I'm not going to pretend that I know a ton about South Carolina State football other than what I have read in WelbornTiger's article and seen from them when they have played Clemson. I don't think matchups are important to get into as we will when the Tigers play conference opponents and the coots. Instead, I will focus this preview on what the Tigers need to do against a serviceable FCS opponent to give the Tiger faithful a little more hope of springing the upset in Tallahassee on September 20th. If this game is competitive beyond the first quarter, I will have great concerns about that. Ryan Kantor's Q&A article is a good one to check out to get a few names of guys to watch for the Bulldogs.
#1: Special Teams Improvement: I hope a great deal of time and energy has been spent this week tightening up the special teams. I don't care how many starters they need to put on coverage units, but that has to be addressed because we all know FSU has the horses to make us pay for pathetic kick coverage like we saw in Athens. I might have gotten upset about the semi-wedge UGA used IF we actually had guys for the wedge to block. Our guys were so far out of position that most of the lead blockers didn't have much to do but run with Gurley. I saw a lot of numbers on that unit that we don't normally see in the main 22, so FIX it. I would almost advise Pinion to kick returnable kicks all day Saturday just so we can work on it. Dabo did what he had to regarding Lakip, which was publicly support him. I think a major part of Jad Dean sucking his last year was Tommy Bowden throwing him under the bus publicly. Hopefully we won't see any more shanks like we saw in Athens.
#2: Offensive Line: Last year SC State's defensive line gave our OL fits as Chad went vanilla and tried to see if we could just run it when they knew we were going to run it. I'm interested to see what the infusion of David Beasley leads to with the OL. One guess is using Kalon Davis at RT, which is a move I would endorse at this point. Certainly Joe Gore should start and be given a chance to redeem himself after a very poor second half in Athens, but the Tigers must have a contingency plan for Gore NOT getting it together. Davis should get some reps this week at tackle and allow David Beasley and especially Tyrone Crowder to get meaningful snaps at guard. Jay Guillermo and Ryan Norton should be in a legitimate battle for starting center, so this is a good game to let them compete for it.
#3: Running Back: I fully understand the decision to play Howard more against UGA considering what they can bring with blitz packages. Now is the perfect time to find a real answer at running back, which most everyone knows is not Howard. I fully expect Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice to get heavy work in this game, especially if it is put away by halftime as it should be. C.J. Davidson has earned his time as well, but I think the staff is more comfortable knowing what he can do so Gallman and Choice can get the extra work. We all need to see somebody be able to create more than what the OL provides via breaking tackles or making good open field moves. This is what Hot Rod gave us last year.
#4: Defensive Dominance: Last year's game was 90% domination from the defense, but the two long TD passes given up put a damper on that. I expect the defense to be pissed off from how they wilted in Athens and look to throw a shutout on Saturday. It has been a long time since that happened. Guys like Tony Steward and the young corners Cordrea Tankersley and Mac Alexander need to show growth in their recognition of plays and their gap responsibilities in the run game. South Carolina State has a veteran offense and provides a pulse on that side of the ball for sure, so that would make a shutout nothing to sneeze at. I'm interested to see if Korie Rogers or Kendall Joseph get a look or if one or both are held hoping for the redshirt. Those are two we could use on the coverage units if nothing else, but that alone isn't worth burning the redshirt.
#5: Quarterback Play: Many fans are looking to see what kind of pressure Deshaun Watson can put on Cole Stoudt for the starting job. I believe there is no way Watson starts (barring injury) before mid-season. Stoudt didn't play himself out of the job in Athens as much as he presented some concerns on his ability to drive the football. We aren't going to see much beyond the base offense on Saturday, so it will be all about making the correct checks and reads. Stoudt put up an amazing performance against the Bulldogs last season, mainly by attacking them underneath which Tajh Boyd was reluctant to do. That was when defenses were scared to death of our going over the top, which is a fear Clemson has to work to regain with this unit. The opportunities should be there for some deep balls and Stoudt needs to show he can make those plays. Watson should get 40% of the snaps if things go as they should and I'm sure we will see more of the immense talent he brings to the table. Hopefully the offensive line will give these guys a chance to do their thing.
It took a little bit for the 2011 offense to really catch fire, so I'm not pushing any panic buttons on that side of the ball just yet. It was foolish to think a unit with so many new major parts would just run seamlessly in game one. The first half actually was better than what I expected in many ways, especially when you factor in three huge plays negated by drops. Chad Morris pointed out 31 busts from the film, which at the minimum needs to get cut in half if we are going to have visions of beating FSU.