Mood of the Team
Without question, the word that comes to mind when it comes to the mood of the team this week is "relief."
Wake Forest proved to be a tougher team than most fans expected last Saturday, but I get the feeling that most of the team was expecting a close, hard-fought game the whole way.
Obviously, the entire complexion of the game changed with two key plays: 1) When Charlie Whitehurst threw the interception at the goal line, and 2) When back up QB Ben Mauk completed a hail mary to Jason Anderson for an 85-yard scoring strike. Take any one of those two plays away, and Clemson probably walks away with at least a 10-point win.
In looking ahead to Georgia Tech, it's safe to say that no coach or player is expecting it to be like last year's 39-3 cakewalk in Atlanta.
Because Georgia Tech simply didn't cover the middle of the field that night. That's just one of several reasons why the Tigers were able to connect on the deep ball to Airese Currie and Kevin Youngblood, and move the ball up and down the field with regularity. There were holes everywhere, similar to the South Carolina game later in the year, and Clemson took advantage.
This season, the Yellow Jackets won't let that happen again so the Tigers will have to figure out another way to try and exploit Georgia Tech's defense.
One of the things I do each week in covering Clemson football is ask the same question to every player or coach that I talk to through the course of the given week. This week, that question concerned the nature of the season opening win over Wake Forest.
"Was it a good thing to actually have to come-from-behind to win the first game of the year? Against Wake Forest?"
Without question, yes!
Looking back, if you would have told me last week that Clemson would turn the ball over three times, that Clemson would fail to rush for 85 yards, that Charlie Whitehurst would complete less than 50% of his passes, and Clemson would still manage to win the game, I would have told you that you were crazy.
Well, that's exactly what happened.
And I think it speaks volumes about this team's potential this season. While they may not be able to do that against the Florida State's and Miami's of the world, I think a win like what we saw Saturday will translate very well when the Tigers have their backs against the wall later this season.
That opinion is also shared by the team and the coaching staff because at no other time during this recent five-game winning streak has Clemson faced that kind of adversity.
Saturday's game wasn't a thing of beauty, but it was a learning experience. And any kind of learning experience involving a win is a very good thing.
And by the way, in case you didn't know...Wake Forest is a good football team and Jim Grobe is a great head coach. Maybe the national media doesn't know it, but the rest of the ACC sure does, or sure will after this season.
I don't expect to see Duane Coleman. Period. He looks fine walking out of practice, but with a broken foot, he needs to wait one more week, at least. Eric Sampson (knee) and Travis Pugh (calf) should be at full strength.
The Game Plan
Player for player, Georgia Tech is probably a more talented team than Wake Forest. Nevertheless, Georgia Tech is by far, and I mean, by far, a better match up for Clemson.
Even though Wake Forest didn't do exactly what was expected last week, that entire "orbit-motion, misdirection, divide-zone, running attack" cloud is no longer hanging over the heads of defensive coordinator John Lovett and the Clemson defense.
And if even if you don't understand what all that means, understand that it allows Clemson's athletes to make more plays, and do what comes naturally as a defensive player- read and react.
The defensive game plan should be simple when it comes to this week: shutdown the running game and make Reggie Ball beat you with his arm.
Sure, he's a better decision maker and a year wiser, but I still have questions on what he can do in the passing game. Particularly when he's flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw on the run.
Obviously, that game plan is easier said than done, and involves more than just concentrating on the running game itself. The defense must tackle better and make plays in the backfield when given the opportunity.
In the secondary, you certainly can't afford to give up 85-yard touchdown passes, and I don't expect we'll see that again this week. While Wake Forest had some success in moving the football through the air last Saturday, Justin Miller and Tye Hill held their own against two of the more underrated receivers in the ACC.
Offensively, Clemson has to get more players involved across all phases of the game. Kelvin Grant, Curtis Baham, Yusef Kelly, Kyle Browning, and Reggie Merriweather all have to become more involved and get the ball in their hands.
And most importantly, Clemson needs to find a way to move the ball on the ground. For most of last Saturday's game, you just had the feeling that this team was about to revert back to the struggles that we saw in 2002 when it came to short yardage and goal line situations.
I expect we'll see Kyle Browning used especially more against Georgia Tech. He's shown the ability to get into the open field and create something once he has the ball in his hands. He did it last year, he's doing it now some this year.
Understand also that Coach Bowden isn't as concerned with the running game this year like he was at the beginning of last season. The only thing he's concerned about when it comes to his offense, is putting points on the board.
He also can rest a little easier because he knows that his best running back is on the shelf. Once Duane Coleman gets back into the mix, that changes everything.
I still think that Chansi Stuckey will prove to be the best wide receiver on this team before the year is finished. He just brings another dimension that has been missing from this unit in each of the last two or three years. For one, he's as athletic as any player on the team. Two, he's also as elusive as anybody in the league. Three, and perhaps the most important, is that he's the toughest receiver on the field.
When you combine all of those attributes with the fact that he doesn't drop passes or take plays off, you've got a winner.
The players know it, the coaches know it, and Chansi knows it. Assuming he stays healthy this season, Tiger fans are going to be in store for something very special.
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