The Final Breakdown

ACC Champion Clemson opens the 2012 home slate with MAC opponent Ball State.

WHAT: No. 12 Clemson vs. Ball State
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (85,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 8 (12:29 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -27.5
TV: ACC Network

Though Ball State likes to turn up the tempo, like Clemson, the Tigers shouldn't have too much trouble with the Cardinals from Muncie, Ind.

Led by second-year coach Pete Lembo, ball State is coming off of a 37-26 season opening win over conference rival Eastern Michigan.

The Cardinals opened the season with an 80-yard touchdown drive en route to a 596-yard offensive output, the fourth highest single-game total in school history. Ball State ran a bunch of plays, too. The grand total of 96 was good enough for third most in Ball State history.

Clemson is fresh off its 26-19 Georgia Dome win over SEC rival Auburn. Dabo Swinney's Tigers ran 87 plays for 528 yards. On defense, they allowed just one touchdown and held Auburn to field goals on all three red zone trips.

Saturday will be the third meeting between Ball State and Clemson. The Tigers beat the Cardinals in 1992 and again in 2002.

BALL STATE RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Ball State running back Jahwan Edwards, who attended Butler High School in Matthews, N.C., opened the 2012 season with an impressive performance. He carried 20 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Eastern Michigan. With two more rushing scores, he'll move to No. 10 on the Ball State career list.


DeShawn Williams and Clemson's young defensive line will be tested by a versatile Ball State offense. (Roy Philpott)
The 5-foot-10, 225-pound bruiser has impressed the Clemson coaches. So much so that Swinney thinks Edwards could play for any number of schools in the country.

There aren't too many other schools with an offensive line that has a veteran presence like Ball State's. Ranging from 326 pounds to 296, the Cardinals feature four seniors and a junior along the starting offensive front. The group has combined for 114 career starts.

At 5-foot-8, 184 pounds, Horactio Banks offers a change of pace option for Ball State. He picked up 63 yards on the ground last week.

Last week, Auburn used Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb to gash Clemson for 180 yards. But neither reached pay dirt.

Fortunately, for Clemson, Auburn's smash-and-dash combo is much more talented than what they'll face from Ball State on Saturday.

The Tigers won't have as much trouble slowing down the Cardinal's ground attack. Look for tackles DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson and Grady Jarrett to have a solid afternoon.

We'll go out on a limb and say the Clemson starting defense won't allow a rushing touchdown.

ADVANTAGE:

BALL STATE PASS ATTACK VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
The best quarterback at Ball State since former San Francisco 49er Nate Davis, Keith Wenning has started the last 23 games under center for the Cardinals.

A junior, Wenning is the only the eighth quarterback in school history to throw for 4,000 yards or more during his career. He's sixth all-time in Ball State history with 4,426 yards passing.


QB Keith Wenning has made 23 consecutive starts and will be a better passer than what Clemson saw last weekend with Kiehl Frazier. (Getty Images)
He also has six games with 250 yards or more through the air, which is good enough to be tied for second in school history. (Davis is the career leader with 20.)

Jamill Smith, Wenning's favorite target, caught seven passes for 119 yards with a long of 42 yards last weekend.

The 5-foot-8, 140-pounder junior caught 40 passes for 422 yards and three scores last season.

Fellow wide receiver Connor Ryan hauled in six receptions for 53 yards against Eastern Michigan. He caught 23 passes a season ago.

Ball State's veteran offensive line kept Wenning on his feet in 2011. The Cardinals allowed .92 sacks per game last season, which was 11th in the nation.

Clemson struggled to generate much of a push up front during pass situations against Auburn. Of the two sacks recorded last week, one was on the final play of the game.

The Clemson secondary also gave up 194 yards to Auburn, but nearly half of that production came on two plays.

Look for Ball State to have some early success moving the ball up field through the air. Regardless, the talent on Clemson's defense is stronger, so the Tigers should be able to wear down the Cardinals over the course of the afternoon.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. BALL STATE FRONT SEVEN
Andre Ellington began his redshirt senior season with an impressive 228-yard performance against Auburn. His 2012 debut drew rave reviews from national pundits. The performance was also impressive enough to vault his name into the way too early Heisman Trophy consideration.

Saturday could be a stat padding kind of day for No. 23. Not only did Ball State gave up 180 yards rushing to Eastern Michigan, but they're among the worst in nation when defending against the run. Last season, the Cardinals were one of the worst teams in the country in rushing defense, finishing the 2011 season 113th against the run.


Andre Ellington leads the country in rushing with 228 yards after last weekend's 26-19 win over No. 25 Auburn. (Getty Images)
Given his medical history, Clemson may want to keep Ellington as healthy as possible before the showdown in Tallahassee on the 15th. If his touches are limited, D.J. Howard, Roderick McDowell and Zac Brooks could all be looking at career days.

Tajh Boyd showed in the Auburn game that he's a better using his feet to make plays. In the interest of minimizing the potential for injury, Boyd probably won't be asked to do much, in terms of designed runs.

Look for Clemson to put approach another 300-yard rushing performance. This time, there could be as many as two ball carriers with over 100-yards as well.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. BALL STATE SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Sure, Ball State has been pretty bad against the run. They're worse against the pass.

In 2011, the Cardinals' pass efficiency defense finished with a rating of 164.89. Only New Mexico was worse as opponents threw for over 280 yards per game against Ball State last season.

Eastern Michigan quarterback Alex Gillett completed 15 of 34 throws for 184 yards with three touchdowns last week against Ball State.


Tajh Boyd and the Clemson passing game may be able to name their number against an overmatched Ball State defense. (Roy Philpott)
Even without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Boyd showed last week that he could engineer a solid air attack. Boyd completed 24 of 34 throws. Thirteen of those completions were to DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with 119 yards and a score.

Had it not been for several dropped passes, Boyd would have had an even better day, statistically.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris will be able to call his number on Saturday. The second-year assistant will watch his offense put up gaudy numbers against Ball State. Just how gaudy he wants them to be will be up to him and Swinney.

Also, don't be surprised to see Cole Stoudt in the game should the Tigers get a reasonable lead in the second half.

ADVANTAGE:

SPECIAL TEAMS
For Ball State, Smith is a viable all-purpose option. He returned four kicks for 100 yards and a pair of punts for 21 yards last week.


Spencer Benton did a solid job on kickoffs against Auburn. (Roy Philpott)
As long as Spencer Benton is handling kickoff duties, the majority of the kicks are likely to result in touchbacks. But if Clemson scores touchdowns at the rate we think they will he may begin to tire.

Most of last week's kickoffs by Ball State kicker Steven Schott also resulted in touchbacks. So it's unlikely that Martavis Bryant or Jaron Brown will see many opportunities for kick returns.

Same goes for the Clemson punt return game. Though they could field a number of punts, the Tigers probably won't get many opportunities to actually return them. Cardinal punter Scott Kovanda continues the long line of quality punters at Ball State. He averaged 43 yards per punt last week. Only one was returned, and it went for a loss of four yards.

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro continued his impressive run of made kicks, converting on all four attempts last week. Dating back to last season, Catanzaro has made his last 12 kicks.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 63 Ball State 17

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