HIT THE LINKS: The past week’s coverage leading up to S.C. State-Clemson

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

CLEMSON — It’s not GameDay … but it’s gameday.

Since Dabo Swinney insists the Tigers play to a certain standard regardless of the opponent, and the Clemson fans have sold out Death Valley thus rooting to a certain standard, I will hold up my end of the bargain and write to a certain standard.

From your sweet sixteen options below, the blog barista recommends the Roderick McDowell and Stanton Seckinger pieces. Both guys really opened up about their road to this year, and those are the best types of stories.

If you’re into the juicy stuff, the Chad Morris and Mark Richt exchanges about faking injuries to slow the tempo is kind of interesting.

Here are your week links leading up to South Carolina State’s visit to face No. 4 Clemson:

Today’s PreviewClemson backups ready for action against S.C. State

Inside the Game | South Carolina State at Clemson, 12:30 p.m. kickoff

Pregame Pep TalkClemson should roll over SC State, Week 2 picks (Gamecocks or Georgia?)

From @Sapakoff | Top 5 ACC storylines: Clemson depth, Jameis Winston, N.C. State’s QB injury

Personality feature | A persistent underdog, “Hot Rod” McDowell motivated by grandpa’s loss, brother’s love

Behind Enemy LinesThomas Grant, The Times and Democrat

ACC teleconference | Victories over SEC are statement for Clemson, not ACC pride

Tuesday notebook | Tajh talks Heisman, injury updates

Climb up the polls | Clemson’s No. 4 ranking its highest in 25 years, plus a first-place vote

First Take | Scouting South Carolina State

Press UpdateNo. 4-ranked Clemson a staggering 52-point favorite over SC State; updated injury list

7 at 7 | Dabo Swinney’s “tired of that storyline” of Clemson’s inconsistency

Personality feature | Stanton Seckinger’s clutch catch beat his dad’s beloved Bulldogs

Recapping Georgia | Chad Morris on fake-injury tactics: “I think we all see the same thing”

Recapping Georgia | Replays show Bulldog defender embellished injury, Richt sidesteps talk of gamesmanship

Beat column | Brenner: Georgia-Clemson worth the wait in every sense

-AB

First Take, Part I: Scouting No. 5 Georgia

Aaron Murray Todd Gurley

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

Each week this season, you’ll get an early yet detailed peek at Clemson’s upcoming opponent right here on the Tiger Tracks blog. Be sure to like us on Facebook.

Who: No. 5 Georgia (12-2, 7-1 SEC last year) at No. 8 Clemson (11-2, 7-1 ACC)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Memorial Stadium (81,500) | Clemson, S.C.

TV: ABC

Radio: Clemson Radio Network | WQSC-AM 1340 in Charleston (Affiliates)

Line: Georgia by -1.5

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Will Georgia’s youth on defense help Clemson? Watkins thinks so, Swinney says no … not necessarily

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON — Georgia preparation kicks into high gear today, and there are point-counterpoint ways to look at how Clemson’s offense might fare against Georgia’s defense.

Consider that the Bulldogs have just four returners on that unit that started at least six games in 2012 - CB Damian Swann, OLB Jordan Jenkins, ILB Amarlo Herrera and DE Garrison Smith. Granted, seven players from the Bulldogs’ 18th-rated scoring defense were drafted into the NFL, so there are big shoes to fill.

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7 at 7: Notes from Saturday’s scrimmage, including the starting running back and the most important Tiger besides Tajh Boyd

Roderick McDowell

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – See what I did there? We can go 7 at 7 p.m. as well as in the a.m.

1) Since the quarterback position has been settled without a shadow of a doubt, the most intriguing positional battle in Clemson football camp on offense focuses on the starting tailback.

Of course, it won’t be just one featured runner. For now, at least, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney favors senior Roderick McDowell, who leads all Tigers tailbacks with 674 career rushing yards – which are actually nearly 100 fewer than quarterback Tajh Boyd’s career total.

“Rod’s our starter. He’s clearly earned the right to be the starter,” Swinney said Saturday, two weeks before the opener vs. Georgia. “But he can’t do it by himself. We’re going to be a running back by committee, and that’s fine. When you do what we do and you play as many snaps as we play, we’ve got to be able to have a good crop of guys.”

The other big name to watch is true sophomore Zac Brooks, who averaged 4.6 yards a carry in limited duty last year and has produced a consistently solid camp.

“He’s obviously a little bit bigger,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Moving the chains right now, doing some good things in pass protection, catches the ball really well.”

Brooks is listed as 6-foot-1, 190 pounds after pre-camp weigh-ins. McDowell is 5-10, 200, while D.J. Howard is 6-0, 195, so whatever Morris is seeing, Brooks might simply be playing bigger than his measureables.

“D.J. and Hot Rod do the same too, but he’s just a bigger body,” Morris said. “He’s got more of a tendency to be a punishing-style runner.”

Freshmen Tyshon Dye (5-11, 215), who’s missed the past week with a bad back, and Wayne Gallman (6-1, 200) are redshirt candidates. Walk-on C.J. Davison is also in the mix for carries.

2) While the baby-faced secondary goes through growing pains, Clemson’s defense will hinge early on its experienced front seven.

“I don’t think we’re dominant yet, but we are much, much improved in the defensive line and linebacker position from where we were last year at this time,” Swinney said. “Now will they make the same type of improvement? We will see. And we better be. Because we’ve got a really tough challenge right out of the gate.”

Darrell Smith3) In 37 career games, fifth-year senior Darrell Smith has one recorded one stat besides his 25 special-teams tackles: one catch, one yard, last year.

With the tight end position ravaged by injuries to Sam Cooper and Jordan Leggett, the listed fullback Smith is working at tight end.

“Darrell Smith has been awesome. Probably as important as Tajh right now to our offense,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to keep Darrell healthy and ready to go. He is that important to what we do in everything. He brings that toughness that we have to have.”

Added Boyd: “Darrell Smith is a big part of this offense right now. He’s a fifth-year senior who’s a selfless guy when he steps on that field. He’s going to have a big impact on us this season.”

Smith is referred to by teammates as a soft-spoken leader, but his role might be increasing very soon.

“I’m working on my craft,” Smith said. “Working on my pass routes, trying to catch the ball better, and improve my blocking every day.”

4) Upon discussing the knee injury to freshman athlete T.J. Green on Aug. 7, Swinney said ominously, “it doesn’t look good.”

Yet Green escaped a torn ACL prognosis, and returned to drills this week. On Saturday, he caught three passes during the scrimmage and was tackled without issue, a highly encouraging sign.

“He’s practiced well the last few days,” Swinney said. “Ran the ball after the catch well, returned kicks. He feels good.”

5) Swinney gathered his players and told them not to buy into the hype surrounding the program this season.

Once. And then, that was the end of it.

It hasn’t been a recurring topic in team meetings, even after the Associated Press poll released Saturday matched the coaches’ poll rating of No. 8 for the Tigers.

“I really don’t pay attention to it,” defensive end Corey Crawford said. “I don’t know how to comment on it, because we have to play regardless of whether we’re No. 1 or the last one. It really doesn’t matter until the end.”

6) Even though he’s just 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds – usually a body type fit for an outside linebacker – defensive end Vic Beasley has a chance to terrorize many a quarterback trying to pick apart Clemson’s defense.

“He plays like he’s 270. He can get into some mismatch situations, but his skill set allows him to overcome a lot of those things,” Swinney said. “His strength, his length, his speed, and his motor. He can be on the field on any down.”

7) This is probably the best way anybody could sum up a skilled yet raw group of freshmen going through their first fall camp, hoping to produce as early as 2013:

“The consistency is the thing,” Swinney said, “but they are flashy from time to time.”

Look for Leggett, Green, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive backs Jayron Kearse and Korrin Wiggins to definitely play early in their careers. The rest of the pack is still hoping to contribute this season, but many will redshirt and prepare for 2014.

Practice notes: Clemson honing in on firm five up front; Leggett suffers knee injury

Offensive line_mini

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – If Georgia was coming to Death Valley today, Clemson’s got a good feel of who run out there at offensive line.

Individually, there has been some consternation at certain spots within the past week. But with 17 days to go before the opener, head coach Dabo Swinney sounded far more confident in his starting group.

And that group does not include Isaiah Battle, whom the coaches have practically begged to step into a starring role at left tackle.

“Battle’s not going to beat out Brandon Thomas,” Swinney said Wednesday at Memorial Stadium following a morning situational scrimmage. “I mean, that’s a pipe dream.”

So there’s that. But if Battle was at least one of Clemson’s best five offensive lineman, that would scooch all-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas over one spot to left guard.

“In Battle’s situation, he’s not there yet, but at some point, hopefully the light comes on, and he’s one of those five, maybe he’s better than one of our other guys, then we’ve got flexibility,” Swinney said. “We don’t have a lot of flexibility with Isaiah – he’s going to play one spot, and that’s tackle.”

So Thomas is locked in at left tackle against the Bulldogs, right?

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Unless something drastic changes, he’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win,” Swinney said. “That’s not going to change in the next couple of weeks.”

Plan B doesn’t look good either, for one reason. He stands 6-foot-4 tall and weighs 315 pounds and has a new nickname.

“David Beasley has had a great camp,” Swinney said, with enthusiasm. “If you had asked me that before camp, I’d have said it’s a real hot fire at left guard. But I tell you what: I think (offensive line coach) Robbie (Caldwell) changed his name from the Ugly Duckling to the Sexy Swan. You never know what Robbie’s going to say.”

After reporters stopped chuckling, Swinney outlined how Beasley’s been “the most pleasant surprise of camp,” and the best camp overall on the line outside of entrenched right guard Tyler Shatley.

“We didn’t know if he was going to be fully committed. We’re most pleased with him and his performance and his mental preparation,” Swinney said. “He has been very, very focused, and he’s made very few mental mistakes.

“And physically, he’s a train. Very strong, hard to get around. If he gets his hands on you, it’s over. He’s pushed through conditioning from a fatigue standpoint.”

On the other side of the line, Gifford Timothy’s hanging on to right tackle for now. Eric Mac Lain, Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are in the mix as backups.

“Giff is probably the guy who I’m not displeased with. I trust Giff. We all trust him,” Swinney said. “But he’s probably the guy that needs some fire under him.”

Finally, the center position. The most important cog on the line, and the saga of inconsistent shotgun snaps continues with Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo.

“We’ve been a little inconsistent with our snaps,” Swinney said. “Not bad, but just not the perfection that we’re looking for.”

The Tigers would like to have a firm five in place when game preparation for Georgia begins Aug. 22 – nine days before the showdown.

“Obviously an opener like this, a game like this, you’re gonna put your best foot forward,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to really dial in on who we want to go to battle with, and who we think is really ready, that we can trust.”

Leggett goes down: Promising freshman tight end Jordan Leggett was carted off from Wednesday’s scrimmage, after catching a pass and getting tackled. He went off to get his knee checked out, and details should follow today or tomorrow.

“Hopefully, it’s not bad,” Swinney said. “It didn’t look good on the field.”

-AB