Clemson - Ball State Notes

Both teams in Saturday's game between Clemson and Ball State will be entering Death Valley after emotional home victories. Clemson beat Georgia Tech 24-19 thanks to the first career interception by Eric Sampson with just 1:12 left in the game. Ball State defeated state rival Indiana State 23-21 in Muncie last Saturday.

Clemson and Ball State Coming Off Big Wins
Both teams in Saturday's game between Clemson and Ball State will be entering Death Valley after emotional home victories last weekend. Clemson defeated Georgia Tech 24-19 thanks to the first career interception by Eric Sampson at the Clemson 16-yard-line with just 1:12 left in the game. Ball State defeated state rival Indiana State 23-21 in Muncie last Saturday.

Clemson showed a much improved offense and the continued improvement of its defense in gaining its second straight victory over Georgia Tech, and handing Chan Gailey his first loss as Georgia Tech head coach. The Tigers had a balanced attack with 195 yards rushing and 176 yards passing.

Derrick Hamilton had the best all-around game of his Clemson career with 256 all-purpose yards, fifth best in Clemson history. A receiver by trade, Hamilton had 97 yards rushing in just five attempts. That performance included a 77-yard run in the first period that gave the Tigers a 10-0 lead. It was the longest run by a Clemson player since 1993 when another Derrick, Derrick Witherspoon, raced 89 yards for a score against Maryland.

Hamilton also had a 79-yard punt return in the game and finished the day with 96 yards on punt returns. It was the longest punt return by a Tiger since Brian Mance went 88 yards against Georgia Tech in 2000. Hamilton came close to becoming the first player in Clemson history with at least 100 yards rushing and 100 yards in punt returns in the same game. Hamilton's 256 allpurpose yards were just 18 short of Terrence Flagler's single game record of 274 at Wake Forest in 1986.

Willie Simmons had another solid performance hitting 18-31 passes for 176 yards and two scores. His favorite target in terms of yardage was senior walk-on Tony Elliott. Elliott began his career at Air Force Prep school in Colorado, then transferred to Clemson in 1999. He had three catches for 85 yards and his first career touchdown against the Yellow Jackets. Tight end Bobby Williamson also caught his first touchdown pass on a two-yard "push pass" from Willie Simmons that resembled an Edward Scott chest pass in an ACC basketball game.

Yusef Kelly supported Hamilton with a workman like 20 carries for 89 yards, including a 25-yarder late in the fourth quarter when Clemson was trying to run time off the clock. But, it was the defense in the end that made key plays for the Tigers. Georgia Tech drove to the Clemson 29 with under 1:30 left. But A.J. Suggs pass over the middle was intercepted by Sampson, who returned the theft 35 yards to ice the game for the Tigers.

The play might have erased the memory of last year's Virginia game, also the third contest of the year. A year ago Clemson led Virginia 24-20 with under two minutes left. The Cavaliers drove 44 yards to score the winning touchdown with just one second left. This time Tech trailed Clemson by almost the same score (24-19), but the Tiger defense came up with the turnover to clinch the victory.

Sampson Interception Ends Georgia Tech Threat
Clemson sophomore Eric Sampson intercepted a Georgia Tech pass at the Clemson 16 with just 1:12 left and returned the theft 35 yards to ice the 24-19 victory for the Tigers in Death Valley on September 14th. Clemson then ran out the remaining time to clinch the victory. Sampson's interception marked the first time since 1993 that a Clemson player came up with a turnover inside Clemson territory within the last two minutes with Clemson leading by seven points or less. In other words it was the first time in nine years that a defensive player made a game saving turnover with two minutes or less left.

The last time it happened was in 1993 at Duke when Dexter McCleon, now with the St. Louis Rams, intercepted a Duke pass at the Clemson eight-yard line with just three seconds remaining. Clemson held on for a 13-10 victory. That was actually the second straight week a defensive player made a game saving play late in the contest. The previous week, October 2, 1993, linebacker Tim Jones broke up an NC State pass in the endzone with :00 on the clock to give Clemson the victory. The Pack snapped the ball from the Clemson 12 on that down.

Clemson fans have suffered through some close last second losses in recent years. Seven times since 1997 the opposition has driven for a winning field goal or touchdown with inside two minutes left in the game. That included last year in the third game of the season when Virginia scored with just one second left to defeat the Tigers 26-24. It also had included the last two times Georgia Tech had come to Clemson. They scored a touchdown with a minute left to defeat Clemson 24-21 in 1998 and scored a touchdown with seven seconds left in 2000 to defeat a third ranked Clemson team, 31-28.

Ball State Comes to Clemson Off Big Victory
Ball State will come to Clemson off a two-point victory over Indiana State. The two schools are state rivals, but had not played since the 1991 season. Senior Marcus Merriweather rushed 27 times for 146 yards and three scores to lead Ball State.

The Ball State offense was balanced and efficient. The Cardinals of Bill Lynch had 185 yards rushing as a team, and quarterback Tallmadge Hill completed 20-26 passes for 150 yards. Jason Barnes led the receivers with seven catches for 54 yards.

Lorenzo Scott leads the Ball State defense with 23 tackles, including 11 stops in the win over Indiana State. Douglas Owusu had an interception, a tackle for loss and five tackles to provide support. Ball State's defense gave up one big play, an 84-yard pass completion. The Cardinals were sound other than that play, allowing Indiana State to convert on third down just 2-9 occasions.

Eason Has Big Day against Georgia Tech
Nick Eason had a lot to do with Clemson's victory over Georgia Tech. The graduate student had two tackles for loss and three total tackles for loss in the victory. He was a big reason Tech quarterback A.J. Suggs had – 50 yards rushing in the game. Eason had six tackles and two quarterback pressures. It marked the first time in Eason's career that he had two sacks and three tackles for loss in the same game. He now has 25 career tackles for loss, first among active Clemson players. Clemson's defense had five sacks against Georgia Tech and continually forced pressure on A.J. Suggs. Clemson allowed just 303 yards of total offense and the Tigers now allow 266 yards per game for the season. That is an improvement of nearly 130 yards per game over last year.

Second Meeting between Tigers and Cardinals
This will be the second meeting between Clemson and Ball State on the gridiron. The two teams met at Clemson on September 5, 1992 and the Tigers came away with a 24-10 victory under Head Coach Ken Hatfield. It was the season opener for both clubs. Clemson entered the game 13th in the country according to Associated Press and was coming off a 9-2-1 season and an ACC Championship. But, the Tigers had lost many outstanding players to the pro ranks, including Chester McGlockton and Levon Kirkland, who are both still in the NFL today.

The contest proved to be a defensive struggle as the two teams both failed to reach 330 yards of total offense. In fact, Ball State outgained Clemson 328 to 291 and ran 84 plays to Clemson's 65. The Tigers ran the ball successfully, gaining 255 yards, while Ball State had 208 yards through the air.

Clemson was led by Rodney Blunt, who had 20 carries for 96 yards. Ronald Williams, who is still a professional in the Canadian Football league, added 8-58 rushing and a touchdown. Williams was coming off a 1991 season in which he had suffered a torn ACL. Quarterback Richard Moncrief had 10-57 rushing, but completed just 4-11 for 36 yards in Clemson's option offense. Ball State's offense was led by Mike Neu who completed 25 of 48 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown, and Corey Croom, who rushed 32 times for 135 yards. The carry total is still fifth most ever against Clemson.

The Clemson defense was led by Tim Jones, who had 12 tackles, an interception and two tackles for loss, and Robert O'Neal, who had 11 tackles. Brentson Buckner, now in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, had nine tackles. Clemson held just a 10-7 lead at intermission, as a five-yard scoring pass from Neu to Brian Oliver with just 12 seconds left in the half made the score a three-point game at intermission. Clemson scored two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter, however to put the game away.

The only Clemson coach still around who coached in that game is Tigers wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill. Current Ball State Head Coach Bill Lynch, was the Ball State offensive coordinator for that game, while Bob Bartolomeo, the current defensive coordinator, was the inside linebackers coach on that Cardinal staff. Rich Spisak, currently offensive coordinator, and Scott Pethtel, current outside linebackers coach, also coached for Ball State in that game. Clemson and Ball State are scheduled to meet again at Clemson on November 2, 2006.

ACC vs. MAC
Believe it or not, today's game between Clemson and Ball State is one of three matchups of the Atlantic Coast Conference vs. the Mid- American Conference on Saturday. Heading into games of September 21, the MAC had a 2-1 lead in head-to-head matchups so far this year. In addition to the Clemson vs. Ball State game Saturday, Akron will play at Virginia and Eastern Michigan travels to Maryland in the other MAC vs. ACC matchups. Earlier this year, Miami (OH) won at North Carolina, 27-21 and Wake Forest lost at Northern Illinois 42-41 in overtime. The ACC's only win over the MAC so far this year took place at Maryland, where the Terps defeated the Akron Zips, 44-14 on September 7th.

Clemson has a 1-1 lifetime record against the MAC. The Tigers defeated Ball State, a member of the MAC since 1973, by a 24-10 score in 1992. Marshall defeated Clemson 13-10 in 1999, the first game of the Tommy Bowden era. The only previous contest for Ball State against an ACC team was at Clemson in 1992.

Merriweather Will Challenge Clemson Defense
Clemson's defensive front seven will have its hands full this Saturday when it faces one of the top running backs in the nation. Ball State senior Marcus Merriweather is a preseason Doak Walker Award candidate who has the stats to back up his candidacy. He is one of 10 returning starters for Ball State's offense this year. Merriweather already has a pair of 1000-yard seasons to his credit, as he ranked 10th in the nation a year ago with a 124.4 yard average. He set a school record with 1244 yards and was a first-team All-MAC performer. In 2000, as a sophomore, he gained 1004 yards (exact same total Woody Dantzler had last year) to rank 26th in the nation on a per game basis. Merriweather needed just 1,100 yards this year to become the school's career leader. That record is held by Bernie Parmalee, who played at Ball State from 1987-90 before a nineseason NFL career with Miami and the New York Jets. Parmalee was the only Miami Dolphins running back to have consecutive 100-yard rushing games between 1994-01. Merriweather had seven 100-yard games last year after recording four 100-yard performances over the last five games of his sophomore year. That stretch run included a career best 257 yards in 42 carries against Central Michigan on October 28th. That performance shows the durability of the 6-1, 215 pound running back from Fort Wayne, IN. So far this year Merriweather is among the national rushing leaders with 261 yards in 53 attempts in two games, an average of 130.5 yards per game. He has gone over 100 yards in each of the first two games. He also has four receptions out of the backfield.

Facts about Ball State
*The list of Ball State alums includes CBS Late Night talk show host David Letterman. Other well known Ball State alums include James Davis, the creator of the cartoon "Garfield the Cat", Kent Nelson, CEO of UPS, ESPN Sportscenter anchor Betsy Ross, and Dr. John Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society.

* The Ball State record for yards per carry over the course of a career is held by Merv Rettenmund, who went on to play 13 years and over 1000 games in the Major Leagues with four teams, including the Baltimore Orioles. Rettenmund averaged 7.6 yards per carry between 1962-64 for the Cardinals.

* Ball State has been a member of the MAC conference since 1973. It has had a football team since 1924. It last won the MAC and went to a bowl game in 1996 when it was 7-1 in the conference and 8-4 overall.

* Both teams can boast of academic excellence. Clemson has eight graduate students on its team this year, including seven starters, most on one team in school history. Ball State had a team GPA of 2.90 for the spring semester last year and 36 players had a GPA of 3.0 or better.

* Both schools are similar in size when it comes to enrollment. Ball State has a student enrollment of 17,622, just about 500 more than Clemson's enrollment figure.

* Both schools have athletic directors in their first years with the program. Clemson's Terry Don Phillips came to Clemson from Oklahoma State in July, while Ball State's Bubba Cunningham came to Ball State after serving as an associate AD at Notre Dame in August.

Clemson Defense Much Improved
Clemson continued to show improvement on defense in its 24- 19 victory over Georgia Tech. The Tigers held the Yellow Jackets to 303 yards of total offense and just 102 yards rushing. Seventy-two of those yards came on one rushing play.

Clemson allowed just 293 yards of total offense to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs the previous week, the second straight game the opposition has failed to reach the 300-yard mark. Clemson had allowed the opposition at least 300 yards in 17 straight games heading into the 2002 season. So far this year Clemson is 17th in the nation in total defense and 19th in rushing defense. Clemson was not in the top half of the nation in those categories last year.

Clemson has now given up just 799 yards of total offense in three games, an average of 266 yards per game. Clemson allowed 395 yards a game last year, so it is easy to see the 266 figure for the first three games this year is considerably better. Clemson has allowed just 4.1 yards per play, much improved from the 5.3 allowed per play a year ago. Many of the times the opposition has scored it has been the result of difficult field position after a turnover or a long kick return. Over the first three games the opposition has taken possession of the ball at their own 38 or worse 28 times. They have driven for a touchdown just three times in those 28 possessions. The defense had a streak of 18 straight possessions without yielding a touchdown in that situation broken in the Georgia Tech game.

Forcing turnovers has also been a plus. Clemson has forced nine turnovers in three games. It took Clemson seven games to reach nine forced turnovers a year ago. Clemson has a +3 turnover margin through three games, a reversal of the –5 turnover margin Clemson had last year. Clemson is currently 29th in the nation in turnover margin at +1.0 per game. What is especially encouraging to Clemson coaches is that Clemson has achieved these numbers against teams that are solid on offense. Georgia has eight offensive starters returning from a team that averaged 432 yards a game last year, but got just 203 yards against Clemson. Louisiana Tech averaged over 400 yards and 30 points a game last year, but got just 13 points and 293 yards against Clemson. Georgia Tech also has a bright offensive outlook and currently is fourth in the ACC in total offense with an average of nearly 400 yards per game.

Youngblood Ranked in Top 20 in Nation
Kevin Youngblood has already exceeded the reception total of his freshman season with his 20 catches in three games this year. The junior from Jacksonville, FL missed all of last year with a broken leg, but has started fast in 2002. He has led Clemson in total receptions in all three games so far this year.

Youngblood had six catches for 66 yards at Georgia to establish a career high in terms of receptions. He also caught a 21-yard scoring strike from quarterback Willie Simmons. He then trumped that with 10 receptions for 89 yards in the win over Louisiana Tech. He leads the ACC in receptions per game entering the Ball State game.

No Clemson player has led the ACC in receptions per game over the course of the season since 1980 when Perry Tuttle led the league. The only other Clemson player to be the receptions champion for a season is Jerry Butler in 1978.

Youngblood had a promising freshman year (2000) as an understudy to first-round draft choice and former high school teammate Rod Gardner. Youngblood was to replace Gardner's big plays last year until he suffered the injury.

Gardner was in attendance on the Clemson sideline in Athens as he took a day off as he prepares for his second year with the Washington Redskins. Perhaps his presence brought out the best in Youngblood, whose previous career high was just two catches in a game four times in 2000. Youngblood had 13 catches for 225 yards as a freshman, a 17.3 average.

Kelly Leads Ground Game
Yusef Kelly (formerly Keith Kelly his first two years at Clemson) had a career high 25 attempts for 97 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Louisiana Tech. Kelly now has four touchdowns for the year to exceed his previous career high and ranks ninth in the nation in scoring with 12 points per game.

Kelly's 97 yards against Louisiana Tech broke his previous career high of 93 yards against Wake Forest in 2000. Kelly sat out last year as a red-shirt. He got his chance in the lineup when Bernard Rambert was in street clothes due tendonitis in a foot. He added 20 carries for 89 yards last week in the win over Georgia Tech. He showed his durability as 57 of his 89 yards came in the fourth quarter.

Leake Leads Defense
The top returning tackler on the Clemson defense is junior John Leake and he has led the team so far this year with 39 tackles, 11 against Georgia and Georgia Tech and 17 against Louisiana Tech. The native of Plano, TX had 134 tackles last year, an increase of 125 stops over his freshman year. Leake never played a snap on defense as a freshman, then played 687 last year when he ranked second for the course of the season behind the now graduated Chad Carson.

Leake's quickness in the middle of the Clemson point prevention unit has been a big reason Clemson has limited teams to but 4.1 yards per play and just nine yards per pass reception. He had 17 tackles to lead the Clemson defense against Louisiana Tech.

Leake is ranked 23rd in the nation among linebackers by The Sporting News in its preseason publication. He ranked 11th in the ACC in tackles per game last year and led the team in tackles in five of the 12 games. He had a season high 19 tackles in the win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Leake has football in his blood. His father played for Wyoming as a wide receiver in the 1960s. He opened the 2002 season with a strong game, as he had eight tackles to rank second on the team. He also led the team with a pair of tackles for loss and had much to do with Clemson's ability to hold Georgia to but 203 yards of total offense.

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