WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.1 CLEMSON vs. CHARLOTTE
- 2019-09-21 12:25:41
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
This will be the briefest edition in over four years of these because I’ve been sick as a dog over the last couple days, and I’m still feeling awful. I caught some kind of bug coming back from Syracuse. My apologies, and thanks in advance for your understanding.
As a quick reminder for those of you attending the Charlotte game, a Disney film crew will be shooting footage for the movie Safety during halftime, so consider keeping your seats and contributing to the movie! The story is based on former Clemson player Ray Ray McElrathbey and his little brother Fahmarr, who was granted permission by the NCAA to live with Ray Ray and receive financial support back in 2006. One of the producers spoke to us on Tuesday about the project, and you can watch that below.
Now on to this week’s matchup….
This is the first meeting between the two schools. Clemson is 62-38-4 when playing an opponent for the first time…Saturday will be Dabo’s 150th game as head coach, and this is the 150th season of college football…. Clemson has not lost a game before October since 2014, an overtime loss in Tallahassee….Clemson is 27-3 in its last 30 night games. Two of the three losses were to Alabama, and the third was at Syracuse without a starting QB or starting kicker…Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 63 straight weeks. Georgia is 3rd at 32 weeks… Clemson has won 17 straight in Death Valley going back to the last-second loss to Pitt in 2016. Prior to that, the Tigers won 21 straight, so the Tigers have won 38 of their last 39 home games, losing only on a last-second field goal….Clemson has won 20 straight regular season non-conference games….Clemson is 11-2 all-time as the No.1 ranked team….Clemson has won 33 of its last 36 games away from home and 20 of its last 21 true road games….Clemson has won its last 32 straight Saturday games, the longest streak in the nation….Clemson has won 5 straight road openers, last losing at UGA in 2014….
The 49ers have a new head coach in Will Healy, who is the second-youngest FBS coach at 34 years old. Before Charlotte, Healy was Head Coach at Austin Peay for 3 years. When he first took that job as a 31-year-old, Dabo called him to see about getting a job for one of his graduate assistants. Healy took the opportunity to express to Dabo how much he admired him and appreciated his impact on the coaching profession. You can read more about that in an article by ESPN’s David Hale HERE.
Charlotte has a legitimate NFL defensive end in 6’4, 242-pound senior Alex Highsmith (#5). He already has 4 sacks this season, and Charlotte is tied for 6th nationally in sacks with 13 on the season. That will be a fun matchup to watch: Highsmith on Jackson Carman or Tremayne Anchrum. The Tigers have allowed just 2 sacks as a unit this season, so it will be a strength-on-strength matchup in the trenches when the Tigers have the ball.
Offensively, Charlotte is very multiple and will present a variety of formations, but I expect Venables to have his group ready. 5’10, 192-pound sophomore QB Chris Reynolds (#3) has completed about 70% of his passes this season for 587 yards and 7 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. He’s also a good runner, rushing for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry. At running back, Charlotte has a wrecking ball that Dabo compared to Maurice Jones-Drew. 5’9, 215-pound senior Benny LeMay already has 351 yards and 4 touchdowns this season, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. The Tigers will need to wrap him up because arm tackles won’t bring him down! Charlotte has scored 47.3 points per game this season, good enough for No.14 in the nation. The 49ers scored 41 at App State in their only loss this season, and we all have a healthy respect for the App State program.
Unlike myself, the Defending Champs are in a great place right now, having cleared their two biggest hurdles to another perfect regular season and fifth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff. In fact, I believe that whoever the Tigers face in Charlotte for the ACC Championship—I predicted that to be Virginia preseason and see no cause to deviate from that prognostication—will not pose as great a threat as the last two games against Texas A&M and Syracuse on the road. By December, this will be a well-oiled machine on both sides of the ball, and no one outside of Alabama, Georgia, and perhaps one or two others will have a chance of coming close against the Tigers. They still have to play NC State in Raleigh, where the Pack has always given the Tigers a dog fight, but State is struggling right now, fresh off a loss to a very poor West Virginia team. No, the next 10 games for the Tigers will be solely about self-improvement and prepping for a run at the sport’s first repeat national championship since 2012. That begins with Charlotte.
Dabo told me on Wednesday that the biggest thing he’s looking for on Saturday is consistency on both sides of the ball. He pointed out how explosive they have been on offense but that they need to be more efficient on 3rd down. On the defensive side of the ball, they have also made some great plays, but they have missed too many "lay-ups." Dabo said they've made some 3-pointers and some dunks on both sides, but they've also missed a bunch of layups. Charlotte has a big, physical running back that is able to break arm tackles, so this will be a good test to see if the defense can wrap him up and miss fewer tackles. The Tigers lost the turnover margin at Syracuse after winning it in 5 straight games. If they had made it 6 straight, it would have been their longest streak since 1989-90. Look for them to get back on the right side of the ledger on Saturday night.
The Tigers’ defense is humming right now, having allowed just 10 points per game in the first three. They are coming off an 8-sack performance, the most since they sacked Auburn 10 times in 2017, and they probably should have had 11 or 12 at Syracuse! Preseason All-American Isaiah Simmons had a monster game last week, recording 2 of those 8 sacks. Mario Goodrich played about half the game when Kendrick went out for back spasms. It was a big step forward for the sophomore Goodrich, who made a big PBU in the end zone early and then came up with a huge red zone interception in the second half to swing momentum back in the Tigers’ favor. Incidentally, DK was still experiencing back spasms early in the week, but Dabo said he was good on Wednesday and will be ready to go. As I wrote before the season started, everyone in the media that kept harping on the Tigers’ losses on defense didn’t have a clue and that the Tigers would be just fine on that side of the ball. In fact, they led the nation in scoring defense last year, allowing 13 points per game, and they are even better than that so far this season, allowing just 10 points per game. And that includes a last-second touchdown by a very good A&M offense on 4th down! The Tigers have already produced multiple goal-line stands, and they’re just going to get better as the season goes on.
On the offensive side, many are questioning the efficiency and production of Trevor Lawrence and the offense through the first three games because they were expected to be the best offense in the nation this season. While there is some improvement needed, the Tigers have shown plenty of explosiveness. They just need to get better on 3rd down, and Trevor needs to eliminate some of the mistakes. You can bet they will do just that. People forget that the Tigers’ offense went through the same criticism and doubts early in the season in 2016, but by the end of the season, they were rolling. They are averaging 39 points per game right now, which is just 5 points fewer than their average for the season in 2018. Bear in mind, too, that Clemson is one of just four teams that has played a Power Five opponent in its first three games. You can expect the Tigers to quickly climb the offensive ranks over the next month, especially with the return of Amari Rodgers. It’s truly remarkable that less than six months after tearing his ACL, he goes for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns at Syracuse. Even the coaches didn’t think he’d be back as early as he was. I asked Dabo a week before the opener if there was any chance he could play in the A&M game, and Dabo said there was no chance and that they expected him to return by late September or early October! Well, lo and behold, Amari made his 2019 debut against A&M and then ran wild at Cuse. He scored the Tigers’ first TD of the game, and later his 87-yard TD gave the Tigers an 18-point lead and totally took the wind out of the Orange and their crowd. Who knows how the game would have gone without Amari. He told me after the game that he really wanted to make an impact on that game because he had a bad game against Syracuse last year. He said that was on his mind throughout the rehab process and all the work he put in. Amari’s presence takes this offense to another level. Let’s hope he stays healthy all season!
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well the offensive line is playing. Sophomore tackle Jackson Carman stepped right in for four-year starter and All-American Mitch Hyatt without missing a beat. They are doing an excellent job both in run blocking and pass protection. In fact, they’ve allowed just two sacks in their first three games after allowing zero sacks against Alabama in the National Championship. You could argue that Clemson is the best team in the nation right now in the trenches. The Tigers’ defense led the nation in sacks last season and are well on their way to repeating in that category. Since the start of 2018, the Tigers’ lead the nation in sack differential, and it’s not even close. Their differential in sacks and sacks allowed is +49. The next-closest is Alabama and UAB at +33.
One last little nugget before my prediction. DE KJ Henry’s dad is a longtime college coach and was on the staff of Charlotte until this year. I asked Henry if he’s glad he doesn’t have to go head-to-head against his father, and he said no, that he would have enjoyed beating his dad’s team. As a redshirt freshman, Henry is already a polished speaker—probably from all the recruiting interviews and having a coach for a father. I asked him about Dabo’s reaction when Henry told him he wanted to redshirt after the Wake game last season. That’s gotta be a first for a player that was ranked No.6 in the nation overall coming out of high school. He also told me how he happily ended up wearing #5, his high school number, thanks to the transfer of Shaq Smith. Henry initially had #13 and then was wearing #1 for a while, which became a problem when DK moved over to defense with the same number. It all worked out, and Henry already has 1.5 sacks this season. Our interview with him is below!
Since I’m starting to get light-headed again, I’ll make this short and sweet. Charlotte is severely outmanned everywhere on the field, and the Tigers will be looking to shore up the few deficiencies they’ve shown in the first three weeks. As if that’s not bad enough for the 49ers, it’s Death Valley at night.
This one is over early, and the Tigers get a lot more playing time for their 80 freshmen and sophomores. The Tigers extend their school record and nation-leading active win streak to 19 games with another blowout win before setting their sights on Chapel Hill, where they lost their last visit in 2010.
The Prowl toward a 5th consecutive ACC Title, a 5th consecutive College Football Playoff appearance and a 4th National Title continues……
CLEMSON 62 Charlotte 13
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