Can Clemson Swat Yellow Jackets Again?

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - For those who heard the score, there was a moment of disbelief.

Clemson's 39-3 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta year ago caught many by surprise for two reasons: One, the game wasn't televised. Two, there had been very little indication the offense would explode in that manner in the weeks previous.

Yet there was score, shining brightly off the Grant Field scoreboard, much to the dismay of Tech head coach Chan Gailey and his highly touted defensive coordinator, John Tenuta.

And even now, a year later, Gailey still finds himself answering questions about that Saturday night blowout.

"Last year they scored points because we didn't get anything going offensively and then they hit two big plays, and that hurt us," Gailey told reporters this week. "We lost any kind of momentum that we had. If you lose momentum, you're fighting an uphill battle when you get way behind. Then you take chances to get back in it, that's when you fall further behind."

Difficult as it may be, Clemson would love a repeat performance tonight before a prime time television audience (8 p.m., ABC) in Death Valley.

The 20th ranked Tigers (1-0), are hoping for a smoother, less stressful outing than last week's 37-30 double overtime victory over Wake Forest. But to pull off such a feat will take an improved performance across the board, according to head coach Tommy Bowden.

Further, he's not convinced Tenuta - one of the more well-respected defensive coordinators in the business - will allow his team to be a pushover again this season.

"They're really, really complex. They give you a whole bunch of looks up front…a lot of twisting, looping and stunting as opposed to sitting in a base front and rushing," Bowden said. "They give their players a really good chance to be successful by a lot of movement. I see probably more movement up front than what Wake Forest did last week.

"When they are all over the place you have to kind of limit your blocking schemes and makes your protections more difficult. Of course you don’t want to get too complex because then you have missed assignments."

Missing assignments is something the Tigers didn't have a problem with last week.

If fact, Bowden was complimentary of his team on both sides of the ball in that area, saying it was one of the better first-game performances he could remember. But there remains work to be done, such as making sure the offensive linemen hold their blocks for longer periods of time.

Against the Demon Deacons, holes would open initially only to close as Yusef Kelly reached the line of scrimmage. Keeping the block alive for an extra second or two could mean the difference between a three-yard gain and a 30-yard gain.

Then again, Bowden is also constantly reminding himself that some of the aspects of his short passing game - screens, shovel passes, quick outs, etc. - serve the same purpose as a toss sweep or a handoff.

"We do some things like the shovel pass draw that count as passing yards, but I consider them running yards," he said. "The bubble screen we ran to Chansi (Stuckey) that gained about 12 or 13 yards I consider a run. So when we look at it you add probably about 30 yards to rushing yards which gave us about 110. I've got make sure I keep that in mind."

Meanwhile, the Clemson defense will have its hands full with tailback P.J. Daniels (1,441 yards in 2003) and quarterback Reggie Ball (1,996 passing yards, 10 TD, 11 int.).

The Tigers limited Daniels to less than 40 yards last year, one of the few teams to slow the ACC's leading returning rusher. That left Ball to make plays for the Yellow Jackets (1-0), and the true freshman struggled mightily in the 36-point loss.

Now a sophomore, Ball expects to play better vs. the Tigers and, consequently, produce better results. He'll be operating the Tech offense from the shotgun most of the evening, one of the staples of Gailey's offensive philosophy.

"I think you use (the shotgun) when it’s to your advantage. And those percentages will fluctuate week-to-week depending on what we think is good for our team and the way to use it," he said. "I've used the shotgun everywhere I've been...I've used it for guys that have been in the NFL a long time.

So it’s not like it’s specifically for him for something he can’t do. To me, it’s an advantage when you can use it and use it to benefit your team in that game. It's really game plan more than anything."

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