College Football Preview: Clemson vs. Wofford
CLEMSON, S.C. ó Wofford’s offense has Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele staying up nights worrying how to slow the Terriers down.
The Terriers use a relentless option attack that was ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision last year and helped Wofford win the Southern Conference title. Wofford (1-0) hopes to run its way to an upset of Clemson (1-0) when the teams meet for the first time in a decade at Death Valley on Saturday.
Steele knows slowing Wofford down won’t be easy, not with as many wrinkles he’s seen out of their offense.
“The best way to describe it is they are about 40 percent Georgia Tech, while the other the other 60 percent falls 30 percent Auburn and 30 percent South Carolina,” Steele said. “So go make that game plan.”
Wofford, 1-12 all-time against Bowl Subdivision teams, has thrown its share of scares into the big-time opponents before. The Terriers defeated Louisiana-Monroe 24-6 in 2000. Six years later, they were driving to tie South Carolina in the fourth quarter when a turnover ended things in the Gamecocks 27-20 victory.
And much of its starts with the Terriers option attack that coach Mike Ayers has used since taking over 24 seasons ago. The team has perfected it to become a powerhouse in the Southern Conference, one of the FCS’s premiere leagues. The Terriers shared the title last season with Appalachian State and reached the NCAA quarterfinals where they fell to another SoCon member, Georgia Southern.
Steele said he and his staff are busy correcting defensive errors in last week’s 43-19 win over Troy, plus have to get their players up to speed on an offense they’ll barely see the rest of the season.
Steele was frustrated by what he thought were too many missed tackles in the Troy win. Upon further review, “it was about an average game. It was just in critical times, open spaces, tackles for loss. All of a sudden you miss three or four (tackles),” he said. “You feel like you aren’t tackling well.”
Steele’s most likely on high alert because of all the new faces on Clemson’s defense. The Tigers are breaking in first-time starters like Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh at cornerback, and young performers seeing more playing like linebackers Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony and lineman Corey Crawford.
“We’ve got to manufacture experience in a quick, quick fashion,” Steele said. “You can practice them all day long, you can scrimmage them all day long. But the only way to manufacture the experience in a short period of time for a long season is to put them out there.”
Maybe youth will work to Clemson’s advantage in this one. Anthony said his high school in Polkton, N.C., used the option and he practiced against it every day. “So I’m used to seeing it,” he said. “Everyone has to do their job and we’ll take care of it.”
Wofford will try and make that as difficult as possible.
Fullback Eric Breitenstein was the preseason SoCon offensive player of the year who rushed for 1,639 yards last season. He had 107 against Presbyterian. While the Terriers relied on the run, they scored the winning TD on Mitch Allen’s 26-yard pass to Jeff Ashley with 51 seconds leftó the third touchdown pass from Wofford against the Blue Hoses.
Ayers said the Terriers looked like they had things in hand, ahead 28-7 in the third quarter. However, mistakes and execution problems led Presbyterian to tie the game late.
“We came out on top. Not to say it’s anything spectacular, but it’s a win and we’re thankful,” Ayers said.
Ayers understands that Wofford can’t afford any breakdowns against Clemson. “You’re looking at a top echelon team at the highest level,” he said. “You’re looking at athletes that are bigger, stronger, faster than we’re used to.”
Wofford’s offensive style could blunt some of the Tigers advantage, especially if the Terriers hang on to the ball for long stretches. How successful can the option be? When Wofford played Clemson in the Tigers 1981 national championship season, current Terriers offensive coordinator Wade Lang was a young runner with the team. He gained 76 yards in the 45-10 loss, but only Georgia’s Herschel Walker and Nebraska’s Roger Craig surpassed Lang’s rushing performance against the Tigers that season.
“They are a team going in with nothing to lose,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “And they will play very hard.”