Pregame Pep Talk: Clemson should roll over SC State, and Week 2 picks (Gamecocks or Georgia?)

Sammy Watkins

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Yo, Dabo, if you’re reading this … stop. Go, uh, go surf YouTube for “Key and Peele” skits or something.

You too, anybody who plays football in a Clemson uniform. NSFW … Not Safe For Watkins. (That means both of you, Sammy and Carlos.)

South Carolina State’s got no chance.

This is a tune-up game, a warmup act, the Hangover, Part I. You know how Swinney (no, seriously, stop reading, Coach) always openly wishes for preseason games? He’s got a post-preseason game here in Death Valley tomorrow.

Somebody make sure Tajh Boyd wakes up on time tomorrow. And that he stays awake from 12:30 p.m. until, oh, at least 1:30 or so. Then he can go curl up in his bed and watch an ‘Austin Powers’ marathon while Cole Stoudt and (unbelievably) Chad Kelly clean up in the second half.

Oh, the FCS shocked some FBS big boys last weekend? How nice for them. See, Eastern Washington and North Dakota State – each highly ranked in the lower segment of Division I – are teams that have actually experienced this thing called success. Much in the way 14-seeds in the NCAA Tournament who have won 25 straight against lesser competition have at least the tool of confidence on their side, and that’s why March is so Mad. (By the way: watch your backs, Colorado. Central Arkansas can play ball.)

But SC State? Ain’t no way. Their glory days were from 2008-10, winning three straight MEAC championships. And when the Bulldogs went to Clemson that year, they lost. By 54. To a Clemson team that ended up a dismal 7-6.

If SC State ends up within three touchdowns of Clemson tomorrow, maybe the Tigers should worry about finishing 7-6 in 2013. But it won’t happen, as long as Clemson takes care of business the way its coach demands.

Names to Know: Three X-Factors when the Bulldogs have the ball

#9 Tavaris Barnes, 6-4, 275, jr., DE, Clemson. He was fairly active in 22 snaps against the Bulldogs, picking up a sack. If this defensive line rotation thing’s going to work with Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford, then guys like Barnes and Shaq Lawson have to hit home and prove they’re more than just a stopgap.

#7 Tony Steward, 6-1, 235, jr., LB, Clemson. Spencer Shuey took a seat for much of a first-quarter drive, giving Steward some reps against mighty Georgia. Look for much more Steward in week two.

#26 Garry Peters, 6-0, 195, jr., CB, Clemson. Darius Robinson got the start, but Peters won the snaps battle 49-30. Good opportunity for Peters to prove he’s an ACC starting-capable corner.

Names to Know: Three X-Factors when the Tigers have the ball

#18 Cole Stoudt, 6-5, 205, jr., QB, Clemson. Let us not forget the Tigers will have a 2014 quarterback battle on their hands. Let Cole Stoudt cast the first stone tomorrow.

#22 D.J. Howard, 5-11, 195, jr., RB, Clemson. About 10-ish carries should do it for Roderick McDowell. Time to see what Clemson has in Howard, the fourth-stringer right now (also, C.J. Davidson should check in.)

#16 Jordan Leggett, 6-6, 235, fr., TE, Clemson. Is he truly healthy enough not just to play, but contribute? Great opportunity to find out.

You’ll notice a theme here; many rotation guys and reserves. Just like an NFL preseason game.

Names to Know: Three players you should watch since I can’t be at every game

#26 Mike Davis, 5-9, 215, so., RB, South Carolina. Nice long run for him against the Tar Heels. Since McDowell showed the young Georgia run defense can be penetrated, Davis should be a big part of the Gamecocks’ gameplan. (Hope that’s okay to provide a little USC analysis, Clemson fans. Calm down. Breathe.)

#72 Kenarious Gates, 6-5, 327, sr., LT, Georgia. Boy, if Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford and a number of others abused Gates … that No. 7 guy for South Carolina might have himself a day.

#8 Duke Johnson, 5-9, 196, so., RB, Miami. The Gators always have a stingy run defense, but Johnson’s got the stuff to move the chains for Miami, which will be paramount to sticking with Florida for 60 minutes.

Saturday’s showdowns

No. 12 Florida Gators at Miami Hurricanes ~ 12 p.m., ESPN

This stat’s kind of crazy: the Gators haven’t played a true non-conference road game anywhere other than Florida State in 10 years. They’re hardly going out on a limb with the trip to South Beach. Miami’s 2-7 against ranked teams over the past three years. Both coaches are in their third year, and while Will Muschamp has Florida focused on the road (4-0 last season), Al Golden hasn’t been as adequate at protecting home turf (8-5, including losses to Virginia, Boston College and North Carolina).

Brenner picks: Gators 27, Hurricanes 16

South Carolina State Bulldogs at No. 4 Clemson Tigers ~ 12:30 p.m., Check Your Local Listings

I wrote it earlier this week and will do so again; if the starters come out of the halftime locker room with any headwear besides a ballcap, something’s gone seriously wrong. Let’s see if quarterback Chad Kelly and tight end Sam Cooper are truly healed 21 weeks after tearing ACLs (and for your safety, boys, be careful), if Jordan Leggett can be a real factor in the passing game, if Wayne Gallman’s going to play this year, if there’s been any cleanup on aisle cornerback.

Brenner picks: Tigers 63, Bulldogs 10

West Virginia Mountaineers at No. 16 Oklahoma Sooners ~ 7 p.m., FOX

Hey, remember when West Virginia racked up 778 yards and lost? Yeah, Geno Smith’s not walking through that door.

Brenner picks: Sooners 48, Mountaineers 20

No. 14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at No. 17 Michigan Wolverines ~ 8 p.m., ESPN

If the visiting team wins this one, Notre Dame starts the “wait … they couldn’t end up back in the title game, could they?” conversation, and Brady Hoke starts facing some mighty interesting questions about his team’s prowess against ranked opponents. Hoke’s an inexplicable 3-18 vs. teams with a number next to their name in his career at Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan.

Brenner picks: Fighting Irish 21, Wolverines 17

The Rundown

Wake Forest 23, @Boston College 21 (Friday). Big talk from the Deacons at ACC Media Days. First step to walking the walk comes in Chestnut Hill.

Western Kentucky 35, @Tennessee 24. Bobby Petrino’s just gonna go ahead and be a thorn in the SEC’s ass the rest of his career.

No. 2 Oregon 37, @Virginia 17. Well, let’s find out exactly how far Virginia has come. At least making a game of it would be a success stories for the Cavs.

@Baylor 50, Buffalo 20. Hey, the Bulls made Ohio State sweat. Kind of.

@No. 19 Northwestern 30, Syracuse 17. It’s not about a conference, it’s about a program, as Dabo Swinney correctly points out. And Northwestern’s about a year or two ahead of where Syracuse would like to be. But indeed, these are the types of winnable games the ACC needs its teams to pull off to start getting national fans to take the league seriously.

@Brigham Young 27, No. 15 Texas 24. Lay off on Mack Brown’s recruiting swings and misses. Pay more attention to the Longhorns’ startling inability to strut their stuff as the confluence of the country’s finest recruiting grounds.

@Auburn 29, Arkansas State 26. The presumption is Auburn would at least take care of its four non-conference fodder before taking a crack at some SEC scalps. Don’t be so sure the Red Wolves – Gus Malzahn’s previous stop – will let that happen easily.

@No. 5 Stanford 41, San Jose State 10. At 11 p.m. on the East Coast Saturday night, Stanford FINALLY begins its season.

                                                             GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 6 South Carolina at No. 11 Georgia ~ 4:30 p.m., ESPN

Simply, this game’s all about Georgia. Can the Bulldogs truly forget about what happened last Saturday, understand that very few of their long-term goals were affected by the loss, and protect home field against a foe that’s mastered Georgia the past few years? As much as the offseason was spent sticking up for Aaron Murray, the fact remains he’s now 1-9 against top-15 opponents, a sticky subject in regards to his legacy.

Georgia has notably been a decent road warrior under Mark Richt – which makes Clemson’s triumph that much more impressive – but his Bulldogs are a startling 10-10 at Samford Stadium against ranked foes. So even the “take the home team in doubt” theory, which did work fine for the home-happy Tigers, doesn’t really apply here.

Every stat in the book points toward South Carolina. No reason to get cute.

Brenner picks: Gamecocks 28, Bulldogs 24

Week 1 Best Call: Western Kentucky over Kentucky 35-26 (I said 28-27; I’ll take it, picking Petrino over the somewhat-upstart SEC squad)

Week 1 Worst Call: Washington over No. 19 Boise State 38-6 (geez, is Sarkisian’s remodel that good or are the Broncos just stupidly overrated away from home?)

Week 1 Worst Call, Honorable Mention: No. 8 Clemson over No. 5 Georgia 38-35 (bet I hear about that one the rest of the year)

Last week: 7-4

Track record: 7-4

That’s it for the Pep Talk. Try to stay awake during the afternoon Saturday. Or go outside and do something nice. Summer weather finally showed up in September.

-AB

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