The Jackets take on the Clemson Tigers Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Head Coach Dabo Swinney looks to improve on a disappointing 2008 season as he enters his first full season as Clemson’s head coach. Swinney took over the job midway through last season and faced the Jackets in his first game, but Tech pulled out a 21-17 victory in Death Valley. The Thursday game will be Clemson’s second of the season, four days after their opener against Middle Tennessee State.
During the offseason, Swinney oversaw a battle for the starting quarterback job after the departure of senior Cullen Harper. Swinney decided on talented redshirt freshman Kyle Parker over sophomore Willy Korn, which came as somewhat of a surprise because Korn got plenty of playing time last season as Harper’s main backup.
While Parker’s inexperience may be a concern, he will have the luxury of handing the ball off to running back C.J. Spiller and throwing to receiver Jacoby Ford. The two speedsters return for their senior seasons after combining for over 2,500 yards of total offense a year ago. Spiller had to split carries with James Davis last year but still managed to rack up 668 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, and this season he will be the top option in the Tiger backfield. Ford, who averaged almost thirteen yards per catch and caught four touchdowns, takes over as Clemson’s top receiver this season after playing behind the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Aaron Kelly.
Clemson may be even more dangerous on the other side of the ball, boasting plenty of talent on the defensive line and in the secondary. Ends Ricky Sapp and Da’Quan Bowers should form a formidable pass rushing tandem this season; Sapp enters his senior season after leading the team in sacks last year, and Bowers—the top-ranked defensive end prospect in the nation out of high school—will be looking to rebound from a disappointing freshman season.
Tech earned a big win last season against the Tigers when they traveled to Death Valley and took down the Tigers 21-17. Then-sophomore free safety Dominique Reese returned an interception for a touchdown, and Josh Nesbitt connected with Demaryius Thomas for a 24-yard touchdown in the final quarter to put the Jackets ahead by the final margin.
This year, the Jackets will host the Tigers in the first ACC game for both teams just five days after the Jackets’ opener against Jacksonville State. The game will serve as Tech’s “white-out” game for the 2009 season, a new tradition that began with last season’s home finale against Miami. Head Coach Paul Johnson has been quoted that the team will pass a little bit more than last year, and if so, the Tigers’ formidable pass rush will serve as a key early test for Tech’s passing game. Nesbitt, now a senior, can run away from trouble, but he will still need the offensive line to protect him well to be able to make his reads in the passing game. As the line was heavily focused on run blocking last season, adapting to pass protection could be difficult.
On the defensive end, the added speed in the Jackets’ new 4-2-5 scheme should aid them against an offense that will be centered around quick running back C.J. Spiller. Tech’s priority will likely be to contain Spiller and force the Tigers to win through the air, where they will have to rely on redshirt freshman Kyle Parker. The Jackets’ secondary was key to last year’s victory, and the unit will have to be equally good in this year’s battle for the Jackets to earn their first conference victory.
SPREAD: Tech (-2.5)
PREDICTION: Tech 21, Clemson 20