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Clemson Football Preview: #1 Clemson hosts Charlotte

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We are all Hollywood stars now!

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s funny when you watch a game feeling like the offense is sputtering a bit, then look up at the end to see over 600 yards. That just goes to show you how electric this 2019 unit really is. Meanwhile, the Clemson defense continues to surpass all expectations (except maybe Brent Venables’), stoning the Syracuse Orange on their own turf. I won’t call for double digit points out of the opposition for a while! Tiger fans (including this one) will get a nice treat of a night game in September v. an opponent which usually equates to a noon kickoff. The ACC Network has been pretty awesome so far, and included in the perks is an extra night slot for TV for the league that the old Raycom deal didn’t provide; Raycom was 12:30 and that was it. I’m personally looking forward to seeing this team first hand for the first time this year with my superfan daughter. It should be a gorgeous day and evening to take in all the things that make Clemson football amazing.

Oh, and we also have a chance to be movie extras as the Ray Ray McElrathby story is adapted for a film and some shooting will occur during halftime. Maybe we will all get some residual checks in the mail down the road? No? Well, it should be cool to see anyway. In the meantime, there isn’t much standing in the way of Clemson and another unbeaten appearance in the ACC Championship Game.

Clemson defense vs. Charlotte offense: The Dime of Doom is getting a whole new definition this season as it has become a featured look vs. the passing down havoc package in previous seasons. The results have been stellar as the usually dangerous offenses of Texas A&M and Syracuse were rendered largely helpless. We’ve heard a great deal of hyperbole from Coach Swinney this week in regards to the Charlotte offense, including the “best run game” we have seen this year. What is true is that the 49ers have put up some eye popping numbers, albeit against two very bad teams in UMass (maybe the worst team of all FBS level) and Gardner-Webb of the FCS. However, they also put up 41 points on the road against Appalachian State, who are a quality program. Closer examination shows that 28 of those points came in the second half with App comfortably ahead, but the 20/31 for 296 and 4 TD stat line put up by QB Chris Reynolds is notable. This offense has a pulse for sure, which honestly is a good thing for Clemson’s still young defensive front to face. This stretch of games against heavily outgunned opponents still needs to lead to improvement for the eventual challenges of the playoff, so facing a team with some dangerous elements can be very beneficial.

Charlotte has been led by running back Ben Lemay, whom Venables compared to former UCLA and Jacksonville Jaguar star Maurice Jones-Drew. Lemay has put up some Etienne like stat lines with over 7 yards per carry in every game. The Tigers will certainly be tested in the run game this weekend, perhaps more than in any game this year. GT ran the ball a lot but not with the threat of the pass Charlotte presents to help open it up. Stuffing Lemay will be job one, then the team can pin its ears back to attack Reynolds the way it got after Tommy DeVito last week. Reynolds is a much bigger run threat than DeVito, so we might see an approach closer to what was used against Kellen Mond in week 2. This is certainly a lot better for the team than seeing a triple option type deal like what Georgia Southern brought to town last year. This Clemson defense is hungry and playing super fast, so this part of the game should be a lot of fun to watch.

Clemson offense vs. Charlotte defense: This is where the major mismatch is found, at least on paper. The Charlotte defense might boast some good sack numbers, but its defense was absolutely gutted by the App State run game, especially Mountaineer RB Darrynton Evans who went for 234 yards on 19 carries and 3 TDs. Travis Etienne should be excited to see this defense after having two straight weeks of opponents sending the house after him on nearly every carry. Charlotte will likely try that also, but lack the quality in the front seven the Aggies have or the quality in the back four the Orange have to make it somewhat effective. Clemson should be able to do just about whatever it wants on offense and name its score. It will be interesting to see how Tony Elliot uses the freshmen running backs who have already played in 2 games. If they are going to hold one, we might know it after Saturday night. If both Dukes and Mellusi play again, my money is that neither will redshirt.

We’ve seen two teams sell out to stop/slow Etienne and one play a ton of coverage to limit Lawrence and #WRU. The former approach seems more effective, at least in the scoring column, but it is only a matter of time before Lawrence and the receivers get fully in sync and make some of those big plays they have just missed on so far. The welcome return to health for Amari Rodgers takes the offense up a notch, and we will continue to monitor the growth of the young tight ends Davis Allen and Jaelyn Lay. If a weapon emerges there, the offense will be one for the history books.

Special Teams: Charlotte got worked badly in this phase against App State. They missed an extra point, had a punt blocked for a score, and gave up a kick return TD. Clemson has avoided disaster, though there hasn’t been much explosiveness in the return game as of yet. Thankfully, the best two punters Clemson will face are in the rear view mirror now so maybe we will get to see some punt returns and decent field position.

Overall: Clemson is a 40 point favorite in this game. The only question is will they cover the spread? How long can Charlotte keep things interesting? They do have what looks to be a rising star in Coach Will Healy who will surely look back at what Troy and Neal Brown were able to do in 2016. However, this Clemson team is deeper and more powerful on the offensive front than the 2016 team. Trevor Lawrence has five picks and is extremely unlikely to put out an unfocused effort to provide Charlotte some sloppy play to take advantage of. The Tigers will empty the bench in this one.

Clemson 58-Charlotte 9