Thoughts Prior to the Season Opener

I'll start with the obligatory rant (and hope to avoid dumb grammatical mistakes this time).  Apparently going 6-7 the previous season, having no quality depth up front, and playing a lot of inexperienced players makes you underrated?  Coach Swinney seems to think so and isn't afraid to tell folks about it.  I thought we were going to see a tempered Dabo this year but, as the season gets closer, he cannot resist the urge to politic for the locals. 

Until we go out and do something, we are an average team-well below average with last season's carryover.  You are what your record says you are...right now we're 0-0 coming off of a very poor 2010 campaign.  I am not sure that the Sweatshirt understands the difference between potential and actuality and I want to be sure that all of our readers out there do understand.  Be cautious of unwarranted praise.  There are reasons to be optimistic (influx of skill players and linebacker talent are the obvious ones) and there are reasons to be cautious (little depth up front on both sides of the ball and a loss of experience in the defensive secondary).  There is nothing wrong with being optimistic or hopeful for your team, just be sure you are basing your opinion on reality not cheerleading in front of a microphone.

Troy Overall

While watching the Troy game, remember that Troy is a respectable team that won five consecutive Sun Belt titles.  They pull in quality JC and borderline qualifier talent every year.  I get the feeling that even though they are returning their starting QB from a year ago, they will have some growing pains early, particularly at the receiver position and along the offensive line.  Their secondary was less than impressive a year ago and I look for more of the same this season.  We spent some time earlier in the week looking at Troy and here is what we found through our analysis

Now for Clemson...

Offensive Items

First off, I'll point back to the basics of the Clemson offense via this LINK.   Please review these items to assure that you know how Chad Morris' attack really works and what you can expect out of this offense.

Everyone-even offensive coordinator Chad Morris-has a lot of questions about how Clemson's offense will perform once the season finally starts.  Per ESPN.com,

"The biggest concern is anytime you put a first-year quarterback out there and some younger guys, how are they going to respond?" Morris said. "That's probably my biggest concern. I have a feeling they're going to do what they've done in practice, and get better as the game goes, but until you start fighting the battles together, you just don't know."

You shouldn't need us to remind you, but the key individual matchup tomorrow is Troy DE Jonathan Massaquoi against the Clemson offensive tackles, particularly Phillip Price and any substituted OT's.  We have been cautiously critical of former walk on Phillip Price and second teamer Brandon Thomas.  We told you that, optimally, Mason Cloy would start at guard and David Smith would move to tackle but, with no quality depth up front-particularly at center-that's not an option.

We'll obviously watch everything and will be interested in Tajh Boyd, who makes his first start against the Trojans.  I expect Chad Morris will ease Boyd into live action through his new offense with a very run-heavy strategy.  Notice Boyd's decision making through designed run options in addition to production through the air.  We'll be interested in seeing his mechanics and, specifically, footwork and arm position/motion improvements made under Morris' guidance.

I am interested in game flow and how the fast paced offense and unique play signaling will work early at Clemson.  We all expect some growing pains and doing the little things (like maintaining pace of play, getting the play in correctly, avoiding motion mistakes, etc...) correctly allows the players and coaches to focus on the bigger things like strategy and implementation of more offensive items and weapons.

All eyes will be on Freshman Sammy Watkins.  Watkins becomes one of the rare Clemson players to start his first game as a true freshman at CU.  We've heard the praise he's received including somewhat of a man-crush the Sweatshirt has professed through the media.  It's premature to put this much pressure on this young man this early.

Defensive Items

Troy plays a spread scheme and, in years past, has aired it out early and often.  While we don't think they will throw the ball as much or as well as a year ago due to key WR losses, they will force Clemson into a Nickel look for a large portion of the game.  Troy will likely use their running backs more in the passing game, so look to see how Clemson responds to the back-out and screen items that they may see.  We'll get to see younger defensive backs gain experience, which is much needed.  The flip side is the Nickel look takes one linebacker off the field so we won't get to see the new blood at this position as much as many folks would like.

I'll be looking at the defensive line.  If we struggle there, we are in big, big trouble as I am critical of Troy's line based on last year's results and losses from their line a year ago.  The Clemson starters are expected to play well but the backups, particularly on the interior portion of the line, likely will show a significant dropoff.  I'll also watch and see how the losses of Jarvis Jenkns and Da'Quan Bowers from last year's squad affect pass rush and stopping the run.

We talked a little bit about the 3-4 this offseason and I expect to see little if any of this look Saturday.  Against the Spread, Clemson will show a Nickel look as stated earlier.  Clemson's Nickel is, like the vast majority of Nickel packages, a four man front with two LB's and the two corners, two safeties and, as the namesake indicates, a nickelback.

Special Teams Items

Like the receivers on offense, we will have a lot of new faces returning kicks against Troy, including Watkins and Mike Bellamy.  It will be interesting to see these freshmen return kicks.  Dawson Zimmerman is back for his senior campaign and we expect good, consistent play here.  Placekicking is the big question mark.  If we miss an extra point, expect lots and lots of bad language.  I personally want to see Catman convert a couple kicks to hopefully gain confidence.  I don't even want to predict our success rate in this area.

Overall

This game is one against a respectable non-AQ team in Troy.  Troy does not have the overall talent to beat Clemson.  They can, however, push Clemson in several areas listed above.  We'll have an idea about several areas following this contest but we won't have all our questions answered (those will have to wait until at least the last Saturday of this month).  We'll struggle at times and hit some big ones.  The biggest thing we can do (other than get a win), however, is use these first two games to assure we are prepared for a really, really tough three game stretch for Games 3-5.

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