Who has the edge? Tigers should have opportunity to build depth

Who has the edge? Tigers should have opportunity to build depth

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Who has the edge? Tigers should have opportunity to build depth

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The Citadel at No. 1 Clemson

Clemson’s goal each week is to beat Clemson. It feels as a program, if it takes care of itself and does everything it is supposed to do and takes care or the things it can control then it will be in position to win every game.

The Tigers come pretty close to doing that each week. In fact, Clemson has won 30 of its last 31 games and 30 straight regular season games. As for playing non-conference opponents, the Tigers have won 23 games in a row during the regular season, which dates back to the 2014 season.

Top-ranked Clemson (1-0) will try to make it 24 in a row today when it hosts The Citadel in its home opener at Death Valley. Kickoff is slated for a 4 p.m., start and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.

The Tigers should have no issues against The Citadel (0-1), who is coming off a 27-6 loss to South Florida. Today’s game will be all about playing as many players the Tigers can as they continue to build depth and develop players throughout the course of the season like they always have.

The 19,000 fans who can attend today’s game will get an early look at freshmen such as quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, running backs Demarkcus Bowman and Kobe Pace, wide receivers E.J. Williams and Ajou Ajou, as well as other talented young players.

This even more important this year as teams try to build quality depth in this COVID-19 pandemic world we all live in.

“How we have always done things, we are probably prepared as a team and as a program for a situation and a moment like this as well as anybody,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We are not really adjusting our philosophy of doing things, as far as how we practice, our substitution and all of that type of stuff. We are really just continuing to do what we have always done, but it is even more important this year for sure.

“We are all just holding our breath taking that (COVID-19) test on Friday. You are just waiting to get the results back because it can change [snap of the fingers] just like that. Our students are back on campus and hopefully our students are going to do their part to let us have a season. Just respect the guidelines and everything that is going on so we can all continue to do what we love to do.”

In the last two years, no one has played more players than Clemson. The Tigers have led the country in the number of players played per game by a wide margin. That continued last week when they played 78 of the 80 players they took to Winston-Salem, N.C., in their win at Wake Forest.

“It is always important to develop the depth and again, we have led the nation two years in a row playing players per game. So, it is not anything new for us,” Swinney said. “And it is not just … Obviously, this year it can be up and down. Guys have to be ready to go play [snap of the fingers] just like that, so there is really a since or urgency with it. But for us it has always been about developing our team. Creating competition, morale, belief, and trust and play guys who deserve to play.

“One thing, as a coach, that I am going to force the issue on, is I am going to get guys reps and give them meaningful reps so they can develop. Then they are engaged at practice and they believe in the meetings and why it is important to be ready. It is something we have always done and definitely this year it has never been more important.”

Key Matchups:

James Skalski vs Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey: Bulldogs’ quarterback Brandon Rainey enters the game just 11 yards shy of eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark in his career. He will become the school’s 16th member of the 2,000-yard club. He currently ranks 6th all-time for rushing yards by a quarterback at The Citadel. In last week’s loss at South Florida, he accounted for 149 of the Bulldogs 284 total yards. The Clemson defense will be keyed on forcing The Citadel to make someone else other than Rainey beat them. Middle linebacker James Skalski will be big in making sure his guys are lined up right and are playing their keys instead of the football in defending the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack.

Clemson’s defensive tackles vs. the fullback dive: The key to stopping any triple option-attack in college football is to first stop the fullback dive. No one has done a better job of that than Clemson’s defensive tackles. Because they are so talented in the middle of the defense and can just overwhelm the much smaller centers and guards they face in a triple-option offensive line, the Tigers’ defensive tackles have smothered the fullback dive in recent years. I look for the Tigers to do the same today with Bryan Bresee, Jordan Williams and Nyles Pinckney, among others, clogging up the middle of the Bulldogs’ rushing attack.

Travis Etienne vs. Citadel linebacker Willie Eubanks: FCS All-America linebacker Willie Eubanks started the season with 12 solo tackles against South Florida last week. The senior added three tackles-for-loss and a sack as well. His 12 tackles are one shy of his career high of 13, which he set against Furman in 2018 and Elon in 2019. Eubanks is the Bulldogs best defensive players and he will try to get to Clemson’s ball carriers and force the Tigers to be a passing team today. However, running back Travis Etienne is not only one of the nation’s best running backs, but arguably is the nation’s best running back after contact. He has led the nation in yards after contact in each of the last two seasons. The battle of the fittest will be interesting to watch in this matchup of elite players.

Bottom line: Clemson is going to win. That is a given, right? The Tigers have too many big-time players and weapons for The Citadel to keep up. The better prediction for this game is not the score, but when will Swinney decide to pull quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. The Clemson fans who will be in attendance will be anxious to see freshmen D.J. Uiagalelei and Demarkcus Bowman play at Death Valley for the first time. My prediction is the 19,000 fans should see both freshmen, as well as a few others, by mid-second quarter and no later than the start of the third quarter.

Prediction: Clemson 55, The Citadel 3

–Clemson and The Citadel Athletic Communications contributed to this story

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