WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.6 CLEMSON vs. SC STATE
- 2021-09-11 14:19:07
Welcome to the Home Opener edition of What We Are Hearing!
Well, it was a tough, bitter loss for the Tigers in the season opener last week against Georgia, which has subsequently jumped from No.5 to No.2 in the polls. It was a throwback to the defensive struggles between the two rivals in the 1980’s, with a pick-six by DJ being the only difference in the game. My first question for Dabo last week at his press conference was how critical field position might be in a game like this, with two Ray Guy candidate punters and two elite defenses. But even I didn’t expect a 10-3 game with neither team scoring an offensive touchdown! How long has it been since we’ve seen that in any college football game, let alone with two elite teams that have Heisman candidate quarterbacks?! Despite the Tigers’ struggles on offense, they were brilliant defensively without Tyler Davis, Nolan Turner and Lannden Zanders. Those are three big-time absences, folks! And the Tigers were still suffocating on defense with Georgia having better field position than the Tigers for the most part. Sure, the Tigers’ offense did not play anywhere near to its potential, particularly DJ and Justyn Ross, but it was a season opener against an elite defense, folks. Offenses always take longer to get their legs under them than defenses, especially with just two scrimmages in camp this year. Many Clemson fans are frustrated, and they are panicking about the offensive line because of the 7 sacks and the two net rushing yards recorded by the Tigers. Well, several of those sacks were on DJ, not the offensive line, and DJ took responsibility for that after the game. He either did not step up in the pocket or held onto the ball too long. He was obviously great against BC and Notre Dame last season, but they didn’t have the pass rush that Georgia has. And the backs only combined for 7 rush attempts. That combined with the 7 sacks resulted in the miniscule rush total. In my opinion, the Tigers still looked like a top-4 team because of their defense, and we know that the offense will get going. DJ has already shown what he can do, and they have too many weapons and fire power. It was a travesty that they were dropped to No.6, ending the second-longest streak ever in the AP top 5 at 57 weeks. They would have broken the record by the end of the season, but I guess the pollsters wanted an excuse to let Bama keep the record. The Tigers could have easily scheduled a team like SC State or Tulane—which almost beat No.2 Oklahoma in Norman—and they would have won by 50 points, keeping their record alive. However, they had the guts to go against a national championship caliber team and went toe-to-toe with them. If they played the game 10 times, the Tigers might have won 4, 5 or 6 times. Yet somehow Oklahoma is ahead of the Tigers in the poll as well as an unproven A&M team with a new quarterback. All they did was roll over Kent State at home. Regardless, the polls are obviously meaningless at this point in the season, and I have no doubt the Tigers will be back in the top 5 in no time. It’s just annoying that the second-longest streak of all time was disrupted for a week or two because they lost on a pick-six against the now No.2 team!
We all have to put last week behind us, though, and you can bet the Tigers have done so. The home opener is at 5:00 against SC State and televised on the ACC Network! SC State is located in Orangeburg, home of Clemson great Woody Dantzler. At halftime, CJ Spiller will be recognized by the National Football Foundation, which will induct him into the College Football Hall of Fame in December in Las Vegas. I was a first-year grad student in the Clemson MBA program when CJ was a freshman in 2006, and one of my greatest memories in Death Valley was that incredible game he had against Georgia Tech with ESPN College GameDay on campus. He and James Davis became "Thunder and Lightning" that night, and CJ made one of the greatest sideline jukes in the history of college football. We published a story on CJ on Friday, so if you missed it, click HERE.
On to the matchup...
Dabo said this week was business as usual for the Tigers, but I believe they will come out with a big chip on their shoulder. I think the coaches and players alike are sick of hearing all week that their offense stunk. Hardly anyone in the national media gave them any credit at all for holding Georgia’s offense to just 3 points. All they want to focus on is the Tigers’ offense, and they act like Georgia is the greatest team in the world. Makes you wonder if they even watched the game! The Tigers had opportunities to win that game. A first and goal at the 5. The pick-six, which occurred on the Georgia side of the field. If they don’t intercept that, maybe the Tigers score and take the lead. Baylon Spector almost had a pick-six himself, but the turf monster got him after his interception. There was nothing but green grass in front of him, and he could have at least made it into the red zone. Again, just one play was the ultimate difference between a win and a loss against the team that is now ranked No.2. So the Tigers know how good they are, and they are fuming!
The big story this week, of course, is that starting safety Lannden Zanders will have shoulder surgery and miss the entire season. That’s a big loss of a returning starter, but the good news is that the Tigers’ secondary did a great job against JT Daniels and company last week without Zanders and Nolan Turner. True freshman Andrew Mukuba was the first freshman Tiger to start at safety since 1973 and was outstanding! Fortunately, the Tigers have depth at the position with guys like Mickens, Charleston, Phillips and Venables. The other big injury news was WR EJ Williams. Dabo told us on Sunday night that he would need thumb surgery and miss 4-5 weeks, but on Tuesday, Dabo said that Williams would try to play. Dabo told us on Wednesday night that EJ’s thumb was a little sore from practice, but that he was still a go for Saturday, so that’s great news. The other great news is that the Tigers should have Tyler Davis back at defensive tackle. He was in COVID protocol last week and missed the Georgia game.
I can’t wait to see who scores the first touchdown of the season for the Tigers! It could be any of a dozen players or so, or it could even be a defensive touchdown. I guess the smart money would be on Justyn Ross, but it could be Pace, Shipley, Dixon, Ngata, Galloway, Allen, Ladson, Ajou, Collins. Who knows! Or it could be DJ on a run. That’s another thing I’m looking forward to seeing: how much DJ runs the ball. We didn’t see any designed quarterback runs last week, and he rarely even scrambled. I expect to see a lot more of that on Saturday! We should also see much more of the backs. Tony Elliott said after the game that he regretted abandoning the run game as early as he did. Again, the backs combined for just 7 carries. Although UGA has led the nation in run defense for the last 2 years! I’m also looking forward to seeing if Ngata can follow up his career performance last week, going over 100 yards. He had 110 of the Tigers’ 180 total yards! I never would have believed that going into the game. Heck, I didn’t even think Ngata would play because he had an injured hamstring in the last couple of weeks of camp. And we all know how he was constantly injured all of last season. He made several tough, physical catches in tight coverage against Georgia, and it was extremely encouraging. If he can manage to stay healthy all season, the Tigers will be that much more dangerous with Ross and Ladson on the field at the same time! Speaking of Ross, will we see him on punt returns at all on Saturday? Dabo told me at the end of camp that the plan was still to use Ross for punt returns, but we only saw freshman Will Taylor handle punts last week. He did a respectable job, especially for a true freshman in that pressure, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Dabo just sticks with him for now.
I’ll make this one short and sweet because we all know how out-manned SC State is. The Tigers won the last meeting in 59-0 in 2016, and I’m sure Head Coach Buddy Pugh knows that Dabo will be looking to make a statement. Incidentally, Coach Pugh gave Tony Elliott his start in coaching, hiring him as SC State’s WR Coach in 2005. So there is much mutual respect between the coaching staffs, but I still expect the Tigers to keep the pedal to the metal, and it’s going to be ugly.
The Prowl toward a 7th consecutive ACC Title, a 7th consecutive College Football Playoff and 4th national title continues…..
CLEMSON 52 SC State 6
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