Preview of the Clemson Tigers

How much respect can you have for a program that stole its uniforms from Parkview High? I might have more if they had Parkview's offensive line as well (and I hope they don't end up with two of them). Clemson is a bit of a mystery at this point.

Charles Stephenson takes a look at Clemson in his own very special way:

How much respect can you have for a program that stole its uniforms from Parkview High?  I might have more if they had Parkview's offensive line as well (and I hope they don't end up with two of them).  Clemson is a bit of a mystery at this point.  I watched their spring game, and recently reviewed a couple more games from last season.  Their game against Tech was one of the more exciting games of the year.  Maybe Clemson is now stocked with enough talent that they will be solid every year.  Maybe their offense was a one man show, and their defense really was as bad as it looked.  It's tough to say, really. 

Tommy Bowden was a very hot property in coaching just two years ago.  Alabama fans wanted him, some of us wanted him, and the list goes on.  It looked as though Clemson was going to be the team that could challenge Florida State for dominance in the ACC.  And why not?  Clemson sits in a decent state for talent, and that state borders two others that are even better (GA & NC).  They have a very good stadium, and they actually have some history from which to draw.  Surely a Bowden at the helm of the Rock Rubbers would put them over the top.  Tommy Bowden arrived at Clemson at just the right time to build a program that could make a splash on the national scene.  Look at the rest of the ACC at that point: 

UNC- the ultimate underachieving team in that conference.  They lost a decent coach in Mack Brown, and always lose the best players in the state to the Tennessee Football Program. 

N.C. State- never been consistently good.  They were about to change coaches.  Not much enthusiasm in the fan base. 

Georgia Trek- building a good foundation at that point, but not really able to consistently recruit the players needed to be at the top with FSU. 

Virginia- George Welsh was winding down his career, and it was a good one.  He did about as well as can be done at UVA. 

Duke and Wake- no chance. 

Maryland- nothing since Boomer. 

Bowden had taken lowly Tulane to an undefeated record.  With the resources at Clemson, he looked to be a dangerous coach in a very weak conference.  His reputation as an offensive innovator was good, and the Bowden name would lend instant credibility.  The television producers swooned at the prospect of Diddy and Tommy on the field, Momma in the stands, and Terry in the booth.   

Things have changed since that first year of the Bowden regime at Clemson.  FSU looks a bit more vulnerable, but the rest of the conference has changed as well.  N.C. State, Virginia and UNC have hired new coaches who are serious about winning.  Maryland made a seriously strong hire last year, and immediately won the conference title.  Also, South Carolina brought in Lou Holtz, to make the in-state recruiting battles and end of the year game a little more interesting.  After a big initial (mostly media generated) splash, Bowden is found with a 22-14 record that would have him sitting on the edge of the hot-seat at many big-name schools.  This is a big year for the Clemson Tigers.  Another 9-3 season would mean that things might be headed in the right direction.  Another 7-5 year spells stagnation.   

The Clemson Offense 

The Clemson offense is a difficult thing to get a handle on because for the past two years it has been tied so intimately to the talents of one player, Woodrow Dantzler.  He was the kind of player that could take over a game by himself, throwing or running.  Clemson has basically been running some variations on the old single wing offense.  That takes a special player at quarterback in this day and age.  Dantzler's legs and arm accounted for 70% of Clemson's offense.  He was their leading rusher by almost 500 yards over the next most productive back.  I don't know exactly what to expect from them this year, other than less from the player at quarterback.  They could actually end up being a little better by not relying so much on one player. 

The passing attack is a bit like the Donnan offense (Quincy version).  Clemson works the short stuff and the screens a lot, but they do like to take some deep shots as well.  Play action is not a big part of the arsenal.  They operate out of the shotgun at least as often as not, and the pass generally sets up the run.  They go to four and five WRs more than just about anyone in the ACC or SEC.  It is a little like the Hal Mumme/Mark Mangino offense, but they run more, and are a little more vertical in the passing game.  It is just another version of the spread offense that has become so popular these days. 

The rushing attack is mostly draws, but they have the basic I-formation stuff when needed.  The quarterback does a lot of the running, or at least did so when it was Dantzler.  He had 221 of their 518 total rushing attempts.  To compliment Dantzler, they also had a good tailback in Travis Zachery.  The personnel losses may dictate a different attack this season.  The run/pass ratio might stay the same, but the rushing attack might be more conventional. 

Offensive line.  This group is often asked to pass protect without any help from a back. Clemson uses a five wide set a lot.  The line was decent last year, but Dantzler's athleticism saved more than its share of sacks.  The projected lineup includes players with a total of 15 starts in 2001.  The average weight is under 300 lbs. The average height is under 6'4".   

Overall, they lack size, and there is very little experience.   

How we match up with them.  I like our chances.  Our DL is young but talented, and we actually have the experience advantage.  I think we can stuff their rushing attack.  We do not rush the passer well, but they get rid of the ball in a hurry anyway.  I think we get the nod in this match up. 

Running Backs. They lost their best in Zachery.  The best of the returning players is

Bernard Rambert RB

Bernard Rambert, who rushed for 368 yards on 75 carries.  While that is decent production from a backup, I'm not shaking in my shoes, are you?  He is by far their most proven runner.  Dantzler and Zachary accounted for 70% of the carries last year.  The fullback, Chad Jasmin, was actually a pretty productive runner last season, and he blocks well, from what I have seen.  They throw to the tailback a lot.  The fullback is not a receiver in their offense. 

How we match up with them.  Our speed and muscle on the front seven is good enough to neutralize their running game.  They aren't going to beat us running the ball, but they could hurt us with the draw.  We defended the draw pretty well last year. 

Receivers.   The receiving corp is talented, but took a hit in losing Roscoe Crosby to elbow surgery.  They need good receivers to run the offense, and they have them. 

Airese Curry WR

Derrick Hamilton is the one to watch.  At 6'4" he will remind you of someone near and dear to our hearts, but he isn't quite that good.  He was their leading receiver a year ago, and caught 24 more passes than any other returning player.  Airese Currie is a talented player who had a pretty good freshman year in 01.  He will see more playing time with Crosby sitting out.  Don't be shocked if true freshman Kelvin Grant works his way into the lineup.  He is one that we really wanted to sign.  Another guy to watch is Kevin Youngblood.  He is 6'5", which means they can go very tall with Hamilton and Youngblood.  They also have 6'4" J.J. McKelvey, who was productive in 01.  All of their top receivers are 5'11" or taller.  This is a seriously TALL group of receivers.  They don't go to the tight end much. 

How we match up.  I don't feel all that good about it.  Bryant and Thornton have shown that they can play some ball, but they can only cover one guy at a time each.  Our safeties are talented, but they will really have to be disciplined against a spread offense. Coming up in run support will be of little significance in this game, but busting up screens will be important.  Open field tackling will have to be good to minimize yards gained after the catch.  I would feel a lot better with screen busters like Wansley, Flip and Spoon still around.  Clemson will throw early and often, and they are going to complete some.  We struggled against taller receivers last year, and we still don't know if our staff feels comfortable with a nickel defense.  This would be a good time to come up with one. 

Quarterback.  How do you replace 70% of the offense?  With someone similarly skilled? Or do you go another direction?  Willie Simmons saw action in five games last year, and showed some ability.  He throws pretty well, and has good mobility.  He doesn't run or throw as well as Dantzler.  He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, completed only 36.4% of his passes, and his longest run was for 12 yards.  Charlie Whitehurst is more in the mold of a traditional dropback passer, and he looks like a good one in the making.  He is not stationary, but neither is he a threat to take a QB draw 60 yards for a touchdown.  Simmons is going to start against us, but Whitehurst will probably get a couple of series. 

How we match up. I am starting to feel a little better about covering those receivers.  Somebody has to get them the ball.  Still, we have a way of making average or inexperienced QBs look like Dan Marino.  Heck, years ago we even made Dan Marino look like Dan Marino, but I digress.   

Gameplan: UGA defense vs. Clemson offense: 

Keep them in front of us and tackle well; don't give up the big play.  While many of us grew tired of this approach in the Kines/Gibbs years, this is what we are likely to do against the Tigers.  Their receivers will cause some problems for our corners.  Bryant makes plays, but Thornton to this point has not.  Our best pass rushers have left, and our linebackers are not terribly effective blitzers.  Clemson gets rid of the ball quickly, and their draws and screens make sending an all out blitz difficult.  Our DEs are pretty good at getting out in pursuit, and that helps against the wide receiver screen.  Zone blitzing makes sense against them, and could prompt some bad throws from a new quarterback.  They will need to consistently complete short and medium range passes to move the ball.  That will tough with new playmakers on offense, and a line that is overmatched physically.  VanGorder isn't going to play any game completely vanilla, so expect to see a good bit of 3-4 looks on third down, and zone blitzing when Clemson lines up in a more conventional set. 

The Clemson Defense

Total Defense 71
Scoring Defense 78
Rushing Defense 69
Passing Defense 66
Passing Eff. Defense 84

 There was one?  Not really.  The Clemson defense was pretty bad in 2001, causing a coordinator change.  This will likely mean a philosophy change as well.  In, is John Lovett, who we last saw coaching at Auburn, and having a great outing against us (but not against anyone else in their last six games).  The Tigers will probably be more conventional on defense, and that will probably help against the Dawgs.  If anything, Mark Richt can tear up the teams that blitz a lot (see offensive output against Arkansas and Tennessee), but we struggled when teams played us more conventionally (see Florida and Auburn games).  Lovett will draw heavily from last year's Auburn film, and why wouldn't he? 

Defensive Line.  This group was weak against the run in 2001, the Ole Miss kind of weak.  Is there any reason to think they will be any better in 2002?  Maybe.  New coaching could help.  The new scheme will probably leave them in better position to play the run. Three starters return, and they will probably improve.  This group produced an impressive number of sacks and tackles for loss in 2001, which makes their overall performance all the more interesting.  The scheme was high risk, and the results were feast or famine.  These guys do know how to rush the passer.  The returners racked up 14 sacks and 36 tackles for loss.  They also gave up 154.3 rushing yards per game. Bryant McNeal is impressive at DE.   

The projected starters average 272 lbs. on the front four.  That is not very big, especially when you consider that one guy (Donnell Washington) weighs in at 320.  Their is some experience in this group, but they are undersized.  They will probably not be as active in the new scheme in terms of stunting and rushing the passer, and the results will probably be a little better for the overall defense. 

How we match up.  This should be the mismatch of the game.  The UGA line should push them around, and keep them off of the passer pretty well.  They don't have much depth, and what they have is not very big.  If the Dawgs can't win this line of scrimmage, it might be a very long day.  We beat at least four teams last year with better DLs than this.  Their guys are used to stunting on nearly every play.  Their speed will not be anything our guys haven't seen before. 

John Leake LB

Linebackers.  This is not a great group, but Clemson always seems to have at least a respectable linebacking corp.   Their tackling was not great last year, but that is the sort of thing a new coach will emphasize.  They return two starters, and they were active.  John Leake and Rodney Thomas were two of the top four tacklers last year.  Thomas is the heaviest of their linebackers at 220 lbs.  There is very good speed in this group, which is good because they lack size. 

How we match up. Our center, tight end and fullback will be blocking these guys, and they should get the better of the Tigers.  We have very good run blockers at those positions.  These guys had a hard time with physical rushing attacks, so if Musa can stay healthy..........................................   

Secondary.  They surrendered a lot of yards and touchdowns.  They will play more

Toure Francis CB

zone now, and will probably be in better position.  They looked fundamentally unsound last year.  Duke torched them a couple of times!!!  Duke's receivers couldn't crack the two deep at Vandy.  Three starters return, including one-time super recruit Brian Mance.  There is good size and athleticism, but it led to only 13 interceptions in 2001.  They should have been better than they were.  Tommy Bowden is saying that he wants more turnovers, but they really need to worry about giving up big plays. 

How we match up.  Our receivers are better than those at N.C. State, Central Florida, Duke and La. Tech, all of whom torched the Tigers last year.  Their guys should improve, and they go against good receivers in practice.  Still, this should be a UGA advantage.  The only teams that didn't air it out against Clemson were those who had it so easy on the ground that they didn't need to pass. 

Gameplan: UGA Offense vs. Clemson Defense 

Their new coordinator did a good job of stopping us last year.  He mixed in a lot of cover 2, and didn't crowd the box and blitz much at all.  It is a safe bet that he will do the same, but with less talent than he had at Auburn.  We will see what Richt learned.  Last season he wasn't quite ready to believe that Verron Haynes could carry the ground attack when we played Auburn.  They were daring us to run against seven men in the box.  Clemson's DL isn't nearly as strong, and their linebackers are not nearly as good, so........................... if Musa is healthy ................................................................ pounding them on the ground until they respect the run is the way to go.  If they can't stop us on the ground, the game is over.  The best matchup we have is our line, fullback and tight end against their front seven.  Everybody is going to try to take away Fred Gibson this year, and Clemson will be the first.  I am sure we will still take our shots down the field, but those bombs will be set up by the running game.  The team that Clemson played last year that most resembled us on offense was FSU.  FSU ripped Clemson a new one (557 yards of offense, 5 touchdowns).  We should have at least some success.  I would expect a gameplan that is something like the one we had against Tech last year. 

Clemson Special Teams 

This should be interesting.  While we are very good at returning kickoffs and punts, Clemson is every bit as good, if not better.  They don't cover as well as we do, but their return game is dangerous.  They have a very good place kicker, who only missed two attempts last year.  Their punter is Wynn Kopp, and he hasn't improved much since he transferred. 


This Clemson team has speed and pretty good players at the skill positions.  They are as talented as we are at receiver and maybe at running back and defensive back.  They shouldn't match up with us on either line, and we have a lot more experience at quarterback.  Comparing the rosters shows something about the difference between the SEC and ACC.  They simply aren't as big and strong on the lines of scrimmage.  The only matchup where they have an advantage is their receivers against our secondary.  Their offense is probably going to move the ball and score some points.  So should ours.  We might even win the battle for time of possession (for those of you who obsess about such things), since they run the no huddle also.  We simply have more talent on the lines, and there is no advantage to them in coaching in any facet.  The game is at home, and we should handle them.  A ten point Dawg win sounds about right, but I'll make a more firm prediction against the spread when the time comes (for entertainment purposes only, of course).

Charles Stephenson is a general columnist for DawgPost.com. Readers can expect to see more from him in the near future, and he is another reason why this is the best site for Georgia fans on the net.

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