Roy Martin: Clemson - Texas A&M Preview


by - Correspondent -
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Traveling halfway across the country to play in one of the most storied
venues in the college game is not the best remedy to cure the hangover from the
Georgia Tech loss.

It’s the task at hand for the Tigers in what should be a very pivotal game. A
win gives them some confidence heading into two conference road games. A loss
could have the players, staff, and fans as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a
room full of rocking chairs.

The good is this team has been tested as much as any team in the country. The
bad is it doesn’t appear to get any easier on Saturday. Kyle Field is a tough
place to play and the Aggies are very big.

Their offensive line averages 6’4”, 313 lbs. Their two starting tight ends
are 6’5”, 253 lbs. and 6’6”, 265 lbs. The starting fullback is 6’2”, 256 lbs.,
with his backup being 5’11”, 238 lbs.

On the defensive side the two tackles average 6’4”, 310 lbs. The defensive
ends are as big as many tackles: 6’6”, 279 lbs. and 6’4”, 270 lbs.

How well the Tigers recover from last week’s loss is going to be the ultimate
key to this game. They have the talent and coaching to defeat A&M.

Coaches generally deal with losses much better than players because they’ve
been around the game much longer. They know how harsh the game can be. They’ve
learned to let the emotions be a driving force while finding a way to put the
game in the past.



The same is not true for players. We as fans sometimes forget they’re still
18-22 year-olds that still have a lot to learn about the wicked ways of the
world. A loss, be it anything from a football game to a three-week-old
girlfriend, sticks with some and bounces off others.

Group eighty-five of those youngsters together and one can only begin to
imagine the wide range of emotions that have been running through the Clemson
locker room this week.

Coaches can only do so much. The onus of putting the game in the past
ultimately lies on the shoulders of the team leaders. Around 11:00 Saturday
night Clemson fans should have a good feel for what type of leaders are on this
team.

OFFENSE

The running game yielded two big plays last week for the first time in years.
They should hope that well doesn’t run dry this week. The running game has to
come around at some point if Charlie Whitehurst is ever going to have a fighting
chance.

The line hasn’t played bad, but there is still a lot of improvement that
needs to be made. The numbers don’t always tell the entire story.

Charlie has been sacked only once while attempting eighty-four passes.
There’s not a coach in the country that wouldn’t take that stat if it were as
simple as that. The reason that number is so low is Charlie’s presence in the
pocket. He’s avoided maybe as many as ten sacks by getting rid of the ball.

The line’s inability to maintain blocks and get to the second level has led
to a rather anemic running game (two long runs have really boosted the numbers)
and a top notch QB struggling to get comfortable.

More importantly, the passing game has been restricted because the tight end
and backs have had to aid in the blocking schemes. This offense is much, much
more potent when Ben Hall and the tailback are threats to catch the ball.

That doesn’t look to change this week. The OL will have their hands full.
Charlie will once again bear the burden of carrying the offense.

Kyle Browning and Reggie Merriweather should see their carries increase quite
a bit. They are quicker through the hole than Yusef Kelly. The can make a world
of difference with this line.

Yusef should still get some carries, especially in short yardage situations.
In any case, it’s a good problem to have as a coach. Having three or four
serviceable tailbacks is never a bad thing.

Many fans were excited to see the Utah offense have its way with the Aggies.
There are a lot of similarities between the Utes and the Tigers. The Clemson
staff even spent some time in Utah during the offseason.

The biggest difference in the two schemes is the quarterback. Alex Smith is
better suited to run that system that gained over 600 yards against A&M. He kept
the defense honest with his ability to run the ball off the option or designed
draws.

Although Whitehurst isn’t a bad runner, he’s not that type of QB. He’s more
comfortable in the pocket. As such, Carl Torbush’s defense may bring much more
pressure than he did against Utah.

Don’t let the similarities fool you; the two offenses are very different.

DEFENSE

Corey Randolph was good. Reggie Ball was even better as he had a career
performance.

Reggie McNeal is better than both.

The junior quarterback is as good of an athlete as Clemson will face all
season. He has good size and blazing speed. Imagine Woody Dantzler with three or
four more inches on him. That’s the type of athlete this guy is.

He has been the heart and soul of the Aggies’ offense. Containing him is a
big part of stopping their attack. The other part is stopping Courtney Lewis,
who is one of the top returning tailbacks in the entire country.

Clemson has struggled in the recent past with mobile QBs. It’s not always
what they do on the ground as much as it’s what they can do on the ground. Guys
like McNeal alter game plans. It can cause a defense to get out of rhythm.

Scott McBrien at Maryland was a great example the last couple of years. He
wasn’t the best athlete in the world but he could and did hurt the Tigers on the
ground. It really opened up their offense when he was effective.

Dennis Franchione’s offense is mix of a lot of things. It sometimes resembles
Maryland and Wake when they want to run the ball. They can look like NCSU and
even Clemson when they want to throw the ball.

As multi-dimensional as it can be, it will go nowhere without McNeal.

The defensive line will have to once again have a great performance. Chris
McDuffie was forced into action last week and had a pretty solid performance.
When the Tigers were playing straight up as opposed to stunting he got a really
good push and actually made some plays by blowing up the blocking scheme.

His size could become a factor against the large Aggie front. If Groover is
ready to go, look for McDuffie to rotate in as a fifth tackle on a pretty
regular basis.

Lots of folks have mentioned letting Leroy Hill spy on McNeal. That sounds
great in theory. The problem is Hill can’t run with McNeal. That’s no knock on
Leroy. It has more to do with how fast the Aggie QB is.

The spy may or may not work. That’s for John Lovette to decide. The best way
to not have to find out will be for the front four to get good movement while
keeping everything inside of them. In reality, it’s not different than any other
game plan – it’s just more important this week.

The Tiger defense honestly had a good game last week. They had a goal line
stand, six sacks, and kept P.J. Daniels from really getting in a groove even
though he had just over 100 yards. The defensive backs were actually in good
position on all four TD passes.

The touchdowns aside, the one thing they can continue to improve upon is
their tackling. There were a number of missed tackles last week and a few more
instances where it looked like the Tech players feel because they were bracing
for an impact that never happened.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Not a whole lot needs to be said in regards to the importance of the kicking
game. If you add up all the special teams plays that occur during the course of
a game, you can quickly get in the area of 40-50 plays. That’s not a quite a
third of all the plays a team has, but it’s close enough to make all the
difference in the world.

Cole Chason has continued to improve. Clemson did give up one return last
week they’d like to have back, but as a whole the coverage has been very good.
The net punting number is the one that a coach will always look at first. It
doesn’t matter if a kid is booming is 60 yards a clip if the net is below 40.

Jad Dean found the endzone much more consistently last weekend. As long as
it’s going out everything is great. It sounds awful to criticize him after his
kicks resulted in touchbacks, but he needs to get more hang time. Those line
drives can be very dangerous if they come up short of the goal line.

Currie started and ended the game with good returns but that was about it.
Justin Miller needs to find some better gloves or get rid of the things. He
dropped two interceptions and also muffed two punts, one having put the Tigers
deep in their own territory. It’s okay to take the good with the bad, but there
needs to be a cap on the bad.

Geoff Rigsby has had a tough week. Like he said, something would be wrong if
it wouldn’t have been a struggle. What he must remember is he’s been perfect for
three years. It’s hard to go that long without having a serious mistake. He’s as
good as they get and he’ll be fine as long as he remembers that.

CONCLUSION

Last week’s loss makes this game really interesting. Clemson has the talent
to win. With less than a minute to go in last week’s game there was no reason to
think they wouldn’t be 2-0. All of that changed very quickly.

Having the talent advantage isn’t so important now because talent can’t
always overcome psyche. Clemson’s has been hurt. Will they recover?

These teams switched roles after the second week.

Clemson was confident after opening the season with a victory. Texas A&M was
shaky after getting rocked by Utah. Now the Tigers are coming off a devastating
loss and the Aggies gained some confidence as they rolled against Wyoming.

The Tigers are like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde at this point - no one knows
which persona will show up Saturday night . Are they still confident and focused
on a successful season or are they questioning themselves and looking in the
rear view mirror?

I do believe this team has the ability to forge ahead and make the most out
of the remaining nine games. I’m not sure the same could be said about last
year’s team at this point. They didn’t have the fight early on that this team
has.

That fight is going to be important Saturday night. At some point it’s going
to be loud and tough. Some of the younger guys will have that scared look in
their eyes. They’re going to lean on the veterans to pull them through. That’s
when all of the lessons learned over the last seven to ten games will pay off.

Clemson looks ugly early but finds a way to make it all happen. They win
35-21.

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