When Clemson Has The Ball
The Clemson offense will be facing a very inexperienced group of linebackers this Saturday night. Georgia Tech had to replace Keyaron Fox and Daryl Smith. Fox and Smith combined last season alone for 284 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 5 pass break ups.
Juniors Gerris Wilkinson and Chris Reis have the duty of filling the void. Reis tallied 10 tackles versus Samford while Wilkinson pulled in 5 tackles. Reis had to play every snap of the game, which could cause fatigue problems facing Clemson's fast paced no huddle offense. Reis, a converted safety, brings good speed and aggressiveness to the position, but will be tested this weekend.
Wilkinson played defensive end last season, but is a more natural fit at linebacker. He had 12 tackles for loss from the end position last year.
KaMichael Hall will be the third linebacker, although against Samford, the Yellow Jackets started with a 4-2-5 package. This is a tremendous question mark for the Yellow Jackets.
The depth is a major concern going against a no huddle offense. Fox and Smith were a big key to defensive coordinator John Tenuta's defense last season. Tenuta will look at the success Wake Forest had disrupting Clemson's offense with the blitz and nickel packages. The offensive line will have to give Whitehurst time to throw the ball down the field.
Last season the Tigers were able to complete three passes over twenty yards (44, 33, 22). With DE Eric Henderson being questionable, Tenuta will have to send his linebackers to get pressure on Whitehurst. The Tigers will most likely counter by quick screens to Currie and Stuckey to keep the linebackers honest.
Yusef Kelly and Kyle Browning will have to be more involved in the running game. Browning had 4 carries for 32 yards in Atlanta and could be more involved in the running game this week. This could be the game where the Tigers pull out more of the packages they saw out in Utah. They can spread the field and run the option out of the one back sets to test the inexperienced linebackers.
Also for the Clemson offense to be successful, the backs have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Browning gives that option to the Tigers. While there is slight possibility Duane Coleman could play this week, he is still very doubtful.
Kelly showed some signs of rust against the Deacons, but could have a better performance this week. Kelly gets stronger as the game goes on, so if the Tigers are ahead in the 4th quarter the ball will be in Kelly's hands to grind out the clock. If the running game is effective early, the Yellow Jackets could be in for a long night. With the performances Currie and Stuckey had against Wake Forest, the last thing Tenuta wants to see happen is the Tigers successfully running the football. However, without a threat on the ground, Whitehurst could be pressured once again.
When Georgia Tech Has The Ball
Georgia Tech returns ACC rookie of the year Reggie Ball and the ACC's rushing champion PJ Daniels in the backfield. This is a very experienced backfield with fullback Jimmy Dixon returning as well. John Lovett will try and stop the Jackets rushing attack and make Ball use his arm to beat his defense.
Last week, Daniels rushed for 169 yards against Samford. Daniels worked very hard in the offseason to improve his open field running abilities. Facing Chris Barclay last week was good preparation for the Clemson linebackers.
Redshirt freshman Rashaun Grant also added 78 yards on the ground.
Last year, a motivated defense sacked Ball five times for 38 yards. Ball completed a pass to six different receivers in the win over Samford. New Offensive Coordinator Patrick Nix has shown confidence in allowing Ball to throw the ball down field this year. Ball had three pass plays over twenty yards.
For the game, he had 201 yards passing, so the Jackets showed a balanced attack against Samford.
A big concern for Nix and Head Coach Chan Gailey is what happens if Ball goes down. No other quarterback on the roster has taken a collegiate snap. Redshirt freshman Patrick Carter showed some promise, but has been limited by injuries. True freshman Taylor Bennett enrolled in January and had a nice spring, but the backup quarterback position for the Jackets remains a huge question mark.
One area were the Tigers will have to improve this week is tackling. They can ill afford to miss the amount of tackles they did against Wake Forest. Leroy Hill may have been slightly bothered by his ankle, because it seemed at times he just couldn't run through the tackle, and let Barclay get away. We later find out about a banged up shoulder Hill suffered during the game.
Anthony Waters finished the game with a broken hand, but expects to play this weekend. If Waters can't go, Nick Watkins will get the start after battling Waters for the starting spot through fall practice. Maurice Nelson would likely be the backup if Waters can't go.
Lovett could be a little more aggressive with his linebackers this week. Hill, Sampson, and Waters will be a big key for a victory again this week. The defensive gameplan will revolve around Daniels and Ball. The Tigers held Daniels last year to only 34 yards, his second lowest output of the season (30 vs. Georgia).
Last season, Clemson had success stopping teams that tried to run the ball straight at them. The running game they will see this week is nothing like what Wake Forest ran.
Daniels touched the ball 6 of the first 7 plays in Tech's opener. He also had a 25 yard reception, so there is no doubt who will be the focal point of Tech's attack.
The key to winning will be shutting down the Jackets backfield.