After an up and down year, the Tigers' wide receiving corps finished the season on a high note by helping Charlie Whitehurst ignite what had been a largely inconsistent offense. J.J. McKelvey led the way in terms of yardage and Derrick Hamilton and Airese Currie also provided some much needed fire power in some of the biggest games late in the season.
Derrick Hamilton has overcome his ankle injury in Orlando and the rest of the unit appears to be injury free headed into Monday's showdown. Bowl games sometimes see senior football players take control, and one player to keep an eye on for Clemson could be Jackie Robinson. Whether it's a key downfield block or a big 3rd down reception, Robinson does all the little things to help keep this unit together.
For the Red Raiders, their receiving corps are undersized but talented. It goes without saying that QB Kliff Kingsbury has helped their cause with deadly accuracy this season.
RB Taurean Henderson (5-10, 190) has been the main weapon through the air out of the backfield, hauling in 90 catches for just under 600 yards and 5 touchdowns. WR Wes Walker (5-9, 185) is the real deal at wide receiver, bringing in 83 passes for just over 1,000 yards and 6 scores.
With the wide-open attack of both teams, the ability for the wide receivers to get into the open field and make plays will likely determine who wins this shootout. However, the clear edge in this department goes to the Tigers.
With Kliff Kingsbury (6-4, 212) calling the shots in the backfield for the Red Raiders, it's hard to imagine any team being able to take the advantage away from him at the quarterback position. All Kingsbury did this year was throw for over 4,600 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Even with those gaudy statistics, he doesn't make too many mistakes either. Kingsbury had 12 interceptions this year in almost 450 attempts in helping lead the Red Raiders to the 2nd ranked passing offense in the country at 383 yards per game.
Charlie Whitehurst responded as the Tigers' starter in the last four games of the regular season by leading Clemson to wins in three of their final four games. While Whitehurst doesn't possess the 4 years of experience that Kingsbury has, he does have the physical tools to compete against him.
Whitehurst will face a Red Raider secondary that ranks 81st in the country in passing defense (233 yards per game), and 93rd in the country in total defense (406 yards per game). He'll also have the benefit of throwing to wide receivers that will have at least a 5-inch advantage over the Red Raider cornerbacks.
While the Tigers have the better defense to match up with the high-flying Texas Tech offense, the Red Raiders still have the advantage with a veteran quarterback in control.
Just ask Texas head coach Mack Brown, who said, "We tried everything we could today, and he whipped everything we tried," after the Longhorns 42-38 loss to Texas Tech on November 16th.
EDGE: TEXAS TECH
The Tigers come into Monday's Tangerine Bowl with the same patchwork offensive line that we've seen for most of the 2002 season. Losing Nick Black and Derrick Brantley to season ending injuries have played major roles in the Tigers' inability to sustain the offensive success that Clemson fans have seen in years past.
Gary Byrd and Cedric Johnson will once again get the start at right tackle and right guard respectively, walk-on Tommy Sharpe will get the nod at center, and Greg Walker and William Henry will anchor the left side of the line.
Sharpe showed in the South Carolina game that while he may be undersized and underappreciated, he still has a scrappiness about him that gets the job done.
For Texas Tech, the left side of their offensive line is down right scary. LT Daniel Loper (6-7, 325) and LG E.J. Whitley (6-6, 310) are two stud linemen that have given Kingsbury plenty of time to make his progressions this season. The right side is even bigger with Rex Richards (6-5, 337) and Casey Keck (6-4, 310).
It's no wonder why the Red Raider offense has been so successful, they've got one of the biggest offensive lines in Division I-A college football, to go along with an incredibly accurate quarterback.
While there may not be considerable depth for Texas Tech on the offensive line, there is considerable talent, and incredible size.
EDGE: TEXAS TECH
The Tigers running back-by-committee has seen its share of ups and downs this season, in large part due to the ineffectiveness of the offensive line. In fact, in only one game this season did Clemson see a running back go over the 100-yard barrier. Both Tye Hill and Bernard Rambert did it against the hapless North Carolina Tar Heels back in early November.
The Tigers like to run the ball just as much as they like throwing on first down. However in this game, we could see the Tigers try their hand more in the running game as the Red Raiders rushing defense is downright awful. Texas Tech is giving up an average of 173 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 85th in the country during the regular season.
Taurean Henderson leads the way out of the Red Raider backfield with 772 yards on the ground on 143 attempts (5.4 average). Most of his carries come out of the shotgun formation on the sprint draw play. All-purpose back Wes Walker has also been an effective rusher for Texas Tech, adding 220 yards on just 27 carries.
While the Texas Tech offense is well respected throughout the nation, it's not because they run the ball effectively, it's because the spread the field and throw it around. The Red Raiders rank 107th in the country in rushing offense, and there's no reason to think they'll have any more success on the ground Monday evening.
Breaking Down the Offense
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