Rhymer's 5 Keys To Downing The Dawgs

Back by popular demand, I will be giving my weekly 5 keys to winning the upcoming game for the Clemson Tigers. Like it or not, here comes my complete analysis and prediction for the season opener against the 9th ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

I actually did pretty darn well last year (if you allow me to toot my own horn). Counting the bowl game, I picked 10 of the 13 games correctly, missing only the Virginia, N.C. State, and Texas Tech games. No, that's not earth shattering, but it is respectable…and better than most prognosticators that picked the Tigers.

During the summer I made my summer predictions for the Clemson games and I may stick to some of those. However, fall practice always brings unexpected things and once the season starts everybody gets a better idea of what teams are doing good and bad. Injuries, poor coaching, and momentum will change some of those June predictions. So, don't necessarily hold me to my summer predictions now that the season has started, because my picks will change.

As with last year, on Sunday's I will grade my 5 keys to the game to see how well the Tigers did in the most critical areas I had outlined earlier that week. So, without further ado, here we go in the 2003 season!

Run Tigers, Run!
If you could pin point one single area that would almost certainly guarantee a Clemson victory, it lies in the running game. Forget all the debacles in the running game from last year. We are talking apples and oranges when comparing last year to this year in terms of the running game. To start with, Clemson emphasized it in the Spring and summer practices…something they did not do to this degree last year. Secondly, the I-formation will be employed, giving our talented fullbacks a chance to help the running game. And finally, the offensive line is bigger, stronger, and has more depth than 2003.

With all that being said, Clemson still has to go out and prove it can run the football with consistency. Clemson is so talented at quarterback and wide receiver, that employing a good (not average) running game will prove lethal to almost every team on the schedule. If you can run, you open up the field to the talented Clemson wide outs and you make the play action pass a viable option.

What is the magic rushing yard number? 175 yards minimum. If the Tigers can rush for 175+ yards against Georgia the chances of winning go up 10 fold. If Clemson can rush for 200+ yards, Clemson will win the game no questions asked.

A "Special" Reversal
The special teams failure from 365 days ago does not need to be rehashed, that is for sure. Rumors have floated around all summer long that Clemson will employ more starters on the special teams unit in 2003 than last year. That can't hurt. And by the simple law of averages, you would think that Clemson would not give up as many big plays on the special teams as they did in 2002.

But simply avoiding disasters on special teams is not enough. Clemson may employ the best kick returnees and punt returnees in the ACC in 2003. Justin Miller and Derrick Hamilton are scary good at returning kicks and punts, and they both will undoubtedly change the momentum of a game at some point this year.

Making a big play against Georgia would go a long way in helping the Tigers win Saturday. Most upsets in college football result from big plays in the kicking game, and this game will be no exception.

Do Hamilton or Miller have to take one all the way for a touchdown Saturday for Clemson to have a chance to beat Georgia? No. But their impact must be felt with some good returns to give the Tigers some great field position to attack with. Keep a very close eye on the special teams.

One of the more intriguing matchups Saturday will be Clemson cornerback Justin Miller on Georgia wide out Fred Gibson.
Burn Baby Burn…A Heat Inferno
Don't get sucked into believing that Georgia is going to be an average football team because of the suspensions and injuries that have been well documented over the past couple of weeks. Georgia is still very good and very worthy of a Top 15 pre-season ranking.

What Georgia is not, however, is deep. The suspensions and injuries have made quality depth a major concern for the Georgia coaching staff. The high temperatures of a 12:00 kickoff could very well play into Clemson's hands.

Georgia's starters in the secondary are good, but their backups are a big question mark. Mike Gilliam, Derrick Holloway, Olaolu Sanni-Osomo, and Kenny Bailey are not exactly household names and they are not overly talented. If Clemson can move the football on long drives, Georgia will be forced to play some of these backups to keep Bruce Thornton, Sean Jones, and Decroy Bryant fresh. Thomas Davis has been moved from linebacker to safety for depth reasons, which is a clear sign that Georgia is concerned about the backups.

Losing other players such as Will Thompson, Cedric Haywood, Paul Oliver, Mikey Henderson, Demario Minter, Kentrell Curry, Greg Blue, Ken Veal, Tim Jennings, B.J. Fields, Mario Raley, and Bryan McClendon add other depth issues for Georgia at just about every position minus quarterback, running back, and offensive line. (PS…if I left a Georgia player out that has been suspended or injured please forgive me…I lost count).

How much will the heat affect both teams remains to be seen. But if this game comes down to a battle of depth, Clemson wins. So here is to hoping that the game will be 90 degrees, sunny, hot, and with no wind. It may not be an ideal game to sit and watch, but it will most certainly give the Tigers and edge.

Avoid Getting Shock-ley'd
I think David Greene is a very good quarterback. I have seen enough of Green to know that he can lead Georgia to another SEC Championship if his defense plays as well as it did last year. I realize that Greene is a quarterback that could start at just about every other SEC team this year.

But I want to see David Greene on the field the whole afternoon.

D.J. Shockley is a huge variable in this game. Shockley is the kind of guy that can take a play that was defended perfectly and turn it into a positive play for the offense. You can do just about everything right on defense in a particular play and Shockley can still make you look silly. Clemson fans need only to remember back to Woody Dantzler to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Green has the experience and he may lead Georgia to a 45-0 win over Clemson, but I would rather have him in the game. I would rather Shockley be relegated to signaling in plays from the sideline with a hat on for the entire game.

The reality is that Shockley will get in the game. He probably will have 2-4 series' that he will be in the game no matter the score. It is imperative that Clemson shuts down Shockley while he is in the game so he does not get any more snaps than Georgia plans on giving him anyway. The more Shockley is in the game, the more I worry.

Loud And Proud
Georgia is playing tons of players that have not started in a big time college football game environment. That includes the entire offensive line, which will have a group of players that are going to be asked to carry the load for the Bulldogs.

Opening games are hard enough for first time starters at any position. Opening games that include a stadium with 80,000 people making as much noise as possible makes it even more difficult.

Death Valley is always loud for big games, and I expect a vocal crowd for Georgia. There is a history with the Bulldogs that makes Clemson fans pumped up…especially remembering the 1981 and 1987 victories in Clemson.

The crowd will be pumped in the 1st quarter. The crowd will be pumped on key 3rd down conversions throughout the game. The question is…how loud will the crowd be at the other times of the game?

This is a unique opportunity for the Clemson crowd to really make a difference in the outcome of this game. A loud crowd will go a long way in instilling confidence in the Tigers as well as making it difficult for Georgia to communicate their signals. Georgia has played in a lot of hostile environments, but they have not played in those environments with so many young players.

Mark Richt has never lost a road game while at the helm of the Georgia Bulldogs. That includes trips to Knoxville and Columbia…two of the loudest stadiums it the nation. Clemson can be…and has been…louder than those two. As fans, we need to make sure that happens again Saturday.

All first games are difficult to predict, and this one is no different. You can make a case for either team winning, and it would be hard to argue your points. Certainly, Georgia has closed ranks with all the suspensions and injuries and they will most certainly come to Death Valley ready to play. Any hope that the Bulldogs would come into Clemson overlooking the Tigers has been washed away with all the Georgia players that will be sitting on the sideline.

Clemson has a major chip on its shoulder as well, having been embarrassed by Texas Tech at the end of 2002. In addition, Clemson felt like it should have beat Georgia in the first game of 2002 if not for special teams blunders. Throw in the fact that Tommy Bowden needs this game about as much as a desert needs the rain, and you get the feeling that Clemson will be more than ready.

So, it really comes down to the above keys and whether Clemson can achieve them on Saturday. There are a lot of reasons why I could pick Georgia to win, but there are more reasons why I can pick Clemson. I don't think this game will be as high scoring as some might think, and I also think this game comes down to a big play on special teams.

I'll stick with my June prediction although you could talk me into bumping that up by 7 points now that UGA has lost so many players. It won't be easy, but the Clemson Nation will sleep good Saturday night.

Rhymer's Prediction
Clemson 24 Georgia 20

Don't forget to stop by the Tiger Pre Game Show brought to you by CUTigers.com on the Lawn at Littlejohn. Roy and I will be broadcasting from 7-9 Saturday morning on WCCP 104.9 and we will have a ton of free stuff to give away. Come by and see us and tune in for more details……and GO TIGERS!

Scott Rhymer can be reached at scottrhymer@msn.com. Scott and CUTigers.com publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the CUTigers.com Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays.

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