So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.
Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech
The Tigers flashed us a peek of exactly how good they could be when we waltzed into Bobby Dodd Stadium as underdogs and whipped the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to the tune of 39-3 last year.
Tech went on to win their next 4 games against Vanderbilt, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Maryland. Astonishingly enough, in 2003 Tech beat 3 of the 4 teams Clemson lost to during the regular season, but the Yellow Jackets also lost to Duke 41-17, which is inexcusable for any team.
This will be the second game of the year for the Tigers and the Jackets. As I predicted in last week's article, Clemson will enter the game 1-0 after slipping by Wake Forest at home. Georgia Tech will also enter the game 1-0 having beaten Samford the week before the Clemson game.
Chan Gailey is in his 3rd year at Georgia Tech, compiling a 14-12 record to date. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 7-6 season with wins over Auburn, Vanderbilt, NCSU, Wake Forest, Maryland, North Carolina and Tulsa. In 2003, the Yellow Jackets lost to BYU, Florida State, Clemson, Duke, Virginia and Georgia.
While Gailey has not compiled a gaudy record in his 2 years in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets have some several impressive coaches currently on their staff.
Jon Tenuta is a defensive mastermind, and Gailey's offense has been fairly complex (especially considering Reggie Ball was a true freshman last year). The Yellow Jackets will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Patrick Nix (the former Auburn quarterback) this year, but it is hard to imagine the reigns not falling into the hands of Gailey himself.
On offense, Georgia Tech returns 7 players from last year's team that averaged a paltry 330.6 yards a game (9th in the ACC and 94th in the nation).
Despite a rather average game against Clemson, Reggie Ball proved to be a solid quarterback over the course of the year for the Yellow Jackets.
Ball threw for almost 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 11 interceptions. Ball also rushed for 384 yards to easily become Tech's 2nd most productive runner. Ball easily won Rookie of the Year honors in the ACC, and he most certainly should be both better and wiser having been in the program for a full year. Ball is elusive enough that you have to respect his running ability and he has a good enough arm to throw the ball all over the field. If there is a negative, it is his height (5-11 on his tip-toes), which forces the Tech offensive coaches to move the pocket for Ball in order to see the field.
P. J. Daniels returns at running back, having led the league in rushing last year by a whopping 255 yards over Wake's Chris Barclay. The former walk on, however, is not without some question marks. Daniels piled up yardage in a couple of games against bad defenses (including 307 yards against Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl). Daniels did not break the 40 yard mark against Georgia, Auburn, and Clemson last year. More consistency is needed if Tech is going to be able to lean on Daniels. Jimmy Dixon is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the conference giving Tech one of the best running back/fullback duos in the conference.
|Airese Currie is congratulated by teammates Kevin Youngblood and Gregory Walker after he scored a touchdown at the end of the first half last year in Atlanta.|
The offensive line returns 3 of 5 starters in Kyle Wallace, Brad Honeycutt, and Andy Tidwell-Neal. The two starters that were lost, however, were big losses. Nat Dorsey decided to jump to the NFL and All Conference center Hugh Reilly graduated. The coaching staff has shuffled some players to different positions to try and shore up the holes and depth is a major concern heading into fall camp. There is little doubt that the talent and game experience at offensive line places the Yellow Jackets near the bottom of the league up front.
On defense, Tech returns 7 players from a defense that gave up only 322.2 yards a game last year (2nd in the ACC, 20th in the nation).
The defensive line is anchored by Eric Henderson, who is arguably one of the best defensive ends in the conference. The other end position is also in good hands with Travis Parker. Henderson and Parker combined for 39 tackles for losses in 2003, creating a game planning nightmare for offensive coaches. The projected starters at tackle are undersized with Joe Anoai and Marcus Harris both weighing less than 260 pounds. Mansfield Wrotto could fill that role at tackle (he started 12 games as a freshman last year). At 300 plus pounds, Wrotto is a more traditionally sized tackle that can plug holes up the middle and allow the Tech linebackers to make plays.
At linebacker, Tech loses Keyaron Fox, Daryl Smith and Ather Brown and the 284 tackles those three accounted for in 2003. Gerris Wilkinson is solid at one linebacker position, but the other two are concerns heading into fall practice where the Tech coaches will search for playmakers.
In the secondary, Tech returns 3 starters in cornerback Reuben Houston and safeties Dawan Landry and James Butler. Watch for sophomore Kenny Scott to fill the other corner position as Coach Tenuta has singled Scott out on numerous occasions in the off season. Other than Clemson, Tech may have the best group of players in the secondary in the conference.
There is a concern at special teams for Tech as a replacement for Dan Burnett needs to be found. Andy Thompson only averaged 39.8 yards per punt last year, so improvement is needed in that area as well.
Summary And Prediction
Many Clemson fans may develop a sense of apathy towards this game as the season draws near. Many eyes are pointing at Wake Forest, a team that humiliated Clemson in Winston-Salem, and many are looking at the game at Texas A&M as a unique opportunity for the Tigers to play in front of a great and hostile crowd.
Furthering the apathy towards Tech is the fact that Clemson so easily won the game last year in Atlanta. The 39-3 win was not a true barometer of the differences in the two teams, trust me.
Prior to last year, Clemson and Georgia Tech played some of the closest and most exciting football games as any two teams could possibly expect. In fact look back to the 6 consecutive games where this series was decided by 5 points or less. This game looks like it could line up in a similar situation.
Clemson's strength will be passing, but that also falls right into Tech's strength in the secondary. Tech will have the advantage of playing a cream puff in week 1 and therefore be able to devote much of August to preparing a game plan for Clemson. That's not good news; considering Tenuta and Gailey are know for developing some pretty complex schemes.
The 8:00 kickoff is guaranteed to bring the Tigers' A-game due to a nice sized crowd, and that certainly plays into the hands of Clemson. Furthermore, the Tigers should be playing with some confidence after the week 1 win over Wake Forest and another week of practice to work out any kinks.
Similar to week 1, I expect a close one. Too close for comfort and much closer than many of you are thinking in your own heads.
Clemson 24 Georgia Tech 17