WHAT WE ARE HEARING: Preview and Prediction for #2 Clemson vs Georgia Southern
- 2018-09-14 15:48:33
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers are coming off a thrilling win at Texas A&M—their first ever win in College Station and first win in the state of Texas since the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl! Sure, it wasn’t the resounding win everyone was hoping for—I predicted 34-17 in last week’s WWAH—but the Tigers are probably better off having won the way they did. They had chances to put the game away and win by 17-21 points, but if they had, perhaps they wouldn’t have improved as much this week as they did, now that some weaknesses have been exposed. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, after all, and there was plenty squeaky about the Tigers’ pass defense last week, giving up 430 yards through the air thanks to a few busts in coverage. The Aggies also made some spectacular plays that one wouldn’t expect to see often. The Tigers were able to shut down the Aggies’ run game, holding Trayveon Williams to just 31 yards and no touchdowns after he put up 240 yards and 2 touchdowns in their opener.
Offensively, of course, everyone wanted to know how the Tigers would handle the quarterback position in their first big road game, and the answer is beautifully. Trevor Lawrence demonstrated his unique poise and maturity, throwing a 64-yard touchdown on his first play on the road. Kelly Bryant, however, showed what makes him so good—he knows how to win. Bryant was 12-17 for 205 yards with one touchdown through the air and one on the ground. He also led the Tigers in rushing with 54 yards, but more importantly, he had no turnovers. His one touchdown pass was a tough pass in a tight window to Diondre Overton that exemplified his development as a passer since last season.
The offense wasn’t without its warts either. The botched snap on 4h down at the goal line was a big mistake and prevented the Tigers from breaking the game open. But bear in mind that this was just the second game of the season, and few teams have faced such a big road challenge in the first two weeks—not to mention the weather. I said last month that this game at A&M was the most dangerous one on the Tigers’ schedule, and after watching Florida State through the first couple weeks, I believe it even more. The mark of a champion is the ability find a way to win on the road, even when they haven’t played their best and the opponent is making all kinds of circus plays it wouldn’t normally make. Kellen Mond had a Heisman-like performance that would have beaten almost anybody that night. But the Tigers were able to escape the 105,000 fans and the weather unscathed, and they will be a better team for their ordeal.
Next up for the Tigers, of course, is their first-ever matchup with Georgia Southern. The game has been moved from 3:30 to noon due to Hurricane Florence, and our prayers go out to all those in harm’s way this weekend. Hopefully the early kickoff will enable everyone to get where they’re going before the worst of it starts. Dabo told us Wednesday evening after practice that his team will be ready to play whenever they’re told. The situation naturally evokes memories of the 2015 Notre Dame game that the Tigers played on the edge of a hurricane. That was some terrible weather, but it’s not the worst I can remember in Death Valley. I was in the stands for the 2002 Georgia Tech game, having graduated just a few years prior, and the aisles of the stadium were literally waterfalls for that one! Tony Elliott was a WR on that team. I was also at the 2009 Boston College game that was delayed 2 or 3 times because of the rain. The TCU game that year was also a wet one. In fact, it rained for every home game that year in 2009! Hopefully this one will stay dry for the most part, and the Tigers will be able to play a clean game, literally and figuratively.
Before I dive into this week's game, please click on the links below if you missed our coverage over the last week!
With the win at Texas A&M, the Tigers improves their record in the state of Texas to 6-6 all-time….Clemson is now 11-7 in ESPN College GameDay contests and have won 7 straight since the start of 2016….The Tigers are 15-1 in their last 16 true road games…They have won 17 straight regular season non-conference games dating to 2014, a program record…Kelly Bryant passed Steve Fuller and his coach, Brandon Streeter, for 10th on the Clemson all-time completion list…Since 2011, Clemson is 23-4 in games decided by eight points or less. The 85.2 winning percentage in those contests is the best in the nation….Clemson has won 18 straight Saturday games, the longest streak in the Power Five. It is the second-longest streak in program history. The Tigers won 21 straight from 2014 to 2016….Clemson has won 15 straight games in September, last losing in 2014….The Tigers have not allowed a first half touchdown in 6 of their last 7 games…Clelin Ferrell has 18.5 career sacks, which is third-most in the FBS and the most for a non-senior…Kelly Bryant needs 2 completions to become the 10th Clemson QB to complete 300 passes…Hunter Renfrow has caught a pass in 30 straight games….Mitch Hyatt needs 6 snaps to become the 5th Tiger in history to play 3,000 snaps…Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 46 weeks. Next is Wisconsin at 26 weeks, followed by Georgia at 15…
GEORGIA SOUTHERN SYNOPSIS
Once again, this is surprisingly the first meeting between the two schools that are only separated by less than 200 miles. Dabo talked about the proud history of this program and compared it to App State as a solid mid-major program. Indeed, the Eagles are no stranger to playing in big-time venues in the south, regularly playing in places like Athens, Auburn and Gainesville. They have also pulled off an App State caliber upset in the past. I’m sure many of you recall Georgia Southern shocking Will Muschamp’s Florida team, winning 26-20 in the Swamp back in 2013. Dabo told us that he used to jog on the Southern campus regularly when he was in the Statesboro area during his recruiting days years ago.
The Eagles play in the Sun Belt Conference with the likes of Coastal Carolina, Troy, App State, Arkansas State and others. They had a rough 2017 season, finishing tied for 10th in the 12-team conference with Coastal Carolina and a 2-10 overall record. To put that in perspective, they lost 52-17 to Indiana last season. The good news for Southern is that they have a new coach. Chad Lunsford was named interim coach in the middle of last season after Tyson Summers was fired. The school removed the interim tag at the end of November. The bad news is that Lunsford has very little head coaching experience. Before taking over in the middle of last season, he had previously served at Southern since 2013 coaching the wide receivers, tight ends and, most recently, as the strength coach and recruiting coordinator. He was a part of that team that beat Will Muschamp and the Gators in the Swamp, though, so maybe he has some good mojo for the Eagles. Lunsford was 2-4 last season but has his team off to a good start with a 2-0 record, beating South Carolina State 37-6 and UMass 34-13. The Eagles were picked to finish 4th in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.
Offensively, Southern runs the option. It will be the second option-oriented team the Tigers will have faced in their first three games, and they’ve got yet another one coming up at Georgia Tech next week! This one is a little different than what Tech runs, but the Tigers handled it well in the opener against Furman, not allowing a point until the final 90 seconds of the game.
The Eagles return their starting QB Shai Werts, a 5’11, 200-pound sophomore from Newberry, SC, just outside of Columbia. The Tigers actually recruited Werts as an athlete, so he is the ideal quarterback to run that option offense. In his freshman campaign last year, Werts was 85-152 passing (55.9%) for just 929 yards with 7 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. Running is obviously his bread and butter, though, and he rushed for 722 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. In his 2 games this season, Werts has already shown improvement in the passing game, completing 11 of his 16 attempts for 183 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has rushed for 246 yards already, averaging 6.8 yards per carry with 4 touchdowns.
Werts was the Eagles’ leading rusher last season, but they also return their leading RB, senior Wesley Fields (#21). The 6-0, 200-pound back rushed for 861 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He also had 11 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the passing game. This season, he’s rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Obviously, the passing game is not prolific for an option team. The Eagles’ leading returning WR from last year is Obe Fortune, a 6’1, 190-pound redshirt junior who caught just 15 passes last season for 189 yards and one touchdown. Fortune has yet to catch a pass this season, however. 5’10, 175-pound sophomore slot receiver Wesley Kennedy (#12) leads the team right now with 4 catches for 100 yards. 5’11, 190-pound junior Colby Ransom (#83) and 6’2, 235-pound freshman TE Cam Brown (#48) have the only touchdown catches so far for the Eagles.
Defensively, Southern plays a 3-4 defense, and their secondary will play both man and zone coverage. Their leading tackler last year only had 60 tackles on the season, and they lost him. Their best players on the defensive side are DE Logan Hunt (#9), a 6’2, 270-pound senior, and CB Monquavion Brinson (#4), a 5’11, 180-pound junior. Hunt led the team last season in both sacks and tackles-for-loss, with 5 of the former and 11 of the latter. He did not play in the Eagles’ opener for an undisclosed reason but played last week against UMass. Brinson started all 12 games last season and led the team with 5 interceptions. He also had 12 pass breakups and 34 tackles.
The Eagles had 20 turnovers last season, which was tied for 74th in the nation, but they have just one so far this season, a fumble. Their defense has recovered 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions in their first 2 games. They are tied for #13 in scoring defense, but obviously the competition has something to do with that.
The Tigers will continue with their dual quarterback system this week. Although Kelly Bryant played the majority of the second half last week in College Station, I expect this game to strongly resemble the opener against Furman, with Trevor Lawrence coming into the game after the first 2 or 3 series in the first half. The Tigers ran just 59 plays last week, which has to be the lowest total in years. Their target is 80 plays and often exceed that number. Part of the low play total is attributable to the explosive plays they had against the Aggies. For example, one scoring drive consisted of one play—a 64-yard touchdown completion from Trevor Lawrence to Tee Higgins on Lawrence’s first-ever play on the road. However, the Tigers’ inefficiency on 3rd down was also a factor. They were just 4 of 13 on 3rd down last week. That will be one area to watch on Saturday. The Tigers were not impressive on 3rd down in the opener either but saw several big plays on 1st and 2nd down. The Tigers will also look to improve the tempo on offense. Etienne only touched the ball 11 times last week—8 of them carries—and I would say you can expect that number to increase significantly against an ACC opponent, but the Tigers will likely spread the wealth once they go up a couple scores.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the Tigers’ start has been the way they’ve taken care of the football. They’ve had a couple of near fumbles but have yet to turn the ball over by interception or fumble in their first two games. It is the first time since 2005 that the Tigers have opened the season without turning the ball over in their first two games, and if they make it a third, it will be the first time that has happened this century! The last time they went 3 straight games without a turnover at any point in the season was 2010. One of the remarkable things about this program over the last few years is the Tigers’ ability to win games despite losing the turnover margin. In fact, they were negative in the turnover margin for the season in 2016 and against Alabama in the National Championship Game but still won it all. That is extremely rare. When they win the turnover margin, the Tigers are nearly unbeatable. All coaches preach ball security on a daily basis, but it seems like turning the ball over or not turning it over becomes habitual for certain teams. Let’s hope it’s a case of the latter with this team! They had the one mishandled snap in College Station, but it’s pretty impressive that they escaped that rainy game without a turnover. And they should have come up with 2 or 3 more interceptions, but K’Von Wallace dropped a couple and Tanner Muse did as well. Clemson is one of just five teams in the nation--one of three in the Power Five--yet to turn the ball over.
From a health standpoint, the Tigers are in good shape. Dabo told us on Wednesday Jordan Williams will sit another game out after bruising his knee in the opener. However, we expect to see Garrett Williams back at tight end. His blocking presence seemed to be missed in the running game last week.
With another game against inferior talent, it will be interesting to see which of the freshmen and redshirt freshmen stand out on Saturday. You can expect to see freshman WR Justyn Ross make at least one big play or two after watching from the sideline last week. Same goes for guys like WR Derion Kendrick, TE Braden Galloway and Lyn-J Dixon—all of whom had big plays in the opener. Speaking of big plays, Clemson is the only team in the nation with 6 plays of 40 or more yards this season. Conversely, Georgia Southern has only allowed one play of more than 20 yards. In the something’s gotta give department, I would expect the latter to give! On defense, I look forward to seeing guys like Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry get more snaps and also how Foster follows up the game he has last week with a sack and a fumble recovery at A&M. Former grey shirt Cade Stewart from local Daniel High School will be making his second straight start after a nice game in College Station last week. He is entertaining to talk to, and I recommend you watch our interview with him from Monday if you haven't already! On the subject of the offensive line, one of the most impressive players so far has been Tremayne Anchrum. He split time with Sean Pollard at right tackle, opposite All-American Mitch Hyatt, last season but won the starting spot outright with Pollard moving over to guard. Anchrum was the Tigers' Offensive MVP in the opener as well as ACC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week. He followed that by going toe-to-toe with the SEC sack leader from last season at A&M and had another great game. I asked Dabo about Anchrum on Tuesday, and he said that Tremayne and Hyatt have really solidified themselves at both tackle positions. Incidentally, Anchrum is also a very good interview!
As I alluded, the talent disparity in this game is a wide chasm. As always, it’s not about the opponent. It’s about Clemson. The Tigers will be looking to atone for the mistakes they made on both sides of the ball last week—especially in pass defense. Facing this slippery quarterback and option offense will be a good tune-up for the Tigers’ game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta next week. There is a significant size advantage for the Tigers at just about every position, but especially at the skill positions. The Eagles’ shorter receivers will have a tough challenge against the Tigers’ defensive backs, and same goes for the Eagles’ DB’s against the specimens the Tigers will roll out at the WR positions.
This one will be over early, so those who make the trip to Death Valley will be able to make an early exit and take shelter from the storm if necessary. Before the rain comes down in buckets, points will be coming in buckets for the Tigers’ explosive offense.
The Prowl toward a 4th consecutive ACC Championship, a 4th consecutive College Football Playoff and a 3rd National Championship continues…..
CLEMSON 51 Georgia Southern 6
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