5 Keys to Pounding The Paladins

After a full week of mourning, it is now officially time to put the Georgia debacle behind us. My 24-20 Clemson victory that I predicted last week got my prognostication season off to a bumpy start. Obviously, I am 0-1 on the year and I missed the correct score last week by a whopping 34 points.

Clemson will try to rebound from the ugly loss to the Bulldogs with a match up with Division I-AA Furman Saturday at 5:00. Furman plays in arguably the best Division I-AA conference in the country (Southern Conference) and the Paladins have a solid tradition of winning in that league.

The Paladins also have a history of beating Division I-A teams, most recently North Carolina in Chapel Hill and South Carolina in Columbia.

Furman opened the 2003 season with a 24-7 win over Elon last Saturday night.

Here are my 5 keys to a Clemson victory.

The "Running" Joke
As I said in my review of the Georgia game, you can go ahead and copy and paste my key of running the football to every single week until we can do it consistently.

When you play an outmanned team like Furman, the assumption is that you can control the line of scrimmage. I'm not going to assume that. The Tiger offensive line has got to go out Saturday night and establish themselves as better players. I know for a fact that Furman believes they can beat Clemson, and they feel that way because they think they can control the lines of scrimmage.

Furman gave up 154 yards rushing against Elon last Saturday night, which was not a bad showing by the Furman defense. That 154 yards Elon rushed against the Paladins is 5 times what the Clemson offense was able to produce against Georgia. At a minimum, Clemson should be able to run for 200+ yards against the Paladins to consider the running game a success.

If the Tigers can establish the offensive line of scrimmage and if the running backs continue to run hard and smart, the Tigers should reach that 200 yard goal. If Clemson cannot establish the running game against Furman, all hope for being a good rushing football team in 2003 can be thrown out the window. If not against Furman, then against who?

One Dimensional
Furman was about as balanced offensively against Elon as you can be. The Paladins had 242 rushing and 241 passing last week, and Furman knows it must do the same Saturday if they are going to have a chance at the upset.

Traditionally in games where a Division I-A team faces off against a Division I-AA team, the I-A team can control the defensive line of scrimmage enough to slow down a running game. The Clemson coaching staff surely wants to stop Furman from rushing the football and force the Paladins to have to throw it to move the chains. That is taking Furman out of their element because they have made a living off of running the ball over the years.

Hindley Brigham had 110 yards on 18 carries last week against Elon while averaging over 6 yards a carry. Furman would surely take that again this week from Brigham as the Paladins try to control the clock and keep the Clemson offense off of the field.

The Clemson defense needs to keep the Furman backs from gaining over 100 yards individually and force Bo Moore to throw the football. If they can do that, expect a long day for the Paladins.

The "Deep" Dark Secret
For the love of Frank Howard I have yet to understand why Clemson does not employ a vertical passing attack. We have exceptional receivers, but they make all of their catches with their backs to the end zone or while they are running east/west routes across the field.

Part of that can be blamed on the lack of pass protection against some of the better teams Clemson has played. Charlie Whitehurst needs more time to sit in the pocket and allow the receivers to run the deeper routes. Ok…I get it.

But, I'd be willing to give up a sack or two a game if that meant that Clemson was throwing the ball down the field to receivers that are in full stride. At the very least, it will keep the opposing secondary honest. At the most, it can create easy scores (see Fred Gibson last week) and force defenses to give a little more cushion for the popular curl routes and slants that Bowden so dearly loves.

Until Clemson can strike fear in defenses with the threat of a vertical passing games, teams will be content to play that soft coverage's and allow Clemson to catch the 5 yards curls and slants and be in position to make the tackle immediately. We can nickel and dime down the field versus teams like Furman, but it is hard to do against teams like Georgia and Maryland. We need some easy scores…and we have the personnel to do it.

Build That "Special" Feeling
Special teams wise, the 2003 season got off to a resounding success. That needs to continue this week to not allow Furman any cheap points that could make the game closer than it should be.

Hopefully, Clemson will score some points this week to allow Jad Dean to showcase his leg again. If Furman does not get a chance to return a kick because of Dean's leg, I will be thrilled. But, if the Paladins do bring one out on a kickoff return, the Tigers coverage team needs to be solid.

Justin Miller looked good returning kicks against the Bulldogs, and if can have a repeat performance Saturday he may have the speed to take one all the way on the less talented Paladins.

Cole Chason can win me over if he can average 41 yards a punt again this week. It is not that a doubt that he can not do it consistently, I'm just hard to persuade and need proof in more than just one game.

Miller and Derrick Hamilton hopefully can get plenty of chances to take a punt back on Saturday as well. Again, isolating those guys with their speed against the slower Paladins is an area that Clemson can take advantage of Saturday.

Pick Yourself Off The Floor
It is hard to know just how the Tigers will come out mentally after the crushing loss last week to Georgia. Fans have been griping all week about the coaching situation, and it had to have landed in the ears of the players.

Hopefully, some anger from last weeks embarrassment will carry over and add fuel to the fire against Furman. If Clemson goes out Saturday night feeling sorry for themselves, Furman will punch them in the mouth. Most think that Clemson will come out hungry for redemption (or a least a part of redemption) and beat up on the Paladins.

That all sounds well and good, but you have to line up and do it. Furman won't roll over, and emotionally they will be sky high. Equal emotion must be derived from a Clemson team that got the pride knocked out of them last week.

Clemson desperately needs to pound Furman on Saturday to garner some confidence that most surely is lacking right now. Clemson can't undo the hurt of last week's game versus Georgia even if we win the game 100-0. So, the focus should not be on trying to right the wrongs of last week as much as starting fresh this week.

The problem is, Furman is well coached and will come into Death Valley confident after watching the Tigers play Georgia. If the Paladins can catch a break or two early in the game and grab the lead, the doubts could overcome Clemson in a hurry.

Should Clemson lose this game? No way, no how. Can Clemson lose this game? You better believe it.

I know the hope of the fans, coaches, and players are that Clemson takes care of business Saturday night and physically whips Furman. That is the hope. I think the reality of the situation is Furman will play well and keep Clemson from coming away from the game feeling too good about themselves.

Rhymer's Prediction
Clemson 26 Furman10

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.

CUTigers.com Top Stories