Clemson: 11 Things to Expect

  1. KO will be honored with the seniors pre-game.  WR Kevin Ogletree will join 23 4th– and 5th-year teammates before the game as they and their families are honored for Senior Day.  Virginia fans will immediately recall QB Christian Olsen’s decision to do the same thing in 2006, that– in his father’s words – “create[d] a little bit of a stir” and caused a coach to ask “what are you doing here?”  KO is “not doing it because I think it will be my last game,” but does admit that he’d be “an idiot not to take a look” at his NFL chances following the season.  Clearly, he has a sense of reality, adding in Al Groh-like fashion that “that will be a circumstance where a lot of things would have to turn up.”  Also, don’t fret if you only see one of TE John Phillips’ parents, as mom Susan will be in Williamsburg accompanying brother Jake in his Senior Day at William & Mary.
  2. A small(ish) crowd.  No announced crowd since USC has been above the 53k that showed up for Homecomings against Miami, with each of the last five home games drawing more than 11,000 fewer fans than the record-breaking opener (64,947).  Don’t look for Saturday’s early kick and cold weather to help, as many submitted guesses for Clemson to this site have been in the range of 49-50k.  Not breaking 50,000 would certainly be an embarrassment and would further exacerbate the season average that is currently at 54k, 11% below last year and the lowest since 200’s expansion.  No doubt Virginia officials would blame the economy, as they have done already with respect to both football specifically and the school’s current circumstance overall.
  3. Virginia will be an underdog again.  For the 8th time in 9 games against D-1 opponents, Vegas is giving bettors points to lay down cash on the Cavs.  Virginia is 0-1 when favored, losing to Miami in OT at home as a one point favorite on November 1.  As an underdog, their record is 4-4, with wins in four of their last five.  As a home dog, Virginia is 3-1, with wins in the last three. 
  4. Clemson will score on its first possession.  Virginia opponents have scored on their first offensive series in each of the last five games.  The last four have all scored TDs, with Wake & UNC taking 7-0 leads after keeping Virginia off the board on its first position and Miami & GT both going up 7-3 leads after Yannick Reyering 25-yard field goals.
  5. Holding Clemson under 21 will be paramount to success.  Sounds simple enough… keep their score low and win.  Gambling site summarizes the biggest key to this season’s now-stalled turnaround: “Virginia’s defense has been the catalyst of the Cavs’ rise from bottom feeder to mediocrity.”  The record is 5-0 when opponents score under 24 (average score of 10 per game), but 0-5 when teams score 24+ (average of 36).  Meanwhile, Clemson is 4-1 when scoring 20+ points and 0-5 when scoring less than 20, but has lost three games when their opponents scored 21 or less.
  6. A scary, unfamiliar, and uniquely-coached up Tiger squad.  Tailback/kick returner CJ Spiller may be a candidate for enshrinement in Canton if Groh is voting, as the latter remarked this week: “There has been no more dangerous kick-returner that we’ve played.  There certainly is no more dangerous runner that we’ve played, and… [Spiller is] doing all the things that the most dangerous wide receivers do and things that hardly any backs can do.”  No player on Virginia’s roster has played Clemson before, and since the last meeting with the Tigers (2004), Virginia has played Wyoming, Western Michigan, Pittsburgh and Connecticut each twice.  Interim Clemson HC Dabo Swinney has recently – among other things in his attempt to get his name on the lips of national CFB pundits – started a new “Tiger Walk” tradition at home games, invited students to attend and participate in practice, referred to a potential QB controversy as “drama for your momma,” and taken a more active role in defensive game-planning that prompted DC Vic Koenning to comment “I didn’t do anything that I was told to do or not told to do.”
  7. Verica will be well-protected.  Of the 17 team stat categories listed on the NCAA site, Virginia leads the ACC in just one… sacks allowed (1.2 per game).  Sophomore QB Marc Verica has thrown for 200+ yards in six straight games, equaling Matt Schaub’s streak during his senior campaign in 2003
  8. But if his pass isn’t complete to a Cavalier, watch out.  OC Mike Groh’s passing attack has moved up to 54th in the nation, as ranked by passing yards per game (220.1) thanks to a career-high 279 from Verica against Wake, many late in the game against a backed-up Demon Deacon defense.  However, Virginia is one of only 15 teams nationally to have more than 10.8% of its incompletions go for interceptions.  The Cavs’ 16 INTs this year are the most since 1996, when 18 were thrown and 33 total turnovers were committed (25 to date this year).  The good news… Clemson is even worse in this stat I just made up, with INTs accounting for 12.0% of their incompletions.
  9. An increasingly thin linebacking corps.  Seven LBs in total were on last game’s injury report, and sophomore Jared Detrick & freshman Cam Johnson have recently joined Aaron Clark on the out-for-the-year list.  Onetime TE prospect & RS freshman Mark Ambrose (6-5 245) has now been moved to linebacker (after two operations) in what HC Al Groh calls “a promising project.”  Ambrose, according to Groh, has “the type of height that we like at that position. He’s bright. He gets it easily.”  This week’s depth chart includes only three OLB’s on the two-deep, with RS freshman Aaron Taliaferro (6-2 222) – who has never played – listed behind both Clint Sintim & Denzel Burrell.  Sintim, in Groh-like fashion, says Taliaferro is “getting better without getting the reps” and has “improved a lot before we even had an opportunity to see him out there.”
  10. Ballgame or no ballgame, the Clemson coaching search will go on.  The Roanoke Times’ Doug Doughty informs us that “a pregame handshake Saturday will mark the first meeting between UVa’s Groh and Clemson interim coach Swinney.”  The 38-yaer old former Crimson Tide WR and WR coach Swinney will be considered as a candidate, but most observers – including Doughty’s RT colleague Randy King – believe it will be one of Swinney’s last pregame handshakes in that capacity.  King said earlier in the week online that his “gut feeling” is VPI DC Bud Foster (resemblance to Steve Spagnuolo chronicled here) is “soon to be” the next head man in Clemson.
  11. One team will be bowl-eligible circa 3:30PM.  The ACC has nine bowl tie-ins, and eight teams are currently bowl-eligible with 6+ wins.  The winner of Saturday’s contest will become #9 (RFK anyone?) and the loser would still have a shot at becoming #10 with a win over their in-state rival in the regular-season finale.  Well, actually Clemson needs to win both its remaining contests and finish 7-5, as two of their five victories to date have come against FCS opponents (The Citadel, South Carolina State) at least Virginia would be if they win.  Virginia’s seniors certainly want another game – TE John Phillips doesn’t “care if we go to D.C. or Boise or wherever” but may have to forget about Idaho, as the Humanitarian Bowl gets the #8 pick.  Younger players certainly want/need the additional practice time & game reps, which Groh says “would continue the development of those players” and “would be well worth everybody’s efforts.”  After the gate is cashed, the bowl folks may disagree, but that’s another conversation for another day…





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