“Championship Phase” is upon us, and the Tigers rounded into top form after an explosive display of strength against Boston College last week. The defense continues to impress beyond expectations as a pretty formidable Boston College run game was stoned for less than 100 yards. Meanwhile, the offense played its best football of the year with no turnovers and minimal penalties. In the end, it proved what most Clemson followers already know: this is the best team in the country when it plays a clean game.
Unfortunately for me, my undergraduate alma mater is Wofford College. My least favorite thing is when my two schools play each other in anything. I’ll be at the game Saturday with some mix of gear on between the two, probably sitting on my hands as the game unfolds. We all know that this is a glorified scrimmage and a way for Wofford to support its program with the paycheck it will get from visiting Clemson with no return game. While Wofford is a competitive FCS program, and indeed gave Clemson a mighty scare back in 2011, there is little to think the Terriers will be able to compete with the Tigers on Saturday, especially playing in November rather than the usual September when we traditionally see the FCS game take place.
Clemson offense vs. Wofford defense: I’ve followed the Terriers for a long time, not as long as Clemson, but from the year before I enrolled there to the present. Wofford traditionally plays the run pretty well and struggles to defend the pass. This usually doesn’t hurt them too badly in the FCS world because you don’t see the type of QB/WR attacks at that level that you generally see at the FBS one. Alas, the best Wofford teams over the last few years ultimately fell to teams like Delaware with Joe Flacco or North Dakota State’s spread attack in the playoffs.
The Terriers run out of a base 3-4 scheme and love to play loose Cover 1 while bringing a safety down to help against the run. The Terrier defense wants to help maximize time of possession for the offense, so it is built to prevent teams from trying to grind out drives with the run and the quick passing attack. The downside is the Terriers are usually susceptible to explosive plays, especially in the passing game. Clemson should have little issue finding these opportunities. It is likely another great opportunity for guys like Diondre Overton, Cornell Powell, and T.J. Chase to make some plays and get in the endzone with their extended snap opportunities. Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson should also see some chances while they continue to grow their roles.
Travis Etienne has gotten back to being that Alpha back for the offense as has put up three straight 100+ yard performances. Another one Saturday will put him over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. I was probably most excited about that option route catch he made last week over the middle of the field. It was a sharp route, clean catch, and is the perfect way for Clemson to attack those 2 deep/man under concepts when a linebacker matches up on Etienne coming out. Running that behind four verticals creates a ton of space for the mismatch to occur.
Clemson defense vs. Wofford offense: Clemson had to face some version of the triple-option three times last season with Furman, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech. Now Wofford is the only game the Tigers will see it. Wofford made the move from the traditional wishbone triple option when I was in school there to a shotgun based version that helps them spread the defenses out more. It is similar to what we saw from Georgia Southern and Furman last year. Like all option attacks, Wofford depends on establishing the dive play inside to set everything else up. When Brent Venables arrived at Clemson, he quickly got his defenses to stone the dive play from GT, and eventually we saw Clemson hand GT their worst rushing performances of the Paul Johnson era.
I was certainly encouraged with how Clemson held up against the power running game of Boston College, although A.J. Dillon had his best yards and yards per carry outing he has had vs. Clemson in his career. Tyler Davis, Nyles Pinckney, and Jordan Williams continue to improve inside. It will be interesting to see how Venables chooses to line up this time around, but it isn’t a stretch to think Isaiah Simmons will have a major impact on this game when you consider how much former SAM Dorian O’Daniel shined facing the option. My advice to the Wofford offensive staff would not be to option the SAM because Simmons is likely able to force a pitch and bury the pitch man by himself.
When you consider that it probably easier to worry about Clemson against the run than against the pass, games like this are good to gauge things. The Tigers have faced two strong run-based offenses in a row with Louisville and Boston College and come out with flying colors. We will see if they can keep that consistency against an opponent an immature team might not take seriously.
Special Teams: Boston College’s punter averaged 48 yards a punt on 11 freaking punts. The Ray Guy curse lives on. There was another missed field goal from Potter, though he struck the ball well, but that inconsistency is a worry should Clemson find itself in a close game down the road.
Overall: This game could very well be like the Charlotte game where we see wholesale substitutions beginning in the second quarter. Freshmen sitting on three games played might see this one as their fourth before being shut down for redshirt purposes. The only exception might be Taisun Phommachanh who travels as the third QB on the road, hence seeing Ben Batson take snaps last week. The staff just wants to handle business and avoid injuries. I’m hopeful both sides avoid it so that the Terriers can continue to push for a Southern Conference title and a playoff birth of their own.
Due to my conflicts on this game, I will refrain from a score prediction. Clemson will win the game.