I'm feeling a little better about last weekend as we get closer to game two of the 2016 schedule. It certainly wasn't pretty at times and the offense fell considerably short of my lofty expectations, but at no point will I take a road win in a venue like that for granted. There was no doubt that Clemson was the better team, just as there wasn't at Louisville last year, but the mistakes and the inspired effort from Auburn kept things interesting right until the end. What was most inspiring was the validation that the Clemson defense can be just as disruptive as it has been the last two seasons. It remains to be seen what kind of team Auburn is going to have but it says a lot that they had to use the crazy game plan they used offensively. Now a much different kind of test awaits Coach Venables and his young defense.
Clemson Offense vs. Troy Defense: Welcome back to Clemson, Vic Koenning! Of course, the last time he was here Deshaun Watson dropped six TD's on him in his first college start. It is amazing that Clemson will have faced its last two defensive coordinators before Coach V in consecutive weeks. Kevin Steele put together a good plan that his team executed pretty well last week. I can't remember a game where I saw a team use as much man-free defense as Auburn did last week against Clemson. Koenning is very, very, very unlikely to follow that same path in the back as he is well known for avoidance of pure man coverage in the favor of blended zones. He will play man under but you can usually bet on zone behind it nearly every snap.
His first job will be trying to stop the Clemson run game without guys like Carl Lawson or Montravious Adams at his disposal. You can bet the Tiger OL will face all kinds of twists, slants, and stunts by the Troy front as it hopes to negate the overall physical advantages Clemson enjoys. This is where the veteran eyes of Watson and Jay Guillermo will be most valuable. If they can properly recognize what Troy is looking to do, they will check into something that should punish it. Clemson should return to the quicker pacing and tempo that was largely missing last week. Much of that was likely due to wanting to limit mistakes in a hostile environment and the OL avoided penalties all night. I expect things to crank up considerably as the Tigers will no doubt roll more guys into the game and look to grow the depth while wearing out the men of Troy. There has been talk about Troy double teaming Mike Williams or giving him the Calvin Johnson treatment (who Koenning famously neutralized while at Clemson), but I cannot see how he will be able to do that much without sacrificing run support. That treatment likely will be reserved for third and long type scenarios.
My expectations are that Clemson looks much sharper on offense and some of the staples (screen game, tempo, etc) are back in full swing. I certainly expect we will get the debut of Feast-Mode at some point on Saturday and I'm anxious to see #28 out there. Jordan Leggett could use a bounce back effort after a pretty lousy game at Auburn. Clemson's 500 yards a game streak ended at 11 so time to start a new one.
Clemson defense vs. Troy offense: Last week the Tigers had to face some wacky formations and personnel groupings from Auburn. This week, the Tigers will see a variation of the Texas Tech Air Raid offense with spread formations. Dabo has done his best to talk up this Troy team and they are a veteran group who can offer some challenges if the Tigers are not mentally sharp.
One unique feature Troy has for an Air Raid style team is a big feature back in Jordan Chunn. He's bigger than any of Clemson's running backs and is coming off a 161 yard outing in game one (albeit against Austin Peay, the butt of my father's "Let's Go Peay!" cheer joke). Troy is actually more committed to the run game than your usual Texas Tech/Hal Mumme disciple, so once again the Tigers will be geared to stuffing Chunn and the run game first and foremost. Clemson's new secondary was rarely tested at Auburn but I expect that to change in this game. This will be a true battle for the position between Mark Fields, Ryan Carter, and the returning Marcus Edmond as all will likely rotate at the corner opposite Tankersley. I'm sure the staff will be looking for the next two games to settle that position and define the pecking order.
Troy has a veteran quarterback in Brandon Silvers who has over 4,000 career yards and 33 touchdown passes to just 10 interceptions. Although I don't think Troy is on the level of Appalachian State, especially on defense, they are good enough to offer a nice proving ground for Clemson's defense. The Tigers were very impressive in week one, but it remains to be seen how the 2016 defense will fare against a team more committed to passing against it. Of course, the Tiger front four was tremendous at Auburn, especially Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins, and Clelin Ferrell. The next two weeks is all about building the depth this team will need going forward. Guys like Albert Huggins, Richard Yeargin, Tre Lamar, Denzell Johnson, and Tanner Muse should see a good bit of action.
Special Teams: This broken record is getting old. Once again, special teams was a low light for the Tigers last week. Although the total disaster play was averted, that missed extra point would have loomed very large had Auburn completed that first or second Hail Mary. That entire situation at the end was predicated by the staff's fear of attempting a field goal after seeing two snaps need terrific efforts out of Seth Ryan just to get the kick off. Field position was a nightmare in the second half because Clemson couldn't stop a punt from rolling 30 yards and its own punter struggled to flip the field adequately. I don't blame Swinney for having more faith in the defense than the kicking team late, but that says it all about the state of Clemson special teams at the moment. I'm sure I'm not alone in anxiously awaiting the promised improvements in this phase of the game.
Overall/Prediction: Clemson really needs these next two games to iron out the wrinkles and settle the depth chart. Deshaun Watson should be wearing a ball cap by the third quarter and anything less than that will be a real cause for concern. It has been an amazing five games since the Tigers took care of Wake Forest last year in the Valley and it will be great to see the Tigers back at home. Despite all the talk about Troy's capabilities, it is hard to imagine them putting up more of a fight than the Mountaineers did last year in game two. Of course, turnovers and sloppiness could make me eat my words, but I'm calling for the Tigers to flex their muscles and take this game 45-17.