Clemson - TCU Preview
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All-time series: Clemson leads 2-1
All-time series at Clemson: Clemson leads 1-0
Dabo Swinney: 6-4
Gary Patterson: 75-27
When: Saturday, September 26
Where: Clemson, SC (Memorial Stadium - 81,500)
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: None (ESPN360)
Latest Line: Clemson by 2.5
Extra: Bartow's Weekly Predix
Clemson Message Boards: Tigerillustrated.com
TCU Message Boards: Purplemenace.com
Now in his third year as a starter Andy Dalton (Manning Award candidate) has built an impressive resume, throwing for over 5,000 yards and compiling a 19-6 record as TCU's top signal-caller. Dalton, who also rushed for 432 yards and eight scores a year ago, has 56 yards rushing this season. He's also completed 73.3-percent of his passes for 400 yards and two TDs.
Kyle Parker, a red-shirt freshman, looked like a newcomer a week ago for the first time this season, tossing two interceptions versus Boston College. Preparing to make his fourth career start, Parker has completed 47.4-percent of his passes for 523 yards, with a 5/4 TD to INT ratio. He's also averaging 2.1 yards a carry on 18 rushes. Advantage: TCU
Running Back - Running Game
Joseph Turner (Doak Walker Award candidate) is the Horned Frogs' leading returning rusher from 2008, after collecting 577 yards and 11 scores last season. Turner should eclipse that this fall, already reaching the 195-yard mark and four scores (8.5 AVG). Backup Ed Wesley has 76 yards (4.8 AVG) and also will get some work versus the Tigers. Freshman big back Matthew Tucker is second on the team in rushing (95 yards & a TD, 4.5 AVG).
Clemson's ground attack averages 159.3 yards a game, but the Tigers aren't likely to reach that figure tomorrow. In games versus top ten opponents Oklahoma, Utah, Boise State and BYU in 2008, TCU surrendered a combined 121 rushing yards, and come into this game allowing just 43 yards rushing a contest, par, given that the Mountain West power ranked No. 1 nationally in total and run defense a year ago.
C.J. Spiller (Heisman Trophy candidate & Walter Camp Award candidate) is Clemson's leading rusher with 176 yards (4.3 AVG), but the Tigers have no rushing touchdowns in three games, and just one TD in the red zone. Andre Ellington has averaged seven yards a carry, but put the football on the ground a week ago. Jamie Harper hasn't yet gotten on track, rushing for just 104 yards (3.3 AVG).
Clemson's backfield has more talent, but TCU, which has averaged over 190 yards rushing per game in seven of Gary Patterson's nine seasons, including this year (244.5) has the better, more established running game. Advantage: TCU
TCU returns five of its top seven receivers from 2008, namely Jimmy Young (988 YDS & 5 TD in 2008), who has four catches for 102 yards and two scores thus far. Fellow junior Bart Johnson has 10 receptions for 102 yards, and Curtis Clay, Antoine Hicks and Jeremy Kerley each have at least four receptions.
As expected, Jacoby Ford (Biletnikoff Award candidate), the Tigers' leading returning receiver from 2008, has been the team's money man at receiver in 2009, catching 14 passes for 215 yards and two scores. Spiller has reeled in five catches, and No. 2 man Marquan Jones has four grabs for 134 yards and a TD. Senior tight end Michael Palmer has four catches. Brandon Clear, a sophomore, is slated to make his second career start, but has yet to catch a pass this season. His backup, one-time starter Xavier Dye, who last week quit the team before returning days later, has one reception this season. Advantage: TCU
TCU averages 6-3, 315 up front, and is led by senior left tackle Marshall Newhouse (Rotary Lombardi Award candidate), a second-team Mountain West pick in 2008 and junior right tackle Marcus Cannon (6-5, 350), an honorable mention Mountain West selection last fall. Junior center Jake Kirkpatrick, right guard Josh Vernon, also a junior, and sophomore left guard Kyle Dooley all lettered in 2008, but only Dooley started (4 starts).
Clemson returns four of five starters up front, but in three games has been the primary root of short yardage and red zone breakdowns. Statistically speaking the ground attack's 159.3 average is an improvement over last year's 112-yard mark, but the Tigers are paper thin at tackle, and its top pass protector, junior left tackle Chris Hairston (sprained MCL) is listed as questionable for Saturday's game. Thomas Austin (Outland Trophy candidate), a senior, has been the most consistent blocker up front.
Mason Cloy, a sophomore center, who has also turned in a winning grade in all three games this season, practiced for much of the week, after a bout with the flu at the tail end of last weekend. Antoine McClain, a sophomore right guard, and Landon Walker, a sophomore right tackle, are slated to start, though Hairston will get plenty of right tackle work if he plays in this game. Cory Lambert, a senior tackle, who was demoted after week two, may get a lot of left tackle duty Saturday.
Given Clemson's constant miscues and protection breakdowns up front, as well as the Tiger line's propensity to simply not deliver in games like this, we'll still give TCU an edge here, despite its off-season personnel losses. Advantage: TCU
High profile edge-rusher Jerry Hughes was the 2008 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot-3, 257-pounder also was the nation's leading sack leader (15), and brings 4.5 sacks into this game. Hughes entered the season on numerous watch lists (Walter Camp, Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik, Rotary Lombardi, Ted Hendricks, Lott and Lowe's Senior CLASS award). He's been on Clemson's watch list all week, as Tiger coaches will surely have to utilize tight ends and big-backs Chad Diehl and Rendrick Taylor to provide blocking help in this one.
Senior nose tackle Kelly Griffin is back after getting work in 11 games last year. Junior tackle Cory Grant served as a backup in 2008, but is starting this fall. Earlier this week Clemson offensive tackles and tight ends coach Danny Pearman gave a tip of the hat to Hughes' counterpart, Wayne Daniels, a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder, who like Grant also is in his first year as a starter. Daniels has five tackles and a sack thus far.
Clemson's front four has been superb to date. Senior weak-side end Ricky Sapp (Lombardi Award candidate) leads the Tiger defense in tackles for loss (6) and sacks (2). He's also collected 18 tackles, which leads this unit. Sophomore tackle Brandon Thompson had a big game versus Boston College, as did junior tackle Jarvis Jenkins. Da'Quan Bowers, a sophomore strong-side end, has totaled 16 tackles, four quarterback pressures and three tackles for loss in three games. Keep an eye on backup strong-side end Malliciah Goodman, a true freshman, who got plenty of work last week.
The Tigers may have the ACC's top defensive front. TCU's front four will again be stout in 2009, but is without three 2008 starters. Advantage: CLEMSON
The Horned Frogs were hit hard here in the off-season, losing three NFL Draft picks, but do return Daryl Washington (Candidate for Dick Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski & Rotary Lombardi), who collected over 60 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. And he's second on the team in stops (15). Sophomore Tank Carder (11 tackles) will get the start at MIKE backer. Backup MLB Tanner Brock, a freshman, has seven tackles.
So long as Clemson's backer rotation could avoid injuries, Tigerillustrated.com forecasted improvement in the off-season. Thus far neither Brandon Maye (26 tackles, 4 QP, 1 INT) nor Kavell Conner (20 tackles) has disappointed. Senior end - SAM backer Kevin Alexander has two tackles for loss and a sack in 73 snaps. SAM defender Scotty Cooper, who like Conner was relegated to sideline duty in the first game due to the Tigers' DIME package, has six stops in 43 plays. Cooper and Alexander will split time here tomorrow. Advantage: CLEMSON
TCU cornerbacks Rafael Priest (2nd team MWC in 2008) and Nick Sanders (2nd team MWC in 2008) bring a combined 80 career starts into this game, and is the most experienced corner tandem in the nation. Senior free safety Tejay Johnson (12 starts in 2008) also gives the Horned Frogs an experienced playmaker in the secondary. Juniors (SS) Colin Jones and (WS) Alex Ibiloye were backups last season. Johnson, Sanders and Ibiloye have seven tackles apiece. Johnson has one of TCU's two pickoffs on the season. This group has allowed just under 170 yards passing a game through two weeks of play.
Clemson's corner tandem of Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler, both Thorpe Award candidates, also is one of the nation's most experienced (62 career starts). The unit's top playmaker and Tigerillustrated.com's preseason Clemson defensive MVP pick, DeAndre McDaniel, has been red hot early, leading the team in tackles (29) and interceptions (4). Junior back Marcus Gilchrist (17 tackles) and Rashard Hall (19 tackles & an INT) have been plenty productive at the free safety position. In three contests, Clemson's secondary - which ranked 12th nationally in pass defense a year ago - is allowing just 116.3 yards a game. Advantage: CLEMSON
Sophomore place-kicker Ross Evans hit on 16 of 20 field goals a year ago. The Lou Groza Award candidate hit a long of 50 yards last season, and is 2-2 this year. Sophomore punter Anson Kelton, who could be an offensive guard in some offenses, standing in at 6-4, 260, held a 41.3 average last season and was an Honorable Mention MW selection. Kelton has a 39-yard average over the first two games. Kerley and Ryan Christian (30 catches in 2008) are the Horned Frogs' primary return men. Both served in the same roles a year ago. Kerley has a long of 31 yards this season, averaging 24.3 yards per (kick) return. Kickoff man Kevin Sharples has had no touchbacks in 13 kickoffs this season, and on Monday Clemson special teams coordinator Andre' Powell said he expects TCU to kick off to Spiller.
Spiller ranks fifth nationally in kickoff return yardage (40 YD AVG), and is a major reason why the Tigers' average starting field position is the 40-yard line. Spiller has returned a kickoff and a punt for scores this season. Ford also has a punt return for a TD to his credit. Junior place-kicker Richard Jackson has already booted two field goals from beyond 50 yards, and is now 11-for-13 on the season. Dawson Zimmerman, a sophomore, is averaging 39.5 yards a punt (13 attempts). The Tigers' kickoff coverage has been stellar (opponents' average starting field position is the 23-YD line when Clemson kicks off).
Clemson is two years removed from its special teams being a virtual punch line, but this aspect of the game may actually win a game or two for the Tigers this season, as it is clearly a strength. Advantage: CLEMSON
Overview & Prediction
Patterson has now compiled a 75-27 record at TCU, and is one of the more underrated coaches in college football, delivering five seasons of ten wins or more over the last seven years. His 75-27 mark with the Horned Frogs is the best in program history compared to previous TCU coaches who were in their positions for at least 100 games. Patterson, who arrived in Forth Worth in 1998 to serve as a coordinator, has been a major reason why the Mountain West member has gone to ten bowl games in 11 years, and taken home four conference titles.
Thursday evening following practice I presented Dabo Swinney with the notion that TCU may very well be the most complete team on the Tigers' schedule all year. Not only did Swinney concur, he responded with:
"These guys don't really have a weakness. I hate to tell you. They've got a veteran QB, good skill, veteran guys up front, they return the top defense in the country, they've got good players and the guys who haven't been starting a long time played a lot last year. It's a very complete team, certainly the best team we've played this year. Stability and good coaching. They're a legit top 10-15 team."
TCU returns just six starters on offense and lost seven starters off its defense. And its two opponents to date - UVA and Texas State - hardly forced the Horned Frogs to break a sweat. The fact that TCU faced Texas State in week two is an indicator that it likely took the better half of the last two weeks preparing for the Tigers.
Speaking of the Orange & White...
What Clemson's identity is on offense through three games is up for debate. Fact is, no one knows, given that the Tigers have been all over the map, yet not really mastering one particular craft to this point; its offense is being led by a freshman quarterback. A receiving corps where behind Ford and Jones, no one has done anything in a game. A tight end rotation that isn't involved in the passing game. And an offensive front that is again the root of protection and short yardage breakdowns, as well as numerous red zone miscues.
Clemson's defense and special teams have however been consistent. In the decade of the 1990's, Clemson fielded two top ten defenses - 1990 (#1) and 1991 (#4). The Tigers have fielded just one this decade - 2006 (#9). We think this year's version of the Tiger 'D' could be even nastier than the 2006 squad.
We also think this is one of the more difficult games to call early in the season.
We were somewhat surprised the Tigers opened as a 1.5-point favorite on Sunday. The line has held steady at 2.5 for much of the week.
And there are some reasons to pick Clemson. Because its offense may be just good enough against a TCU defense that isn't nearly as strong as it will be by season's end. Plus, the Tiger defense, its explosiveness and improved fundamentals on special teams, the friendly confines of Death Valley, and of course the fact that CU is an impressive 3-0 against the spread in 2009, and its head coach is 5-1 ATS as a lined favorite, all tie into intangibles in Clemson's favor. Patterson also is just 16-16-1 against the spread in the month of September.
But ultimately we don't have enough reasons to pick against the Horned Frogs.
Patterson, whose teams are 55-15 when scoring first and 53-1 when allowing 17 points or less, relishes these types of games. In fact since 2003, TCU is 27-13 on the road, which ranks eighth nationally. Since 2002, TCU also is 12-3 in games against conferences with automatic BCS bids. Under Patterson, the Horned Frogs are 54-7 when holding its opponent to under 100 yards rushing. And TCU is 32-2 in its last 34 games when allowing less than 333 yards of total offense.
Patterson is 30-19 in road games as TCU's head coach, and over their last 15 non-conference road matchups, when a lined underdog, TCU is 9-6 against the spread. The ninth-year head coach also is 30-9 in non-conference games, and owns a 26-9 mark (straight up) in the month of September.
Clemson is just 21-23-1 ATS as a home favorite over the last ten years. The Tigers also are just 16-19-1 ATS versus ranked teams over the last decade. TCU by 3+
TI staff itemized picks: Cris Ard - TCU by 4 (17-13), Larry Williams - TCU by 4 (17-13), Ryan Bartow - TCU by 3 (17-14).
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