Georgia Football: Know Your Enemy – Clemson
With the Clemson game being tomorrow, I decided to sit down with Clemson insider John Eckley and get his thoughts on the game. John is a Clemson graduate who knows his Tiger football better than anyone I’ve ever met, and surprisingly, has a full set of teeth.
What are Clemson’s biggest strengths?
Defense. Clemson’s front seven returns almost everyone including Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett and the back four should be much-improved with the addition of Mackensie Alexander and others. Dabo Swinney has said Alexander would have started last year, had he not pulled up with a groin injury that plagued him all last fall. This is clearly a team that will need to be carried by its defense after the loss of so many offensive weapons from last year’s team.
What position scares you the most for Clemson?
I can think of several places that make me nervous including wide receiver, placekicker, and even running back, but the clear answer is quarterback. In many ways this is a best-case scenario for Clemson at the position, having a seemingly poised fifth-year senior to replace the most prolific QB in school history, but when Saturday night gets here and 93,000 Georgia fans are yelling for his head on a silver platter, it’s just impossible to know how a kid is going to react. All indications are that this kid is a cool customer and he has NFL bloodlines, but it’s hard to imagine a tougher scenario for a first start.
What scares you the most about Georgia/ What will Clemson have the hardest time with with Georgia?
The four-headed monster that is Georgia’s running game. While I don’t claim to have any idea if the two five-star freshmen will play, the amount of talent in the backfield is sick. Speaking of sick, that’s how I feel when I’m reminded of the fact that Clemson finished second for both Gurley and Marshall. Additionally, a Pruitt-led Georgia defense comprised of lighter, sleeker, more hurry-up-no-huddle-equipped defenders also concerns me.
Biggest breakout player that people might not have heard of or at least really played yet?
While I could easily go with the up and coming tight end Jordan Leggett who will undoubtedly get more touches due to loss at WR or with redshirt freshman shutdown corner Mackensie Alexander, my outside the box prediction is Wayne Gallman, the former Grayson standout. You may remember him as being Robert Nkemdiche’s teammate, but don’t forget that he was a four star prospect in his own right. But the real reason I think he could be a standout is both a combination of the fact that I’m not sold on the man in front of him, senior D. J. Howard, and the fact that he is a punishing runner. Clemson is going to have to have a runner who can generate yards on his own against a front seven like Georgia’s, and I’m not convinced Howard is the guy.
Who will be the star on the defensive side of the ball in this game?
The easy picks would be Vic Beasley or Grady Jarrett, but I’m going to go with linebacker Stephone Anthony. Stephone is coming off a great off season and a career performance in the Orange Bowl. If Clemson is to have any chance in this game, it’s going to have to tackle well on the second level, and that starts with the leader of this group.
Who will be the star on the offensive side of the ball in this game?
Charone Peake. From this point forward known as the poor man’s A.J. Green (PMAJG) due to his similarities in stature and speed but probably not in overall talent, Charone Peake is the lone four star leftover from Clemson’s 2011 recruiting class that produced both Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. PMAJG was poised to breakout last fall prior to suffering an ACL tear. Much like Georgia’s own Malcolm Mitchell, after fighting through rehab, PMAJG tweaked his knee and had to have it scoped. Unlike Mitchell, he is set to play on Saturday and is said to be experiencing little ill-effects, but will the lack of practice time that resulted affect his conditioning? My guess is that he will be given his touches regardless due to Clemson’s glaring need to find someone on the outside who can be a playmaker.
What will Clemson’s game plan likely be?
Defensively, with Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley out, I think it’s reasonable to think that Clemson will send a good mix of blitzes to try to put pressure on a relatively green QB. Clearly, establishing control at the line of scrimmage when Georgia has the ball will be a challenge with Gur-shall back in the mix, but if somehow the Tigers are able to make the Dawgs one-dimensional, it really could make things interesting. Clemson believes its D-Line with Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and co. is one of the best in the country.
Offensively, it’s likely that we’ll see a much different approach than we saw last year. The talk out of Tigertown has been of a much more Auburn-like attack with more focus on the run. However, I’m just not convinced that Clemson is going to be able to run the ball consistently. I would expect a considerably greater emphasis on getting the ball to Clemson’s two young tight ends Jordan Leggett and J. J. McCullough. With such a loss of playmakers, here’s to thinking the Tigers will spread the ball around and give a number of players an opportunity to step up.