Middle Tennessee State and Clemson Prediction


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Clemson running back C.J. could have a big day, limited only by how long he plays
Clemson running back C.J. could have a big day, limited only by how long he plays

The dawn of another season is upon us, and after what seems like years of waiting, the Clemson Tigers will rub the rock, run down the hill, and take the field against Middle Tennessee State Saturday night in Death Valley. Seriously, it’s about time. And with the beginning of a new season, so begins another round of game predictions for the Picking Machine. I have spoken with literally hundreds of Clemson fans, and expectations run the gamut, with many fans who are tired of being burned by high expectations saying they are looking at 6-6 or 7-5. Then there are the diehards that are looking at 9-3 or 10-2 and a berth in the ACC Championship Game. Whatever happens, the journey begins tomorrow against the Blue Raiders, and we’ll certainly have a better idea of how the 2009 season might shape up by late Saturday evening.

Middle Tennessee State at Clemson

When Middle Tennessee Has the Ball

Former Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin brings his spread attack to the Blue Raiders, and he has Dwight Dasher, a 5-10, 200-pound junior, at the helm. Dasher played wide receiver and quarterback last season while rushing for 192 yards, and will have most of the skill players from last season returning, including senior running back Phillip Tanner and wideouts Malcolm Beyah and Eldred King. Look for Franklin to try and negate the rush of Clemson’s defensive line by running a mix of quarterback draws and quick passes into the flat. Also look for Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to try and disrupt Dasher, still inexperienced as quarterback, with a variety of blitzes and looks, including dropping Ricky Sapp into coverage. Clemson’s defense will probably be the best and fastest the Blue Raiders will see all season, and with it being the first game under Franklin, it all points in the Tigers’ favor.

ADVANTAGE – Clemson.

When Clemson Has the Ball

The Blue Raiders have been known to play a high-risk, high-reward type of defense, and one Clemson offensive lineman told me earlier this week that he expects them to stack the box with eight or nine defenders to take away the Clemson running game and force Kyle Parker and the receivers to beat them. However, this would leave Jacoby Ford or one of the other receivers (how about Rendrick Taylor in the slot) one-on-one with a defender outside. This could lead to a couple of early big plays in the passing game, opening the way for C.J. Spiller and Jamie Harper to gash big chunks later in the game. Also look for one of the young receivers to have a big day if the rifle-armed Parker can get the ball to them in single coverage situations. If the Tigers do decide to slam into a stacked front, look for Taylor and Chad Diehl to have an impact.

ADVANTAGE – Clemson.



Special Teams

MTSU added a new special teams coach into their mix in the offseason, Steve Ellis, and he has two returnees in kicker Alan Gendreau (10-14 FG’s last season, 32-for-32 on extra points) and punter David DeFatta, who is a master at placing kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. However, they lack a true threat on their return teams. Greer’s Richard Jackson has a strong leg and has claimed the starting kicker spot for the Tigers, and struggled with his consistency early in the fall camp but came on strong as of late. Dawson Zimmerman is a more-than-capable punter, but what will set the Tigers apart on Saturday are the weapons they bring to the table in the return game – Spiller, Ford, Andre Ellington, etc.

ADVANTAGE – Clemson.

Coaching

MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill spent 14 years roaming the Tiger sidelines, and has a number of former Tigers on his current staff. He helped lead the Blue Raiders to an upset over Maryland last season, and has proven to be a very capable head coach. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney continues to impress with his coaching style, and rounded out his coaching staff with proven commodities like Danny Pearman, Steele, and Dan Brooks and Charlie Harbison. Now that he has had the spring, offseason and fall camp to implement his style, it will be interesting to see how that translates into changes on the field on Saturday.

ADVANTAGE – Clemson.

BOTTOM LINE

On Saturday, we get to see if the Clemson defense can live up to the hype and if the Tigers are indeed a more physical bunch than they have been in the past. If the Tigers are stymied in the running game early, look for Kyle Parker and the receivers to take some shots down the field to open things up. In the end, Spiller’s production will probably only be limited by how long Swinney leaves him in the game with a game against Georgia Tech waiting in just five more days. The Clemson offense could have some of the troubles associated with a first game, but all-in-all will enjoy a productive day. The Clemson defense lives up to expectations and, at least while the first unit plays, shuts down the Blue Raider attack.

THE PICK

CLEMSON 37-13

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