Mood of the Team
I get the feeling that there was a big sense of relief this week with the team after the 8-point escape against North Carolina. Several players noted to me that they were just happy to get out of there with a win Saturday. They felt like all last week that the matchup with the Tar Heels was one that was going to be tough, and indeed it was.
This week, there's still some concern out there, and rightfully so. That concern exists primarily because of the way Wake Forest plays football. Defensive coordinator John Lovett admitted in an interview that he felt like his defense just didn't have an answer for the way Wake Forest ran the football last season. "They ran us over," Lovett said, noting that Wake Forest grinded out 365 yards on the ground. As bad as that sounds to the casual fan, the good news is that he feels like he has the answer in 2003.
He spent a good bit of the summer reviewing the film from that game, and as a result, the team is much more prepared to face the Demon Deacons on Saturday. Of course, Jim Grobe will have something up his sleeve Saturday afternoon, and he'll have to adjust, but he feels as though both he and his defense are much more prepared this year.
In fact, every player on defense is preaching "assignment football" this week. John Leake, Justin Miller, and Khaleed Vaughn were all over it this week during the press conference and after practice, so it's obvious that they understand they have to trust their teammates, and refuse to over pursue if they are going to contain the top ground game in the ACC.
Competition = Controversy?
You might think that the musical chairs being played on the offensive line may cause some tension between the players, but it's almost done the exact opposite. "I wouldn't really call it a competition," said Tommy Sharpe when asked about being pushed by Dustin Fry at center. "I go in there for two series and then he goes in for two series. It doesn't matter who starts because we'll be in there about the same number of plays regardless. All that does is make us a stronger team in the fourth quarter. In actuality, it's a great thing for this team."
The Injury Situation
Airese Currie still isn't back at 100%, but we all saw what he could at less than full strength last week (4 catches for over 80 yards). The threat of him out there should help soften the 3-3-5 alignment that the Wake Forest defense employs. Bobby Williamson and Eric Sampson appear to be ready to contribute again, as both have gone through a majority of the practice sessions this week. Yusef Kelly is still a question mark, but the word is that he likely won't play Saturday, which could mean an increased role for Chad Jasmin.
The Tigers will be best served by establishing the ground game early in this contest. Watching film of Wake Forest reveals that their safeties will start creeping towards the line of scrimmage (like most teams) if you have any sort of effective running game. Regardless of Kelly's health, a steady dose of Duane Coleman could be the most effective way to attack this Wake Forest defense early in the game.
Coleman has made serious strides lately, culminating in last weekend's 113 yard effort against the Tar Heels. The former 5-A state player of the year in Florida has shown flashes of brilliance, and Saturday will just provide one more opportunity for him to showcase his talents and prove that he's one of the up and coming backs in the ACC.
Of course, Wake Forest has the worst passing defense in the conference, giving up close to 300 yards a game, so you have to figure that Charlie Whitehurst will test the Deacons' secondary throughout the afternoon.
Defensively, Wake Forest is similar to North Carolina in that they really don't have the horses to stay with a team with the speed of Clemson. The problem relies in how many times Clemson gets the ball. If the Wake Forest offense is having success, the Tigers could be in a situation where their number of possessions could be greatly reduced. It goes without saying that redzone efficiency and third down conversions will be of primary importance. Clemson must put touchdowns on the board in this game, not field goals.
Charlie has been down on himself the last two weeks, even after putting up some gaudy numbers agianst UNC. In talking to him, he appears to be determined to change that this weekend in Winston-Salem. With that in mind, he's my player to watch...(I know, I'm not exactly going out on a limb predicting a big performance against the ACC's worst pass defense.)
Winning Out- Updated
Again, last week at this time I predicted that this team would have a distinct possibility of winning out, and today I stand by that notion.
The "ugly" win from a week ago was a win that wouldn't have been achieved by this team last season.
Now comes the ultimate test. Groves Stadium will likely be close to capacity Saturday, but it just won't hold the same atmosphere that these players seem to thrive in. The fact that Florida State is coming into town next weekend certainly doesn't help matters.
Man to man, Clemson is clearly the better of these two teams, but with Jim Grobe and his style of football in the mix, the line that separates these two teams becomes blurry at best.
This is the "get over the hump" game of the 2003 season. With only Duke remaining on the ACC schedule, a win almost guarantees the Tigers a legitimate chance at the Peach Bowl, or even the Gator. A loss would obviously be devastating.
It took five second half turnovers to get past this team last year. It won't this year. As long as Charlie Whitehurst doesn't start throwing ducks and Coleman doesn't lay the football on the ground, the Tigers will waltz out of Winston-Salem with a 10+ point victory.
It's funny to see how the players respond to some of the same old questions asked week after week. You have to figure that some of these guys get annoyed continually talking about the "mood of the team" or whether or not the team can afford another loss.
The most amusing thing to me used to be talking to J.J. Howard, because he would talk candidily about "slapping his brother Marcus in the head," or the Maryland fans "throwing oranges" at his teammates.
My new favorite is a trick that John Leake usually pulls after strolling into the weekly press conference. After taking questions from the television media, and then from the radio, then finally the beat writers, it just gets exhaustive answering the same thing over and over.
Well, it's gotten so bad the last two weeks that Leake has actually forgotten the question that was asked in the middle of his long and somewhat detailed response. No knock on John mind you, just an interesting side note that I've witnessed that I found to be quite amusing.
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