WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.22 CLEMSON vs. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
- 2023-09-15 22:32:12
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers bounced back into the win column in a big way with a 66-17 win over Charleston Southern in the home opener, beginning another Death Valley win streak. It ended a two-game losing streak, with 3 losses in their previous 4 games. Unfortunately, they once again lost the turnover margin, and the turnovers were again the worst kind possible, giving the opponent 14 points. The good news is that they both occurred early in the game, and the Tigers were nearly perfect for the last 3 quarters in all phases. Let’s hope that continues on Saturday night against Florida Atlantic because this is the Tigers’ final opportunity for a tune-up before No.3 FSU comes to town!
This is just the second meeting between the two schools. Clemson won the first 54-6 in 2006, in Death Valley…Clemson is 45-15-1 in home night games and 21-3 under Dabo, including 18 straight wins. The last home loss at night was against eventual national champion FSU in 2013…Clemson is one of two teams in the country to rank in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense…In Cade Klubnik’s first 3 starts, the offense has set a Clemson record with 100 first downs. The previous record for any 3-game span was 95, done twice in 2016…Cade is the third Clemson quarterback to lead the offense to over 400 yards in his first 3 starts, joining Tajh Boyd and Trevor Lawrence…Clemson is 160-73-3 when facing a head coach for the first time and 44-7 since 2011…Clemson is 60-2 at home in the CFP era, the best record in the nation…Clemson is 37-4 against non-conference opponents in Death Valley under Dabo…Clemson is 46-10 in all night games since 2015…Dabo is 33-6 after dropping in the AP Poll from the previous week…Clemson is 102-6 versus unranked teams since 2012…Clemson has rushed and passed for more than 200 yards in each of its first two games of the season for the first time since 2000. If the Tigers do it again on Saturday, it will be the first time in program history to do that in 3 games to start the season. They were 13 pass yards shy of accomplishing the feat in 2000. In the third game against Wake Forest, Woody Dantzler and the offense had 623 total yards but just 187 pass yards…Clemson needs 5 sacks to become the first program with 500 sacks since the 2012 season…Clemson has the most Power Five wins since 2013 with 3 more than Alabama and 7 more than Ohio State…Dabo is currently No.13 in the all-time win percentage ranks at .802, just ahead of Nick Saban (.800)….
Remember Tom Herman? He was the hottest name in coaching just 7 or 8 years ago. After a successful stint as Offensive Coordinator at Ohio State, he took his first head coaching job at Houston and went 12-1 in his first season, beating FSU in the 2015 Peach Bowl. In his second season, he beat No.3 Oklahoma and No.3 Louisville with Lamar Jackson. His meteoric rise as a head coach catapulted him into the job at Texas, where he fell short of expectations and was fired after the 2020 season despite 4 bowl wins in 4 seasons, including a rout of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. He spent the 2021 season as an offensive analyst for the Chicago Bears, and now he’s in his first season as Head Coach at FAU. After a 1-1 start this season, he's 55-23 as a head coach.
Herman brought his quarterback from the Longhorns, Casey Thompson, to Boca Raton with him. I’m sure you remember him too. He wasn’t named the starter at Texas until his junior season in 2021, the first year for Steve Sarkisian after Herman was fired. He completed 63% of his passes for 2,113 yards with 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He also rushed for 4 TD’s. After a 4-4 start and 3 straight losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, Thompson was benched for backup Hudson Card, and Texas lost to Iowa State 30-7. Thompson started the next game and went 30-43 for 358 yards with 6 TD’s and one INT but lost 57-56 in overtime at home to a young Jalon Daniels and Kansas. Despite his brilliant bounce-back performance in the overtime loss to Kansas, Thompson was benched again for Card, and Texas lost at West Virginia to make it a six-game losing streak. Thompson started the last game and beat Kansas State to give Texas a disappointing 5-7 final record. Thompson then transferred to Nebraska to play for Scott Frost last season, where he completed 63% of his passes for 2,407 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 5 TD’s. You probably recall Nebraska losing their opener to Northwestern in Ireland 31-28, an all-too-familiar one-score loss that was the beginning of the end for Scott Frost. It got worse a couple weeks later when Nebraska was shocked at home by Georgia Southern 45-42 in perhaps the biggest upset of last season. Nebraska native son Scott Frost was fired the next day. The Huskers got blown out the next week by Oklahoma, barely beat Rutgers and then lost to Purdue and Illinois to make their record 3-5. Thompson was just 7-15 for 172 yards with 2 INT’s against Illinois before an arm injury knocked him out of the game. He sat out the next two games, and Nebraska lost to Minnesota and Michigan, giving the Huskers a 3-7 record. Thompson returned against Wisconsin and passed for just 106 yards and 2 TD’s in a 15-14 home loss. He finished last season with a 24-17 win at Iowa, going 20-30 for 278 yards and 3 TD’s. He finished on a high note, but with a 4-8 record and Scott Frost gone, Thompson decided to transfer again to play for his first head coach, Tom Herman, at Florida Atlantic.
So Herman and Thompson have a fresh start at FAU this season, but they lost at home last week 17-10 to Ohio out of the MAC. The 6’1, 200-pound Thompson put on a show in the opener against Monmouth, completing 20 of his 25 passes for 280 yards with 5 TD’s and just one INT. He had as many TD passes as he did incompletions. However, he was just 23-42 for 180 yards with no TD’s and 2 INT’s last week against Ohio. That kind of sums up the roller coaster career of Casey Thompson, who’s looked incredible in some games and terrible in others. It’s kind of similar to DJ’s two years at Clemson. The question is which Thompson will show up on Saturday night. One thing I know for sure is that he won’t be overwhelmed, rattled or intimidated by the atmosphere in Death Valley at night. He’s played too much football in too many hostile environments for that. Thompson is not a great runner. He has 10 career rush TD’s but none this season, and his career rushing average is 1.4 yards per carry. However, he is a great scrambler and will extend plays with his legs and look to throw on the run. Expect Herman to move him around a lot to get him outside the pocket. The Tigers’ secondary will need to be ready for the scramble drill!
The Owls’ leading receiver is Lajohntay Wester (#1), who has world class speed. The 5’11, 167-pound junior has 18 catches for 156 yards and one touchdown. 5’11, 180-pound sophomore Tony Johnson (#16) has 8 catches for 119 yards and 2 TD’s. 5’10, 187-pound senior Je’Quan Burton (#8) has just 3 catches for 56 yards, but 2 of those were touchdowns. The Owls have just one WR over six feet tall, and that’s 6’3, 198-pound senior BJ Alexander (#84). He has just one catch for 3 yards in their first 2 games. Even their tight ends, one a freshman, are only 6’2, and they have combined for just 5 catches. They have a couple of 6’4 junior tight ends that have not recorded a catch yet. What they lack in size, however, they make up for with speed.
At running back, 5’11, 204-pound Larry McCammon (#3) leads the team in rushing. He has just 20 carries and one touchdown in the first two games but averages 7.4 yards per carry. He is also one short of second-most catches on the team with 7 for 75 yards. Joining him in the back field is 5’10, 196-pound sophomore Zuberi Mobley (#22), who has 52 yards on 16 carries this season.
Unlike their diminutive skill position players, most of them under 6 feet, the Owls’ offensive line is massive. Their starters average 310 pounds and go 6’4, 6’4, 6’4, 6’2 and 6’8 at right tackle. Even the backups average 6’5 and well over 300 pounds. Dabo said that this will probably be the biggest offensive line they face all season, and it will be fun to see this nasty defensive line of the Tigers get after them.
Dabo said that Herman and the Owls’ offense will really challenge them schematically because they do so many different things designed to confuse defenses, including misdirection, play-action from the pistol formation, swap boots, RPO’s and a lot of mesh concept routes from the receivers. They’ve also run 3 trick plays already in 2 games, so expect at least one more on Saturday night!
Defensively, the Owls are looking for much improvement from first-year Defensive Coordinator Roc Bellantoni, who was the special teams coach at Auburn last season. The Owls ranked 110th in total defense last season and 73rd in points allowed, but they have shown improvement this season, allowing just 37 points in their first two games. Like their offensive counterparts, the Owls have some big dudes in the trenches on the defensive side. Redshirt junior DT Evan Anderson (#8) is 6’3 and 356 pounds. The other starter at DT is redshirt sophomore Jacob Merrifield (#50) at 6’3 and 290 pounds. Schematically, their defense has done a lot of different things like the offense, using multiple fronts and coverages, including press-man coverage and zone. So both Riley and Goodwin will have to adjust on the fly during the game.
The Owls’ punter is a transfer, Logan Lupo, who played one season at Louisville in 2020, and this is his first season back in action. He’s averaged 42.3 yards, with a long of 55, in his 10 punts this season. He also made their only field goal attempt this season from 37 yards, which was his first career field goal. So whether it’s Lupo or sophomore place kicker Carter Davis, who was 1-2 last season with a 47-yarder, they are very green in the kicking game, and that could be big in an atmosphere like Death Valley at night.
The Tigers got off to a bumpy start in the first 5 quarters of the season, but they played about as well as possible in their last 3. Granted, it was against an FCS opponent in Charleston Southern, but the Tigers’ opponent is irrelevant, just like it is this week. Duke didn’t beat them. They beat themselves. They have the talent to beat anyone in the country if they play to their standard and don’t make critical mistakes. Cade has made a hand full of enormous mistakes and poor decisions in his second and third career starts, but that’s all part of the process for a young quarterback, and I believe he will continue to get better week by week and eliminate those mistakes. He has also looked great at times and made some fantastic plays. The offense has rushed and passed over 200 yards in each of the first two games for the first time since 2000! It’s the first time they have done that in consecutive games at any point in the season since the 2019 ACC Championship. That says a lot about the balance of this offense and the play of the offensive line just two games into the Garrett Riley era. I have to think that the offense will only get better with time and experience! It’s also encouraging that we haven’t seen many penalties in the first two games. Basically, eliminate the turnovers (or at least the back-breaking ones), and this is easily a top-10 team. Easier said than done, perhaps. For whatever reason, the Tigers have lost the turnover margin in 8 of their last 9 games. Ironically, they had one of the best turnover margins in the country for the first half of last season, which is a big reason they were 7-0, but that completely reversed, and turnovers cost them big-time in all 3 of their losses. Let’s hope the tide will turn again starting this week with no turnovers!
The Tigers are in great shape from an injury standpoint. Cole Turner should be back at wide receiver after missing the game last week. Mukuba also missed that game and has been day-to-day, so he will probably be a game-time decision. Otherwise, the Tigers are ready to go and have freshman DT Vic Burley back from injury, so we should see him for the first time on Saturday night.
Like I said, it’s anyone’s guess which Casey Thompson will show up at quarterback. If he has one of his off nights, this will be a total rout and could be a shutout. If he’s on, it could make things much more competitive, especially if the Tigers go back to turning the ball over. Coming off one of his worst games, I think Thompson will bounce back and embrace the hostile environment. However, I don’t think they will be able to run the ball effectively against this Clemson front seven, and I’m hoping the critical mistakes on offense are behind them. The night crowd in Death Valley should give the Tigers some extra juice, too! The new home win streak extends to 2…Bring on big, bad FSU for a top-25 showdown at high noon!
The Prowl toward another ACC Title and return to the College Football Playoff continues….
CLEMSON 41 Florida Atlantic 17
Never miss the latest news from CUTigers!
Join our free email list