Clemson vs. Charlotte prediction: Nothing beats a night game in Death Valley


by - Senior Writer -
Clemson plays Charlotte at 7:30 PM Saturday
Clemson plays Charlotte at 7:30 PM Saturday

Nothing beats a night game in Death Valley.

The Charlotte 49ers come calling Saturday evening in a non-conference matchup for a top-ranked Clemson team that started the season by playing three Power 5 teams. This will be the first game played between the two programs.

CHARLOTTE 49ERS (2-1; C-USA: 0-0) at #1/#1 CLEMSON TIGERS (3-0; ACC: 2-0)

WHEN: Sat., Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Memorial Stadium (81,500), Clemson, S.C.

TELEVISION: ACC Network (Dave O'Brien, Tim Hasselbeck, Katie George)

RADIO: Clemson Tigers Network (Don Munson, C.J. Spiller, Tim Bourret, Reggie Merriweather)

**Sirius 134, XM 193, Internet 955**

NOTABLE

*Saturday's contest will be Clemson's 150th game under the leadership of Dabo Swinney. Swinney's 149 career games as head coach are the second-most in school history, trailing the 295 games coached by College Football Hall of Famer Frank Howard across the 1940-69 seasons. With a 119-30 career record, Swinney enters the contest with a career winning percentage of .799, the 17th-best winning percentage of any coach in major college football history with at least 10 years of experience. Swinney passed Bob Stoops (.798) with Clemson's victory at Syracuse last week. With a win this week, Swinney can improve his career winning percentage to .800 and become the 17th coach (minimum 10 seasons in major college football) to reach that career mark all-time.

*Clemson is in the midst of a school-record 18-game winning streak dating to the 2018 season opener. Clemson's domination in that span has been powered in part at the line of scrimmage, where Clemson holds a 68-19 edge over opponents in sacks in that time frame. Clemson's +49 margin in sacks since 2018 is by far the top differential in the country, as no other program can boast a sack differential greater than +33 since 2018.

*Three games into 2019, Clemson has already recorded two 600-yard games offensively. Clemson's single-season school record for 600-yard games is three, set in the 2012, 2017 and 2018 seasons. Clemson's eight 600-yard games since 2017 are tied for fourth-most in the country. Clemson hammered Syracuse to the tune of 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks last week. It was Clemson's 11th consecutive multi-sack game, as no team has held Clemson to one sack or fewer since Oct. 20, 2018 (one vs. NC State).

*Clemson is attempting to win a 14th consecutive game by 14 points or more, which would tie for the third-longest streak in the AP Poll era (since 1936).

*Clemson attempting to win its 18th consecutive game at Memorial Stadium, dating back to a 56-7 win against South Carolina on Nov. 25, 2016. The current 17-game streak is the second-longest home winning streak in Clemson history, trailing only a 21-game Memorial Stadium winning streak from 2013-16.

WHEN CHARLOTTE HAS THE BALL

Charlotte leads Conference USA and ranks in the FBS top 20 in scoring (47.4 ppg), rushing offense (296.7/gm) and total offense (522.3/gm). Charlotte has scored over 40 points in three straight games (49, 41, 52) for the first time in school history. The 49ers have put up 500+ yards of total offense in all three games. Charlotte's 52 points in the win over UMass are the most scored by the 49ers against an FBS opponent, breaking the mark of 41 set in the previous game vs. Appalachian State.

Senior running back Benny LeMay, a Doak Walker candidate and preseason all-C-USA selection, has rushed for 100-plus yards in all three games and scored five touchdowns. He has rushed for over 100 yards in five-straight games, dating back to last year, and has 10 such games in his career.

Six receivers have caught five-plus passes and the 49ers nine passing TDs have gone to six different receivers. Freshman wide receiver Micaleous Elder leads the team with 201 yards (67.0/gm) and owns a 100-yard performance (119 y at App State). Cam Dollar (157; 52.3/gm) and Victor Tucker (131; 43.7/gm) average 40-plus yards per game. Tucker, Dollar, and Tyler Ringwood lead the team with two receiving TDs. Charlotte has 9 passing TDs. They had 10, last year. Quarterback Chris Reynolds leads C-USA and ranks 15th in the FBS with a 178.4 passing efficiency. His 7 TD passes rank 2nd in C-USA; 21st in FBS. His 9.32 yards/pass attempt are 23rd in the FBS.

The 49ers will attempt to run the football, especially if Clemson employs the dime look they’ve used during the first three games of the season. If the 49ers have success early, defensive coordinator Brent Venables might have to return to a four-man front. Even if they get behind, they will run the football.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

Charlotte leads C-USA and ranks 5th in the FBS with 4.33 sacks/gm. Charlotte has matched its single-game school record with 5.0 sacks, twice, this season (vs. Gardner-Webb; vs. UMass). Redshirt defensive end Alex Highsmith, a Bednarik Watch Lister and preseason all-C-USA choice, ranks second in the nation with 1.3 sacks per game and Swinney says he might be the best defender the Tigers have faced all season. He matched the 49ers single-game record with 2.0 sacks in each of the first two games. With 4.0 sacks, Highsmith is within 1.0 sacks of the single-season school record (5.0, Larry Ogunjobi, 2014).

Clemson’s offense has put up points and yards but still has work to do to be an efficient unit. The Tigers are 69th overall in third-down conversions this season, converting just 14-of-35 attempts. That has to get better as the Tigers go forward. Clemson is also 44th in turnover margin and 68th in red zone conversions.

Yes, there is work to do but the offense is averaging a whopping 544 yards of total offense, 251 yards rushing and 293.3 yards through the air per game.

The 49ers will present a challenge to be sure but expect the offense to get better this week. Look for co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to find a rhythm with running back Travis Etienne and find cohesion in the passing game that doesn’t involve so many 50-50 balls down the sideline. This would be a good week to get the tight ends involved and get more touches for wide receiver Amari Rodgers.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

Check this out – Clemson plays a team that doesn’t have a Punter of the Year candidate. However, sophomore Connor Bowler is averaging 45 yards per punt this season on just 10 punts. Kicker Jonathan Cruz was the Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year in C-USA and has hit his only field goal attempt this season after hitting 17-of-22 field goals last season. Cruz also handles kickoffs and gets touchbacks about half the time.

Clemson is starting to find a groove with kicker B.T. Potter, who has hit four of his six field-goal attempts this season. Potter has also done damage on kickoffs, earning 16 touchbacks in 18 attempts. Punter Will Spiers is averaging 40.92 yards per punt this season, a little over a yard better than last season and right at the average from his freshman campaign. He can hit the big one and he can hit a short one.

The Tigers have yet to get the return game going, but I would love to see Rodgers get more of an opportunity. He runs with a purpose and could provide a spark on special teams.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

The 49ers have good players and they will come out ready to put up a fight. But there’s a difference between having a few good players and having great players all over the field, and hopefully, the advantage of a night game at home will help Clemson. Clemson will move the ball and put up points at a steady pace as the offense starts to find the consistency it's looking for. The outcome is not in doubt when the teams hit the half.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 44, CHARLOTTE 13

Mickey Plyler - 6-9 AM on WCCP 105.5FM - 59-10 Clemson

Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 49-10 Clemson

Nikki Hood - Staff writer - 56-17 Clemson

Brandon Rink - Staff writer - 55-13 Clemson

Pigskin Prophet - 49-10 Clemson

Game Actual David Hood Mickey Plyler Tony Crumpton Nikki Hood Brandon Rink Pigskin Prophet
Georgia Tech 52-14 CU 44-13 CU 52-17 CU 45-13 CU 42-17 CU 48-13 47-9
Texas A&M 24-10 CU 41-27 CU 37-20 CU 38-24 CU 38-27 CU 45-27 31-23
Syracuse 41-6 CU 40-16 CU 41-17 CU 42-13 CU 42-17 CU 45-13 37-13
Points - 3 5 5 3 3 5

* Points: 3 pts for best prediction of the week (tiebreaker is Clemson score), 2 pts for picking score exactly, 1 pt for picking the correct winner

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