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Clemson vs. Wofford Preview

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As a friend of mine back in the day would say, "It's TIME TO GO!"

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I must first start by offering this disclaimer: I am put in an awkward position this week as I am in fact a proud Wofford College graduate.  Though my father is a Clemson alum and I grew up with the orange and have continued that support and love through my high school, college, and post graduate years (obviously, as I write on this site!), I spent four great years getting my education at Wofford.  I therefore am about as excited for this as I would be the Orange and White game.  The good news for you is that I am as informed about the Terriers as I would be anyone else around and hope that makes this a better article.

That said, let's start with the Wofford program's recent history.  The Terriers made the jump to full Division 1 during my time there in the mid 1990s.  Mike Ayers was the coach then as he is now, and the T-dogs were running option football then as they are now.  There was a dynamo option QB by the name of Shawn Graves who graduated just before my arrival that ripped up Division II football from the wishbone.  It didn't take Wofford long to compete with and beat established FCS programs once the jump was made.  The Carolina Panthers use Wofford for training camp and helped a major facility overhaul effort that aided in the quick jump to respectability.  The Terriers have been regulars in the FCS top 25 over the last decade or more thanks to a proven formula for success and the stability of Coach Ayers' program.  His teams are most dangerous when he has a veteran group such as the one he has this year.  Make no mistake, the Tigers will be tested on Saturday unless Wofford has a bad day execution wise.  Clemson had all they wanted in 2011, and the Terriers also have made life miserable for the chickens when they have played them

Clemson Offense versus Wofford Defense: Most folks point to this as the major mismatch area in this game and I would have to agree.  Wofford generally employs a 3-4 defense but will use some 3-3-5 as well.  They attacked Clemson with a ton of twisting and stunting in 2011 that really gave Clemson's OL fits.  As a result, the run game struggled most of that day (outside of a long 74 yard run for a score by current Arizona Cardinal Andre Ellington), and Tajh Boyd was sacked 4 times.  That said, Wofford traditionally struggles with strong passing attacks as they tend to lack the difference makers in coverage to handle athletes like Clemson has.  They really have to rely on causing confusion for the Tiger OL to have any chance of slowing down Watson and top flight skill players on the team.  This is a veteran Terrier team on both sides of the ball and the defense boasts 9 returning starters.  This increases the likelihood that Wofford can and will be throwing the kitchen sink at the Tigers trying to create a mistake or get them behind the chains.  Expect very little straight forward base looks on Saturday, though the Tigers will likely try to use tempo to limit some of those options.

Senior NT E.J. Speller is the best DL on the team and is tasked with clogging up the middle and testing the center.  Wofford probably feels they can cause problems for Ryan Norton by letting Speller go head up on him.  Clemson fans will see what improvement, if any, Norton has really made.  Wofford has pretty good size for an FCS defense in their back seven.  The corners are 5'11 to 6 feet tall and in the 185-190 range, and both starting safeties are listed at 6'2" and 215 pounds.  How well they run will be a question that will be quickly answered against the Tiger jet sweep and screen game.  It goes without saying that the Terriers will be in serious trouble if they can't get disruption in the backfield to bother the run game and to pressure Watson.  It will be interesting to see if Wofford elects to keep the safeties back.  Clemson will need to show it can run at will against that look should it be presented.   An interesting side note is that the Wofford corners are coached by former Tiger corner Brian Mance.

Clemson defense versus Wofford offense: If this game is going to be competitive into the fourth quarter, as it was in 2011, this is the side of the ball where Wofford has to make it happen.  The Terriers' defensive plan will be to hope for just enough stops and/or turnovers to get their option attack the extra at-bats to eat clock and frustrate the Tigers. Clemson fans know this script all too well from dealing with the Yellow Jackets under Paul Johnson.  Wofford is more multiple in formation than GT and uses some different blocking schemes up front.  Some of this is nicely detailed in Alex Craft's (no relation) article you can visit here.  Wofford also will use at least two (maybe even three or four) quarterbacks.  The starter is Evan Jacks who is probably the most dangerous runner of the Terrier signal callers.  Jacks averaged over 5 yards a carry last year.  Wofford also will use big 6'4"  senior Michael Weimer behind center who is a little more of a passing threat (though his numbers were very similar to Jacks last year in that regard).  Wofford isn't looking to throw much, and Deshaun Watson nearly had as many passing yards and touchdowns against UNC last year as the entire Terrier team had for 2014.  Just like with GT, the Terriers use the pass as a "gotcha" element hoping for a big play over the top. Wofford only completed 2 passes in 2011, but they were for 127 yards and a score. Wofford will look to eat 3 to 4 yards with the run game to set up third/fourth and shorts they can get while waiting to catch the defense in a bad fit and bust the big run for a cheap score here and there.

First and second down defense are essential for Brent Venables and the Tigers as they look to force Wofford into passing more than they'd like.  Wofford goes for it on fourth down a good bit if they need 3 or less, and it is a very frustrating thing on defense to hold for three downs and not see the punter come out.  The Terriers have to be happy that Grady Jarrett is now in Atlanta and not coming out to bust up the dive play on Saturday.  Carlos Watkins and crew are now charged with trying to eliminate the life-blood of the option offense.  The other big objective is to punish the quarterback on every run play.  I always like to see the man with quarterback responsibility just unload on him no matter what against the option.  When Wofford has struggled in games, it usually is a result of bad pitches and penalties getting them behind schedule.  Clemson must stop the fullback first and foremost, and that man is Lorenzo Long for the Terriers.  Long racked up nearly 1000 yards last year.  Speedy Will Gay is a dangerous threat on the toss sweep and pitch on the option, but like GT, Wofford will use a lot of running backs during the course of the game.

Special Teams: Once again Tiger fans will be holding their breath a bit in kicking situations. When the Terriers do choose to punt, can the Tigers find some difference making plays in the return game?  What are kickoffs going to look like?  Can young Greg Huegel nail a field goal with the fans in the stands?  Can the Tigers afford to keep Boulware and Goodson off coverage teams?  These are questions that need answering before that trip to Louisville.

Overall: Clemson certainly hopes to come down the hill and fire on all cylinders early to get the game in hand before the half.  Wofford has not made that an easy task for folks over the years, but it could happen if the Tigers can generate some early turnovers or 3 and outs.  The Tigers would love to be able to roll the young backups into the game and start getting them experience while keeping the starters healthy.  I wouldn't be surprised if this game takes a while for Clemson to get full control of because of the youth of the Tiger defensive front and the host of veterans Wofford has on offense.  Wofford is a team that will contend for the Southern Conference crown this year, but a true playoff contender at the FBS level should win going away in this type of game.  Clemson's 1981 season began with a tilt with the Terriers, and it would be something if 2015 turns into a special year after beginning with Wofford.  As for me, I'd prefer the Tigers take on Coastal, Furman, or The Citadel for an instate FCS matchup and let the Terriers terrorize USCjr instead.