Clemson is looking for a fourth consecutive victory against Georgia Tech for only the third time in the history of the series.
Georgia Tech is looking to atone for last year’s meeting after being dismantled, 39-3. That game seems to have been an anomaly, as it’s the only contest out of the last seven that hasn’t been decided by five points or less.
Will it be another close contest? ABC seems to think so. They’re making their first-ever primetime visit to Clemson.
The recent competitiveness of the series and the 8:00 start should be more than enough to get the crowd into a loud and rowdy mood. Just in case it isn’t, Tech coach Chan Gailey provided some extra incentive by saying Death Valley is “like any other place.”
Tommy Bowden took that comment and ran with it, essentially saying that Clemson players and fans should feel insulted by Gailey’s inference that Death Valley is no different than Wallace Wade Stadium (Duke).
Something tells me Gailey will regret making those comments.
Clemson’s weakness has been Tech’s strength. Aside from a few games late last season, Clemson has struggled to run the ball for some time.
Meanwhile, Tech’s rushing defense ranked 12th in the nation last year, giving up 100.5 yards per game. In their last two games, the Yellow Jackets held Tulsa to (-56) yards on 26 carries and Samford to 42 yards on 16 carries. Under defensive coordinator John Tenuta, 13 of 27 opponents have failed to reach the 100-yard mark.
That being said, this doesn’t appear to be the week the Tiger’s find their ground game. Instead, it looks like they’ll have to throw the ball early and often in hopes of creating some running opportunities.
That’s exactly what Clemson did last year when they took advantage of the middle of the field. Rest assured, Tenuta will have a revamped game plan this year that will focus on taking away the middle.
Helping that cause will be FS James Butler and SS Dawan Landry. Both are on various preseason award lists and they combine to form one of the strongest safety combos around. The two of them have to shoulder a large leadership role after losing all three starting linebackers from last year.
Stepping into those roles are Gerris Wilkinson, a starter at defensive end last year, and Chris Reis, the top back-up safety from last season. Both had solid games against Samford.
Clemson must do a better job of spreading the ball around. Charlie cannot zero in on Currie and Stuckey as he did last week. Someone – Kelvin Grant, Curtis Baham, or Kyle Browning – is going to have to step up and play a bigger role in the passing game. Otherwise, imagine the Bulls of the Pippen and Jordan without three role players on the court.
The offensive line has to become more consistent in maintaining their blocks. Charlie was sacked only once last week, but he was on the run most of the day. Many of the mistakes were a result of poor execution rather than missed assignments. A perfect example would be Marion Dukes completely missing a cut block on the first play of the first scoring drive. Charlie was forced to throw it away because the defensive end was all over him.
Maintaining their blocks just a half-second longer will also help many of those two yard runs turn into six to eight yard gains. Yusef Kelly actually had some good runs early in the game and on the last drive of regulation. He had a rough go of it in between, but so did the rest of the offense.
This week should determine if Kelly or the line is more to blame. Bowden has promised Merriweather and Browning will get more playing time. The hope is their quickness will allow them to make more use of the initial holes that were open last week. If that works, look for Kelly to become more of a role player much like Chad Jasmin was last season.
Sophomore QB Reggie Ball is back after starting as a true freshman last year. The 18-year-old looks his age at times. Then there are those moments when he looks like a savvy veteran. Such is life with young, talented players.
Running back P.J. Daniels is the focus of the Tech offense. The junior has rushed for 668 yards in the last four games, including a 307-yard, four TD performance against Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Minus that game, Daniels still averaged 95 yards a contest in 2003. Tommy Bowden would love to have a back right now with those numbers.
Ball’s three top targets are Nate Curry, Levon Thomas, and Calvin Johnson. Johnson was one of the most highly sought after WRs in the country last year. He has great size – 6’4”, 215 – and the coaches have been extremely impressed with his adjustment to the college game.
Clemson does regain the services of Chris McDuffie. His addition should be a big plus. The coaches were pleased with his performance during preseason practice and it’s always good to have a fresh pair of legs in the rotation.
His presence, along with the surprisingly good play of Donnell Clark and Corey Groover, should mean that Vontrell Jamison will remain outside.
The secondary should get more work this week because Tech has traditionally done a good job of having a balanced offense against the Tigers. Look for more man coverage and a few wrinkles.
It comes as no surprise that John Lovett will likely force Reggie Ball to beat him through the air. Ball’s size and inexperience still causes some struggles for him in the passing game. Look for various blitzes, including some zone blitzes to confuse Ball and take advantage of Clemson’s athletic defensive ends.
The big factor will be how well the defense tackles. Last week was a clinic on how NOT to tackle. If the Tigers haven’t gotten all of the arm tackles out of their system, Daniels may equal his effort against Tulsa. He’s the type of guy that makes a living fighting for those extra yards.
Tech has historically had a receiver and/or running back step up with a big performance against Clemson. They’ve also consistently hurt the Tigers with the tight end in key situations. The goal will be to prevent Daniels from having a big day and hope that Ball can’t handle the load of carrying the offense.
Tech’s starting kicker is redshirt freshman Travis Bell. He missed a 46-yarder in his debut last week.
True freshman Kyle Belcher handles the kickoff duties. He booted the first kick of his career out of the end zone. Two of his next four kicks were also touchbacks. Look for Belcher to try to contain Clemson’s return game by kicking it deep as much as possible.
There’s no question Clemson holds an advantage in the return game. Justin Miller became Clemson’s all-time kick return leader after last week’s punt return for a TD. He now has three for his career. He and Bobby Gage are the only two people to have a kickoff and punt return for a TD during a career.
As mentioned in the Wake post game analysis, Jad Dean must become more consistent. There’s no question he has to leg strength. As one reader pointed out, he wasn’t a factor in last week’s game. True enough, but the time will come when a bad kick is going to affect the outcome of a game.
More and more coaches are choosing not to offer scholarships to kickers, at least not to kickers who can’t handle all three duties. Dean is one of the lucky ones. It’s time he settles in and earns it. There’s no need to risk giving up a big return in hopes of stopping a guy at the 15-yard line.
Clemson passes the ball well while the Tech defense is stout against the run. The Tiger defense has been good against the pass while the Yellow Jackets like to run.
On paper, this appears to be a game that will be determined by which team can do the best job of strengthening their weaknesses. Clemson has the advantage of already facing a really good rushing team and having to fight for a victory.
Chris McDuffie will provide help against the run. Groover finally has a game at DT under his belt and should enter this week with a better understanding of how to play the position. Much like last week, the play of the front four is going to determine how well the defense fares.
Tackling is going to be the biggest focus. If Clemson can clean up that part of their game, they should be in good shape.
Offensively, Clemson will miss Duane Coleman more this week than last. The one thing that may help minimize that loss is the emergence of Kyle Browning. He made the most of his reps last week by making some scrappy blocks and scoring the game winning touchdown. He should see more time on third down situations with Kelly and Merriweather possibly splitting time the rest of the day.
Much like two years ago, this game could be decided by the special teams. Both kickers are unproven. Furr does have an advantage in that he’s already made some pressure kicks and handled the kickoff duties two years ago. He knows what it’s like to be in big games.
Miller and Currie are always a threat to break a big return. If it does come down to a battle of kicking games, the advantage has to go to Clemson.
However, it shouldn’t come down to that. Clemson has a better team at this point, even if it’s only on paper. They have more experienced leadership at some very key positions and a home field crowd that will be geeked up for a primetime showdown. Whitehurst has a better performance and the defense gets back on track. Clemson wins 34-20.