Mood of the Team
Through the course of the first half of the week, the mood was understandably down. In talking with Charlie Whitehurst and six other players, there was some concern that that the loss to N.C. State could linger into Saturday's game against North Carolina. Charlie commented in our interview Tuesday that he was glad the loss kind of stuck with some of the players. Whether you realize it or not, that's just one of the small ways that the redshirt sophomore is starting to show some vocal leadership on this team.
Whitehurst has always been a quiet leader, but he won't settle for a mediocre season. Off the record, he's indicated on more than one occasion that this team has more chemistry, plays harder, and simply cares more than previous Clemson teams of the past. While he refers to himself as a leader by example, he's slowly starting to voice his opinion more in practice, on the field in the huddle, and off the field with his teammates.
I'll end by saying that this is a good thing to have in your quarterback.
While I personally don't feel as though this will be a "blowout" game, North Carolina doesn't look good on film, especially on defense. To put it mildly, I'm not the only person reviewing film of the Tar Heels who feels that way. There are holes everywhere, especially in the secondary and up front, and I fully expect Clemson to exploit those weaknesses Saturday. Simply put, the Tar Heels don't have the talent on the defensive side of the ball to get the job done. How else could a team be giving up and eye-popping 37 points per game?
As we reported on the Insider Message board two weeks ago, Airese Currie can seemingly get downfield without any significant problems; he just has difficulty making the hard "plant and cut." What does that mean in regards to Saturday? It means we likely won't see him again against the Tar Heels. Tommy Bowden was asked earlier this week whether or not the fact that Clemson was playing a 1-6 North Carolina team if that would make a difference in his decision making with Currie, and he denied that it would, but I have to think otherwise. Especially if Clemson can jump out to an early lead.
Remember, the Tigers have had only one game with a 100-yard rusher in all of 2002 and up to this point in 2003. When was it? Last year against the Tar Heels when both Bernard Rambert and Tye Hill went over the century mark. I think the second half success against N.C. State in the ground game, and the new found youth on the offensive line with the "Fry guys" will afford the Tigers the luxury of pounding the ball right up the gut of the UNC defense. Even with Yusef Kelly out, watch for Duane Coleman, Chad Jasmin, and maybe even a little surprise with Reggie Merriweather. Tommy Bowden won't go without testing the UNC defense with the long ball, and that's with or without Airese Currie.
Again, I expect big offensive numbers on the ground and through the air, however the end result on the scoreboard will be dependent on 3rd down conversions and red zone efficiency.
Odds & Ends
North Carolina has jumped out to a lead of at least 9 points in each of the last three seasons against Clemson. Of course, we all remember what happened the last time the Tar Heels roared into Death Valley in 2001 (a 38-3 romp). The year before that, North Carolina jumped out to a 17-0 lead before falling in the second half and then last season UNC rolled out to a 9-0 lead before losing 42-12. Can I have a fast start Saturday please?
Stat of the Week
History shows that if you can get ahead of the Tar Heels early, you'll likely win the game. Under John Bunting, North Carolina is 3-15 when trailing at the half.
I told Scott earlier this week as we were preparing for our pregame show on Saturday that I think there's a strong possibility this team could win out. Those that know me well know that I'm real big on outlandish predictions, particularly when it comes to this team, but I told him at the time that I would likely come out publicly and say that I think there's a good chance we could see something like that occur this year.
Of course, I won't come out and write a 2,000-word essay on why the Tigers will do it, but I will tell you that I think they have a chance.
I say that because I see the improvement on this team in almost every area of the field, especially on defense. I say that because I think the Clemson offensive line is ready to turn the corner behind some talented young trenchmen. I say that because every player I talked to this week mentioned that they believed this team wouldn't lose another game all season. And I say that because I think the schedule shapes up very well for the Tigers down the stretch.
North Carolina and Duke will be easy victories.
Wake Forest will be a struggle, but a victory.
Florida State will also be a struggle, but I was there in Tallahassee last year and I saw a team with less talent and less heart dominate 2.5 quarters of football before allowing a barrage of 2nd half turnovers and poor tackling send the them home with a loss.
The fear in FSU is gone, and in what figures to be a night game on ESPN, I think that will be the ultimate coming out party for a team that has struggled mightly on national television over the course of the last 2 years. I'll save my X's and O's soap box speech as why it can happen until the week leading up to the game.
And here's the final newsflash on the University of South Carolina: they won't win more than 6 games this year. In fact, the Vanderbilt game this weekend may be the last game all season that gives South Carolina fans anything to smile about. I'm anxious to see Demetris Summers in person, but I'm also anxious to see how he matches up with the Clemson defense.
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