The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - Finally, it's here. Clemson and Troy. Real, live football at 3:30 p.m. in Death Valley on Saturday.

WHAT: Clemson vs. Troy
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (80,301) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 3 (3:30 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -15

It feels good, doesn't it?

College football is back and it's back in Clemson Saturday afternoon shortly after 3:30 when the Tigers take on Sun Belt power Troy.

Not long after last season's disappointing 6-7 finish, there were a few changes were made around Tigertown.

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier and running backs coach Andre Powell were shown the door, and defensive ends coach Chris Rumph accepted an opening at Alabama.

In came Chad Morris, Tony Elliott and Marion Hobby to fill the three openings, respectively.

Shortly thereafter arrived the nation's No. 11-ranked recruiting class.

After months of anticipation surrounding Morris and what he'll do with the brand-new toys on the offensive side of the ball, we'll get our first look.

Though Kevin Steele is back for year No. 3 as the Clemson defensive coordinator, he lost some very important pieces to a defense that finished 19th in the country in total defense.

Can the same offense that brought Auburn a national title bring Clemson back to the top of the mountain in the ACC?

Are the replacements on defense going to adequately answer the call?

We'll start to get some answers.


Here's a look at what to expect Saturday when the dust finally settles:

Around Clemson, he's been the No. 1 story since New Year's Day -- Tajh Boyd.

The former five-star signal caller is the man under center and all reports from preseason camp have painted a positive picture. According to the numbers Boyd has posted during stadium scrimmages, he's shown marked improvement since spring practice.

Tajh Boyd makes his first career start Saturday against Troy. (Roy Philpott)
The good news is Troy's secondary won't offer too great challenge for Boyd. In 2010, the Trojans finished 71st in pass efficiency defense and 100th in pass defense. Still, the group could be at least slightly better than it was a season ago.

Senior free safety Barry Valcin is back after missing the entire 2010 campaign. He'll be joined by strong safety Brynden Trawick, a Michigan State transfer who was the No. 68 safety in the class of 2008.

Right cornerbacks Chris Pickett and Bryan Willis have 37 career starts between them. Left cornerback Jimmie Anderson, who played in all 13 games last season, is generously listed at 5-foot-8, though other reports have him at 5-6.

The secondary isn't the matchup that is much of a cause for concern. That nod goes to left defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, who finished last season with 13.5 sacks, two behind national leader Da'Quan Bowers.

Massaquoi, a preseason All-Sun Belt selection is on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Lombardi awards.

If Massaquoi lines up on the left-side of the Troy defense throughout the game, he'll be spending most of the game across from Landon Walker, which could be the game's most intriguing one-on-one matchups.

On Tuesday, Swinney conceded that he would switch Massaquoi to the right-side of the Trojan defense if he was coaching at Troy. Over there, Massaquoi would matched up with former walk-on Phillip Price, who will be making his first-career start at left tackle.

Whichever side, Massaquoi will provide a good early barometer for the Clemson tackles.

But, with Boyd ready to utilize the young talents of Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake, Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries, the Tigers have the edge. And that's not even mentioning the returning lettermen -- last year's leading pass catcher, DeAndre Hopkins, plus Dwayne Allen, Jaron Brown, Brandon Ford and a healthy No. 23.

There is just too much skill for Troy.


This would have been a scary matchup for Clemson if Troy quarterback Corey Robinson still had the weapons that were at his disposal as a redshirt freshman.

But he doesn't.

The Trojans' top pass catchers from 2010 are running backs, and the top returning wide receiver, Brett Moncrief, is sidelined with an injury.

There are lots of new names and faces for Robinson, and that isn't a bad thing for the fairly young Clemson secondary.

Troy QB Corey Robinson was named the Sunbelt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2010. (Roy Philpott)
The defensive backfield, led by safeties Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks, also features two experienced cornerbacks in Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh.

Four and five wide receiver sets will provide the young Tiger cornerbacks with some much need reps.

Saturday will also provide an early challenge for the class of 2010 defensive backs -- Bashaud Breeland, Martin Jenkins, Darius Robinson and Desmond Brown. Jenkins and Robinson played as true freshmen a season ago, but neither registered over 100 snaps. Breeland and Brown spent last fall with redshirts.

Four wide receiver positions are listed three-deep on Troy's depth chart. Those 12 players have a combined total of 36 games played for the Trojans. One starter, Jaquon Robinson, is a transfer from Air Force. Another, Corey Johnson, is a JUCO transfer.

Starting tight end Jim Teknipp, a UCF transfer, was the nation's No. 97 tight end in the class of 2007. He's likely to matchup with Quandon Christian, Clemson's top cover linebacker.

Troy's offensive line is fairly green, too.

All-Sun Belt left tackle James Brown has started the last 26 games. Left guard Kyle Wilborn has played in the last 26 games. Everyone else to their right doesn't have much experience.

Center Zach Swindall has played in 10 games, right guard Jacob Creech has played in six. No right tackle has registered a snap as a Trojan.

Sacks could be tough to come by for Malliciah Goodman, Andre Branch and company. The Trojans utilize a quick, horizontal passing game, much like the one Hal Mumme ran at Kentucky.

For Clemson, particularly in the secondary, there will be an emphasis on playing aggressively in pass coverage. Tackling is key, too.

We like their chances, though the matchup could be a tight one.


Andre Ellington -- check.

Five offensive linemen with multiple years of starting experience -- check.

Explosive All-American freshman playmakers -- check.

All systems are ready for takeoff.

If there's a misconception about Morris' spread, it's this: it's not four, five-wide pass as often as possible attack. The Clemson spread isn't like the Troy spread. It's more ground and pound.

Call it the 'smash-mouth spread'.

Andre Ellington makes his first start against Troy since the Boston College game last October. (Roy Philpott)
One drive could see a zone run by Ellington, a reverse to Watkins, a zone read keeper by Boyd and an end-around to Bellamy.

Scary isn't it? Or exciting, if you're sporting orange.

Troy does have a solid nucleus of veterans along its front seven. Led by Masaquoi, the line features plenty of experience, particularly at tackle.

The linebacker trio of Brannon Bryan, Xavier Lamb and Kannoris Davis is no slouch either.

However, the Trojans allowed almost 166 yards per game on the ground a season ago. It could be a productive day for Tiger ball carriers.


Troy welcomes back two of the top three rushers from a season ago. Shawn Southward led the Trojans with 623 yards and seven touchdowns. He was third on the team with 5.4 yards per carry. Also back is Chris Anderson, the Trojans' third-best runner from 2010. He ran for 388 yards and scored three times.

As a team, Troy averaged a respectable 156.62 yards on the ground.

They'll face a Clemson front that's anchored by run-stuffing nose guard Brandon Thompson. He'll be flanked on one side by Rennie Moore, an undersized, but active tackle who's in his fifth-year of eligibility.

Brandon Thompson will anchor Clemson's defensive line this season. (Roy Philpott)
Branch and Goodman, the ends, are solid against the run, too. Backing them should be a trio of veteran linebackers, however, the Troy spread will limit Clemson to just one or two linebackers throughout most of the afternoon.

The Tigers' nickel package will consist of Corico Hawkins and Quandon Christian at linebacker. Justin Parker and Stephone Anthony could also work into the 'mack' and 'money' positions when they're in the nickel.

Previous spread teams have given Clemson's run defense problems in the past, particularly with the quarterback running zone reads, but Robinson does not possess much dual-threat ability. If he's scrambling around, he's doing so to eventually throw it, not to run.

The Trojans averaged over 4 yards per carry a season ago and Steele prefers his unit to keep their average against below 4 [excluding sacks].

It could be close to that number. However, Clemson won't see its first true challenge in defending the run until next week when Wofford and the triple-option comes to town.


Jerrel Jernigan is gone, and so is the main threat in the punt return game. He averaged 13.3 yards on 23 returns last season, which helped the Trojans ranked 24th in the country in that category.

Justin Albert has taken over punt return duties with Corey Johnson and Southward in line to handle kickoff returns.

Will Sammy Watkins be the next C.J. Spiller in the return game? (Roy Philpott)
The kick return category was a different story. Troy ranked second-worst among the 120 FBS teams.

When defending kickoffs, Troy was solid with a 19.97 yards per return average [21st nationally]. Against punts, the Trojans were 95th in country.


Maybe even weirder is the beard of punter Will Goggans, who averaged 42 yards per punt.

All strangeness aside, talent and depth of talent will prevail once again for Clemson.

The Tigers will utilize the skills of Watkins, Bellamy, Hopkins and Jaron Brown on kickoffs and punts. Dawson Zimmerman emerged last season as one of the nation's premier punters.

Chandler Catanzaro gets his first live experience since the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Word out of camp is that he's much improved. Saturday is his first shot.

Again, the advantage rests with Clemson.


PREDICTION: Clemson 37 Troy 20 Top Stories