So now it is time to actually play the game, and the game itself offers plenty of reasons to tune in Monday afternoon.
I finished the Clemson regular season with a 10-2 record picking the Tigers, and here are my 5 keys to the Tigers winning against Texas Tech.
Red Zone Defense
There is a slight misnomer about the Texas Tech offense during the pregame hype. That misnomer is that nobody has been able to stop the Red Raider offense and Kingsbury. That could not be further from the truth.
3 teams were able to keep Texas Tech from scoring more than 20 points (Oklahoma, Colorado, and Iowa State) while a 4th team kept Texas Tech to only 21 points (Ohio State). Those 4 games that Texas Tech was unable to score a ton of points were against some very good teams, that I will give you. But, statistically speaking, the Clemson defense that ranks 17th in the nation and is at least comparable to those defenses that slowed Texas Tech.
The key to preventing Texas Tech from going crazy on offense will be for Clemson to prevent touchdowns when the Red Raiders get in the red zone. Forcing Tech to attempt field goals instead of racking up 6 each time in the red zone will be the biggest key of the game. Fortunately for Clemson, red zone defense has been pretty good for most of the year.
Continue Running Game Momentum
The last time the Clemson offense was on the field, it was chewing up 6 ½ minutes of the clock while grinding the ball on the ground versus the Gamecocks. It was one of the few times this year that Clemson was able to control the line of scrimmage on offense and literally shove the ball down the throat of the opponent.
Texas Tech does not present the most talented defense Clemson has faced this year, and that is putting it nicely. While I don't doubt that Clemson will be able to throw the ball with some consistency Monday, establishing a running game against the Red Raiders will be critical to winning the game.
Obviously, running the ball will open up the passing game for Charlie Whitehurst and the Clemson receivers. But, more importantly, it will keep the Texas Tech offense off the field while at the same time resting the Clemson defense. That combination will be tough to overcome, so a keen eye should be placed on Bernard Rambert, Keith Kelly, and Tye Hill. This running back by committee needs to accumulate 150+ yards Monday...and if they do, Clemson will be in fine shape.
Stand Guard For Trickery
Bowl games offer more trickery than a Penn and Teller show in Vegas. Clemson, undoubtedly, will pull from its hat a few tricks for sure. Giving Tommy Bowden and Brad Scott 4 weeks to prepare for a football game surely will tempt the trickery duo to mastermind a couple of jewels.
But Texas Tech, as well as Clemson, will more than likely pull from its own bag. Clemson's speedy defense has shown the propensity to over pursue at times. This can lead to throw back passes and reverses that can lead to cheap scores (see Duke game).
The discipline of the Clemson defense will certainly be tested Monday. If the Tigers can stay home on defense and special teams and avoid giving up any cheap scores to Texas Tech, the Tigers will be in position to win the game Monday afternoon.
Winning Versus Satisfaction
One of the most frustrating things about the bowl season is trying to determine which team is just happy to be in the bowl and which team wants to win. As Coach Bowden has said on several occasions this year, there is a fine line between the bowl game being a reward for the players and the players preparing for the game with a will to win.
We all know the attitude that the Tigers had 4 weeks ago as they faced their archrival South Carolina. The attitude was that it was the biggest game in the world and winning it was desperately needed. Does Clemson have a similar attitude about this game? What about Texas Tech?
The mental part of this game...much like any bowl game...will be a defining factor in who wins and loses the game. Despite what outsiders may say, Clemson has a ton to gain from winning this game and earning their 8th win of the season. Let's hope the players know that.
For all the hoopla surround Kliff Kingsbury and his Hiesman campaign, Charlie Whitehurst has slid under the radar heading into the game. To try and compare Whitehurst to Kingsbury is really not fair considering Whitehurst has only started 4 games in his Clemson career.
But the freshman Whitehurst has shown the ability to be a big time college quarterback, much like Mr. Kingsbury has been this year for Texas Tech. While the camera lights will surely be on Kingsbury at the start of the game, Whitehurst will have the opportunity to prove that he is the future of Clemson football.
I expect Whitehurst to have poise and composure, just like every other time he has stepped on the field for Clemson this year. Can he make big plays in a bowl game? Can he avoid mental mistakes in a bowl game? Can he avoid throwing interceptions in a bowl game? We are about to find out Monday night.
With all due respect to a quality Texas Tech football team, I am perplexed to some degree that Clemson comes in as the underdog. The Texas Tech defense has given up numbers that would have made the 2001 Clemson defense look like the 1986 Chicago Bears. How any team that gives up over 30 points a game can be considered a favorite against that team that can score is beyond me.
The Clemson defense has not been given the respect I think it deserves in this pre-bowl hype. The strength of the Tiger defense is the secondary, and the weakness is giving up a lot of yardage to good rushing teams. Texas Tech is not a good rushing team, and their throwing ability plays right into the Tiger strength.
There is also talk that this game will come close to being near 100 points combined. I don't think so. Clemson will control the clock (as much as a Clemson team could) and the Tiger defense will not be as porous as some of the defenses that Texas Tech has manhandled this year. The score will be slightly lower than most are expecting, but I think Clemson is the better team on Monday afternoon. And, the better team usually wins.
Clemson 31 Texas Tech 24
5 Keys To Roughing Up The Red Raiders
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