Clemson enters the game Saturday at 1-1 with a loss versus Georgia and a win versus Furman. This will be the last non-conference game for the Tigers in the 2003 season until the season finale at South Carolina.
Here are my 5 keys to a Clemson victory on Saturday.
For the first time in 2003, Clemson will face a team that loves to throw the ball all over the field. MTSU, led by quarterback Andrico Hines, have thrown the ball 60 times in the first two games of the season.
The Blue Raiders will spread the field and allow the athletic Hines the opportunity to throw quick hitters to just about every receiver on the roster. Head coach Andy McCollum will not ask Hines to stay in the pocket for extended periods of time, instead rolling Hines out or asking him to deliver the ball in three step drops.
The Clemson secondary was able to take a few naps last weekend as Furman pounded the ball on the ground seemingly all afternoon long. That won't be the case this Saturday, and Justin Miller, Tye Hill, and Toure Francis all will be under the gun from the first snap. Unlike the first two games, the Clemson secondary will hold the key to the defensive success against a team that loves to throw the ball as much as it possibly can.
Kerry Is So Very…
Andrico Hines likes throw the ball to just about anybody on the MTSU roster, but stopping his favorite target will be instrumental in a big Clemson victory.
Wide receiver Kerry Wright leads the Sun Belt Conference with 13 receptions for 188 yards in his first two games. That averages out to a substantial 14.5 yards per reception, and Wright is most certainly the Blue Raiders most versatile athlete.
The fact that Wright is a solid receiver goes without saying, but he also appears to be the favorite target of Hines. No other receiver on the Blue Raider roster has made more than 5 catches on the season, so it is very obvious that Wright is the go-to guy for the Blue Raiders. Wright should expect plenty of attention from Justin Miller, but Clemson should also keep an eye out for reverses and slip screens that would give the Blue Raiders a chance to isolate Wright as much as possible Saturday.
The most improved player on the 2003 Clemson team has to be Airese Currie. Currie leads Clemson with 128 yards on the season, including the electrifying 72-yard reception against Furman.
The Columbia native has spent the first two years of his career at Clemson struggling to find his identity among some great receivers on the Tigers roster. But, at least during the spring and now during the start of the 2003 season, Currie may be emerging as the cream of the crop.
If Currie can divert the attention of defenses to his ability to catch the deep ball as well as catch the underneath patterns, the other talented Clemson wide receivers (Youngblood and Hamilton) should feast on their lack of attention.
As I have preached since week 1, you must throw the ball up for Airese at least once a game just to see if he can run up under it for a big play. Clemson did not do it versus Georgia and they did throw it up versus Furman, and you see the results of those two games. Here is one guy who will be waiting for the deep pass to Currie Saturday.
Yellow Hankie Blues
Last week, it seemed that Clemson could not return a kick or complete an offensive series without committing a stupid penalty in a crucial situation. Georgia demonstrated last week against MTSU that if you incur a lot of penalties you won't be able to run the Blue Raiders out of town.
Georgia also proved that they were a better team than Clemson by whipping us on August 30th. Therefore, if Clemson commits similar penalties against MTSU that Georgia did last week against the Blue Raiders, it could be a long day for the Tigers.
Clemson must find a way to play sound football against MTSU for the simple reason that the Blue Raiders are good enough to take advantage of Tiger mistakes and win the game Saturday. That means no stupid penalties. And that means only a couple of non-stupid penalties…if there is any such thing.
You thought I would go an entire article without mentioning a key being the Tigers offensive line play, didn't you? Well, forget it. It's not going to happen.
Once again I must annunciate the importance of the Clemson offensive line stepping up and giving the offense a chance to be successful. Look, the road is not going to get any easier, so take advantage of an opportunity to gain a little confidence in the trenches.
We could sit here all day and dissect the importance of the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, but it has been said many times before so I'll not put you to sleep on the issue.
I'm still searching for that 200 yard rushing performance. I'm still searching for that no-sack game. And, I'm still searching for hope and positive vibes from an offensive line that has done nothing but cause me grief for two weeks.
Clemson needs a big win as they head to Atlanta to face a surprisingly good Georgia Tech team. Clemson needs to beat the snot out of somebody. Clemson needs to dominate in the trenches to the point where they beg to leave town without anymore harm. And Clemson needs confidence.
And Clemson will be lucky if they can achieve any of those above "needs" on Saturday.
If you were not concerned that we could lose this game, be concerned now. Clemson will have to play its best game of the season just to win, much less win big. I can see Clemson turning the corner and playing their best football of the season. I can also see the Tigers performing similar to UGA and Furman…thus creating a way too interesting game this Saturday.
I think the reality falls somewhere in between.
Clemson 27 Middle Tennessee 13
5 Keys To Blasting The Blue Raiders
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