Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dawgs & Tigers: Clemson's Biggest Advantage

Trying to determine a team's greatest advantage is kind of like finding the least common denominator (little middle school math trip for you): you take a number and you break it down over and over again until it is only divisible by itself and one. In football, you take the offense and break it down into units, positions, strengths, weaknesses. You then do the same thing for the opposition's defense. In the end, you apply your LCD's to their LCD's until you find a mismatch you think you can exploit, and you set it aside. Next you do the whole process again with your defense and their offense. And you do it again for coaches, atmospheres, experiences, and any other intangible you think you can quantify.

For Clemson, this is a fairly simple process as we can exclude the defense from the analysis. Even if Clemson were to have a top flight defense, the Georgia offense is too good to find a distinct Clemson advantage, so we start with the Clemson offense versus the Georgia defense.

Clemson returns four of the five offensive linemen, but the one player lost was 1st team All-ACC and 2nd team All-American Dalton Freeman. Freeman made the calls and directed the line, and his void will not be easily filled. Compare that to the Georgia's D-line and their use of the 3-4, and it's hard to label the Clemson O-line as a major advantage. The experience will help, but breaking in a new center and playing against an unfamiliar scheme will lead to a learning curve. One that Clemson will need to overcome in short order.

In addition to breaking in a new center, Clemson will also be breaking in a new running back and tight end. For as long as many Clemson fans can remember, the running back and tight end positions have been worry free. From Merriweather to Davis to Spiller to Ellington for the backs to Palmer to Allen to Ford at TE position. This year, both will be manned by relative unknowns. McDowell has shown some nice flashes, but has never had to carry the offense, and the TE position will be handled by a Senior with minimal snaps. Considering this group plays an important part in pass protection, and when they release, will be covered by Georgia's stock of linebackers, Clemson may actually be at a disadvantage rather than an advantage.

As the analysis moves to the QB and WR position, the Clemson advantages begin to become apparent. Georgia will be working in a relatively new crop of DB's, which doesn't bode well for their immediate success. Boyd is back for his senior season with eyes towards both New York and Pasadena, and Watkins will be looking for redemption following a rather tumultuous sophomore season. If these two guys, along with the speed burner Bryant and new 3rd down man Peake, find a rhythm, Clemson will rack up some points.

But even when the Georgia defense has struggled, they have always rolled out major talent, especially at the corner position. This year's crop is certainly green, but still a typical Georgia secondary. Even with that talent, Clemson has a clear advantage. Look for Clemson to try to exploit that advantage by getting their speedy receivers the ball in space. Ultimately, Clemson hopes to break a few big plays from the receiver positions to draw the secondary in to tighter coverage, where eventually Boyd and Company go overtop and connect on longer routes. The big plays will be available, but it will be up to the O-line and backs to give Boyd enough time to let the play develop.

After breaking down the offense, the next logical place to turn is Special Teams. Clemson has a clear advantage at kicker with the Cat Man, and this advantage may only grow if Morgan is truly out for his BUI over the summer. But Clemson better hope their biggest advantage doesn't come from special teams, because if it does, it won't matter, as they'll need more than a field goal to win.

The remainder of Special Teams is a push, at best, seeing as Clemson will utilizing a new punter and kick-off specialist (and Clemson coverage teams have always been suspect).

As for coaching, Chad Morris has an advantage or Todd Grantham, if only in the emotional department. The remainder of the coaching comparisons are even, if not Georgia leans because of their experience in these types of games.

So, the Least Common Denominator for Clemson is the combination of the QB/WR against the Georgia secondary. But a Least Common Denominator cannot have two positions against the entire Georgia secondary. It must be broken down further.

To us, Georgia is most vulnerable in that empty space behind the linebackers and between the hash marks. In this area, the Clemson WRs should find space and an opportunity to make big plays. If Watkins or Bryant catch the ball in stride in this, one cut will turn the Georgia defenders around and lead to a cannon blast and the playing of Tiger Rag.

If Clemson can exploit this area, it will set them up for big plays and the chance for multiple scoring opportunities. And they may need every one.

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