Keys to Middle Tennessee vs. Clemson Game


by - Correspondent -
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The MTSU game is a tough one to gauge. They lost the first game of the season to Florida Atlantic - a I-AA independent in its third year of existence. FAU is not a football powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination.

They followed that with loss to Georgia by a score of 29 - 10. Based on the score, it would appear they fared better against the Bulldogs than did Clemson. That may or may not be the case.


Taking a closer look at the numbers reveals that MTSU piled up more total yards. Take away their 71-yard touchdown pass late in that game, the numbers are nearly even with Clemson holding a slight advantage. Georgia benefited from three Clemson turnovers while MTSU only had one such mistake. The Raiders' efforts were also aided by 18 Georgia penalties for a total of 129 yards.


Did Georgia play down to their competition or is MTSU better than many thought after their game with Florida Atlantic? I have not seen the replay of last week's game. Therefore, I cannot possibly offer a valid evaluation. However, something tells me the answer lies somewhere in the middle. As such, this is not a team the Tigers should take lightly. MTSU had some very good talent and is the type of program that could easily upset many of the "big boys" of college football.

KEY POINTS


Defense - The most important aspect of the defense this week is the pass rush. Through the first two games, the defensive front has done a good job of consistently getting to the quarterback. Their performance has been much improved from last year. Of course, it is not fair to make a comparison based on two games.

The defense will face a much different task this week as it tries to stop the wide-open attack that MTSU will bring to town. They spread the field and the defense while trying to maintain a relative balance between the running and passing game. What is more is that their quarterback has the ability to make something happen with his feet.

Because of this, Clemson has to do more than just get pressure on the quarterback. They have to go about it in such a way that they do not allow the quarterback to get out of the pocket or leave themselves vulnerable to draws. Much of that burden will rest upon the shoulders of the defensive tackles. If they can control the middle, one would believe the Clemson defensive ends have enough speed and quickness to keep anything from getting outside.

Offense - The running game averaged around 1.5 yards per carry against Georgia and 3.1 against Furman. If they could continue the pace of doubling their output, they would be set after this week. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be a possibility.



Unless one of the football gods happens to bless the Clemson offensive line this week, the running game is not going to be good enough to earn a victory. It looks as if Clemson's best chance of being competitive on the offensive side of the ball will come through the air. That almost certainly has to be the focus this week if they want to take control of the game and establish an early lead. The running game can once again become a priority when the Tigers have a comfortable lead.

Again, look for some of the younger players to get some playing time early and often this week. Marion Dukes and Brandon Pilgrim should see the field rather early in the contest. Not far behind should be Chip Myrick, Dustin Fry, and Roman Fry. Dustin was the only one of the group to not participate last week, but talk has it that he was a little banged up.

Special Teams - Where to begin?

The return game has been hot and cold this year. All the potential in the world is there. The return team could be the group that actually keeps the Tigers in games this year if they learn how to be consistent. Tiger fans would leave to see that this week...at least from the punt team. No fan wants to see the kickoff return team on the field more than once a game.

Cole Chason and Aaron Hunt have to begin to establish themselves this week. Hunt's 0-3 start is not what he had planned before the season. Granted, he has missed from 52 and 48 yards and those are no chip shots. Still, the senior needs to be counted on in such situations. If the Tigers jump out to a big lead this week and are stuck in a field goal situation, Bowden will have a tough call to make. Should he let freshman Jad Dean show what he can do in a game situation or should he give Hunt a shot in hopes it will be a confidence builder?

Throw the punting numbers out of the window - Chason has not impressed thus far. His best punt of the season in terms of hang time and length resulted in a touchback last week. His longest punts have benefited from nice rolls and bounces. Combine all of that with his dropping a perfect snap last week and many are beginning to think he helped Wynn Kopp write the book on punting. That is not a good thing.

SUMMARY

Clemson must now open up its offense and return to the ways of the early Bowden years if it is going to be successful. As the season passes and some of the younger linemen gain experience, they may be able to focus a little more on the run. As for now, the running game is dead and the Tigers should not waste the time or energy trying to revive it.

Eric Coleman, Donnell Washington, and DeJuan Polk need to have big weeks for the defense if they want to hold the Raider offense in check. The Tigers may not face a similar offense the rest of the season, but the experience will be good for them.

The special teams have performed much better minus the kickers. If Chason and Hunt begin to come through, the kicking game could end up winning a game or two. If not, they could easily cost Clemson a game, like this one that should be a sure win.

Whitehurst has another good game and Justin Miller gets his first pick of the season. The Tigers win 34-13.

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