5 Keys To Whipping The Dawgs

You know the dead period is over when you can turn on your television and watch two football teams you care little about (Colorado State vs. Virginia) and be completely engrossed in the outcome of the game. That was me Thursday night. Now, it turns real as the team I love gets ready to strap it on.

The 2002 Clemson football season has officially arrived with the preview of the CU vs. UGA game in Athens next Saturday night on ESPN. Georgia comes into the game as 8.5-point favorites to go along with a #8 national ranking. While most experts are thinking Georgia will win handily, here are my 5 keys to victory for the Tigers.

#1-Turnover Battle More Than A Cliche
It seems like such a cliche, but this is the number one key to winning next Saturday in Athens. Clemson was a much better team than its 7-5 record indicated last year, but the Tigers finished with that record because of its abysmal turnover ratio. By now, you've heard all the numbers, but a simple wrap up in laymen's terms would read something like this…Clemson turned the ball over and did not create very many turnovers on defense last year.

But maybe the most important part of the turnover battle will be causing turnovers. The offense that Clemson runs lends itself to mistakes, especially with a first time starter under center. We all can live with that.

The biggest key will be can the defense cause some turnovers and give the offense some easy chances? An interception or a fumble recovery deep in Georgia territory may be the one play that propels the Tigers to victory Saturday night.

#2- Settle In Quickly
Nerves and emotions will be high Saturday evening, and rightfully so. The team that controls those emotions and settles down the quickest will be in good shape in the first half. Clemson needs to withstand the first 5 minutes of the game without doing something stupid, and things should start falling into place. The longer Clemson stays in the game, the more pressure that builds on Georgia. Georgia is expected to win, but if they can't put Clemson away in the first half, the pressure turns squarely on the Georgia Bulldogs.

Staying in the game early and not giving Georgia added confidence could slowly raise the sweat level on the Dawgs. You want teams with high expectations to begin to panic, and playing smart and error free early could allow Clemson to take an early lead…thus backing the Dawgs into a corner.

#3-Trickery Circa 1999
Tommy Bowden and Brad Scott came to Clemson with a bag full of tricks…using many of them from the outset of 1999. Remember the Virginia Tech game back in 1999? Similar ploys could work wonders in Athens and keep the Georgia defense from pinning their ears back on the inexperienced Clemson offensive line.

Clemson has lost that aura of deceit in the past two years…partly because of not using the tricks as much, and partly because when they were used they did not net the result those did in 1999. Ever wonder how the FSU/Clemson game would have changed last season had the fake punt for a touchdown not been called back? Me too. The difference between 1999 and 2001 is that the tricks worked.

Hopefully, Tommy Bowden and Brad Scott spent part of the summer drawing lines in the dirt coming up with the next great caper. Several will be needed in Athens on Saturday, and at least one of them will need to go for big yardage.

#4-Stuff Musa
Musa Smith is eerily familiar in body stature to Andrew Pinnock of South Carolina. What Clemson hopes is that Smith does not run over the Tiger line like Pinnock did in the 3rd quarter of last year's game game at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Smith doesn't really scare you as a breakaway threat, but the idea of him churning out 4 yards a carry is enough to give defensive coordinator John Lovett nightmares. Conversely, if the Bulldogs cannot establish a decent running game, much of the pressure on the defensive backs for Clemson can be lightened with the knowledge that the Tigers can pin their ears back and go after sophomore quarterback David Greene.

#5-Stay Away From Conservatism
The tendency with an inexperienced line and a quarterback that is starting his first game would be to simplify the offense in order to minimize mistakes. On the defensive side of the ball, Lovett may choose to play the game close to the vest in order to protect the egos of his fragile defensive secondary.

Both are recipes for a loss in Athens.

Underdogs like Clemson must attack the game from the outset, not sit on its heels trying to avoid disaster. The offense will be better served being aggressive, throwing the ball over the middle, throwing the post, and involving big Ben Hall over the middle. The defense should blitz and try to rattle Greene, even at he risk of leaving the secondary on an island.

Conservatism may beat Louisiana Tech, Ball State, and Duke, but it won't win on the road in Athens.

I don't expect as high of a scoring game as many have said. I think both defenses are getting a bad rap in the preseason talk. Clemson, historically, has a hard time winning in Athens, and I think this year will be no different.

Rhymer's Prediction
Georgia-28, Clemson-17

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