd was given an arsenal of weapons at the skill positions, and he excelled at spreading the ball around to keep defenses on their toes. What's really scary is that Boyd and most of his comrades will be back to defend Clemson's title in 2012.

RUNNING BACKS

David Wilson, Virginia Tech and Lamar Miller, Miami

Like Wilson, Lamar Miller was a steady producer in an unsteady offense. The Miami offensive line dealt with injuries and position shifting all season, but Miller showed the ability to adapt on the fly and finished the season with over 1200 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Also like Wilson, Miller is nearly uncatchable if he can hit the sideline in space and will be a very high prospect if he decides to make the jump to the league after this season.

WIDE RECEIVERS


Dwight Jones
, North Carolina and Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Jones and Watkins each had over 75 receptions, 1100 yards, and exactly 11 touchdowns in 2011. Only Wake Forest's Chris Givens was better in any statistical category (1.276 yards) and no wide receiver meant more to their team than the senior leader and the freshman phenom. They make an odd pair, but they were the two most consistent performers on the outside all season in the ACC.

TIGHT END

Dwayne Allen, Clemson

Allen's size and speed make him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and only a case of turf toe slowed him from taking over a few games down the stretch. There was no tight end in the conference that jumped out quite like Allen, who was a red zone monster with eight touchdowns on the season.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Phillip Price, Clemson; Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina; Joe Looney, Wake Forest; Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech; and Jay Finch, Georgia Tech

The value of many of these offensive linemen was seen this season not just by what they did on the field but by how much their team was hurt when they were off the field. Significant drop-offs for these units that were otherwise rock solid showed the value of lineman like Phillip Price and Jay Finch, while others like Joe Looney stacked pancakes like an IHOP.

All-ACC Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

Andre Branch, Clemson; Quinton Coples, North Carolina; Joe Vellano, Maryland; Brandon Thompson, Clemson

Clemson's dominant defensive linemen were given a green light to create havoc in the trenches all season, and that's exactly what they did. Vellano totaled 94 tackles on the season, but it was his 20 tackle performance in a 21-16 loss to Georgia Tech that stood out when very little for the Terps was working. Coples received extra attention and double-team treatment all season, yet still finished second in the ACC with 7.5 sacks.

LINEBACKERS

Sean Spence, Miami; Luke Kuechly, Boston College; Zach Brown, North Carolina

The linebacker position was LOADED in the ACC. Terrell Manning from NC State, Bruce Taylor from Virginia Tech, Jeremiah Attaochu from Georgia Tech all could have been on this list, but these three players meant the most to their team at the position. Kuechly's accolades are well documented, but Spence and Brown took leadership of their group and led by example as playmakers all over the field.

SECONDARY

David Amerson, NC State; Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech; Matt Daniels, Duke; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

Amerson came one interception away from breaking the ACC single-season record set by Dre Bly in 1997, and was an unsuspected star in a unit that was considered a weakness coming into the season. The secondaries in the ACC were also strong for the most part, but Hosley, Daniels, and Fuller got the nod for their flexibility to move positions/responsibilities yet still have a dramatic impact on the game. Fuller actually ranked 15th in the ACC in sacks with 4.5, just a half-sack behind teammate Bruce Taylor.

SPECIALISTS

PK Cody Journell, Virginia Tech; P Shaun Powell, Florida State; KR/PR T.J. Graham, NC State

T.J. Graham and Sammy Watkins could have tied for the specialist honor, but I gave Graham the nod for his contributions across his career and the aforementioned Watkins praise currently covering this post. The placekicking was pretty dismal in the ACC, but Journell was one of the few consistent-ish kickers in the league. Powell is arguably one of the best punters in the nation, and similarly stood out after a season of questionable punting.

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Posted on: November 22, 2011 4:45 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Clemson at South Carolina

Posted by Chip Patterson

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: They can move the ball against Clemson's defense. The Gamecocks offense has struggled in the back half of the season, but was able to gain some momentum in Week 13 - even if it was against The Citadel. After averaging 16.5 points per game in their previous four contests, quarterback Connor Shaw led a 473 yard offensive performance that resulted in the 41-20 win. The Gamecocks defense has been the most consistent aspect of this year's team, but the unit enters the rivalry game with some injury issues. The Tigers' defense has shown they are vulnerable, and South Carolina may need to take advantage just to play keep-up with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

CLEMSON WILL WIN IF: They can win the battle in the trenches. Clemson's offensive line only allowed 18 sacks through their first ten games, but allowed six sacks to NC State alone in the embarrassing 37-13 defeat on Saturday. By the same measure, Clemson's defensive line has to do a better job of getting into the backfield and pressuring the quarterback. Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson were near the top of everyone's midseason watch list for all-conference honors, but both players have been much more quiet in the last three games. Clemson has to regain their focus to get a win against South Carolina, and they need a strong performance to build some momentum heading into the ACC Championship Game.

X-FACTOR: Sammy Watkins. The superstar freshman injured his shoulder against Wake Forest and was unavailable for the Tigers' loss at NC State. With Watkins cleared to play, the question is now how much he can play. Watkins in his most dangerous form impacts the game as a wide receiver, punt returner, and kick returner. Every touchdown by the opposition is followed with the question of whether you want to kick the ball to Watkins, or risk giving Clemson's high-powered offense a short field. Every punter has to undergo the same concerns, causing him to rethink or readjust his kick. As Watkins shifts around in the offense, the secondary has to be aware and ready to close in at any moment. Rivalry games like this are often decided by big plays, and few people can impact a game in a split-second like a healthy Sammy Watkins.

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 4:36 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Clemson at Georgia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

CLEMSON WILL WIN IF: The Tigers play their game. Clemson has displayed a wealth of offensive talent in recent weeks that suggests there are no teams in the ACC that should out-duel the Tigers. Focusing on Sammy Watkins leaves DeAndre Hopkins open, and even when Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy are on the sideline freshman D.J. Howard has shown he can be just as effective. Clemson is able to jump out to leads and force the opposition to play catchup. That's when the Tigers unleash Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch, two pleasant surprises in the pass rush game for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. The biggest key down the stretch for Clemson is to maintain their focus and not look past any opponent. With 20+ true or redshirt freshman taking the field every Saturday, youth seems to be the only concern left on the schedule for the Tigers.

GEORGIA TECH WILL WIN IF: They can possess the ball for at least 40 minutes of game time. With an offense as explosive as Clemson's, the best defense is to keep Tajh Boyd and Co. off the field. Luckily, Paul Johnson's option based offense - when run effectively - gives the Yellow Jackets an opportunity to dictate the pace of the game. Georgia Tech has struggled in their last two games to keep drives alive, converting on less than half of their third downs in both losing efforts. The other key to the long, time-consuming drives is turning them into touchdowns. Georgia Tech has struggled in the kicking game this season, and field goals are not enough to hang with Clemson. Every A-back and B-back needs to be a threat, and Georgia Tech needs to turn long drives into seven points to pull the upset.

X-FACTOR: Georgia Tech's linebackers. The unit started off the season much-improved in their second year of Al Groh's 3-4 scheme. They were able to frustrate opposing offenses by using the extra linebacker to disguise blitzes and make plays in coverage. But the start of conference play lined up with injuries to starting linebackers Daniel Drummond and Jeremiah Attaochu. Both are finally have been deemed "100 percent" after suffering leg injuries against N.C. State on Oct. 1, and must play the best game of their seasons in order to knock off the Tigers. North Carolina was able to find some success in the first half by sending an extra rusher to get in the face of Tajh Boyd. Attaouchu has been the best pass rusher on the team this season, and needs to show up for the Yellow Jackets to have a chance.

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