2012 Clemson Preview - Getting Past 70-33
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Posted Apr 30, 2012

2012 Clemson Tigers Preview - How quickly can Clemson get past the Orange Bowl nightmare?

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2012

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- 2012 Clemson Defense  | 2012 Clemson Depth Chart  
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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Dabo Swinney
Fifth year: 29-19
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best Clemson Players
1. WR Sammy Watkins, Soph.
2. QB Tajh Boyd, Jr.
3. RB Andre Ellington, Sr.
4. C Dalton Freeman, Sr.
5. S Rashard Hall, Sr.
6. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Jr.
7. S Jonathan Meeks, Sr.
8. DE Malliciah Goodman, Sr.
9. LB Stephone Anthony, Soph.
10. PK Chandler Catanzaro, Jr.
2012 Schedule

Sep. 1 Auburn (in Atlanta)
Sep. 8 Ball State
Sep. 15 Furman
Sep. 22 at Florida State
Sep. 29 at Boston College
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech
Oct. 20 Virginia Tech
Oct. 25 at Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at Duke
Nov. 10 Maryland
Nov. 17 NC State 
Nov. 24 South Carolina

The score resonates in the minds of the Tigers players like an unyielding, five-month nightmare. For all of the good that took place at Clemson last fall, the lasting memory was the program's epic, record-breaking collapse versus West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. It'll spend the next few months attempting to recapture the swagger that led to 10 regular season wins and the 2011 ACC championship, its first in two decades.

Naturally, a big chunk of the offseason will be spent trying to correct an ailing defense that's now under the guidance of Brent Venables, the longtime caretaker of Bob Stoops' defense in Norman. For Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, it marked the second straight year that he looked to the state of Oklahoma for much-needed help on his staff.

Venables' objective will be to educe better results from a unit that has had no problem signing some of the local area's best talent in recent years. In general, the play of the lines—on both sides of the ball—will go a long way toward determining whether or not Clemson can repeat as the conference champ.

As far as the skill positions go, few programs are going to be more stacked this fall than the Tigers. From the offense that erupted under Chad Morris last season returns QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.

Clemson is going to move the ball, maybe with more potency now that it has that first year in a new system committed to memory. Building on the momentum that the school captured in 2011, though, will require more than just a bunch of highlight-reel plays and offensive explosions. The Tigers need to get tougher at the point of attack, especially on defense, or else their potential won't exceed last year's ceiling.

70-33. It's become a symbol of where Clemson was in January, a place it hopes to never again visit in the future.

What to watch for on offense: The attack to keep a Pistol in its holster. As if the high-powered Clemson attack wasn't scary enough already, it's now installing versions of Nevada's Pistol offense, which is designed to augment power running games and confuse defenses. In fact, coordinator Chad Morris spent part of his offseason in Reno to learn more about the system from guru Chris Ault. The alignment calls for the quarterback to line up in a shortened shotgun, with the running back directly behind him. Since opposing linebackers are less likely to detect the flow of a play, it gives a one-step advantage to the running back. RB Andre Ellington with a one-step edge is a problem for opposing defenses.

What to watch for on defense: The final depth chart. With a new defensive coordinator evaluating his inherited talent, there was an unmistakable air of competition during the spring. Clemson will use the summer to decide starters at five different positions, nose guard, defensive tackle, weakside linebacker and both safeties. And that was before the true freshmen have arrived on campus. The staff is hopeful that the uncertainty at so many positions will push the contenders to new heights in the weight room and on the practice field.

This team will be far better if … it cuts down on its number of big plays allowed. A year ago, no team in the ACC yielded more plays of 30+ yards than Clemson, the result of poor tackling and far too many blown assignments. Under the guidance of Brent Venables, the program has got to get its act together on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, the Tigers possess the offensive firepower to survive in shootouts, but it'll inevitably be on the short end of some of those games as well. Few teams can go unscathed when playing in high-scoring games, week-in and week-out.

The Schedule: The Tigers need to get the Orange Bowl taste out of their mouths right away against Auburn in Atlanta to kick off the season. A loss could mean a rough first half of the year with the ACC slate kicking off at Florida State and followed up by a trip to Boston College. And then things become slightly unfair getting both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech from the Coastal. However, both games are at home; there's a week off before dealing with the Hokies; and Duke is the other interdivisional game. Things ease up over the second part of the conference season - at least compared to the first half - and it'll help to get the last three games of the year in Death Valley including the rivalry date with South Carolina.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore Sammy Watkins. As good as advertised coming out of Fort Myers, Fla., Watkins became a tour de force in his first season on campus. The dynamic rookie sensation helped ignite the Clemson offense by catching a team-high 82 passes, rushing for 231 yards, scoring 13 times and earning All-ACC as a wide receiver and kick returner. Not only does he have the physical tools to dominate, but he's also polished well beyond his years, unleashing uncommon fundamentals and ball skills for such a young athlete.

Best Defensive Player: Senior S Rashard Hall. Hall is about to enter his fourth year as a starter on defense, though it's yet to be determined whether it'll be at free safety or strong safety. Both productive and very smart, his instincts ensure that he's rarely out of position or far from the ball. The rock of an otherwise inconsistent secondary played through pain in 2011, yet still collected a team-best 89 tackles to go along with three stops for loss and his ninth and tenth career picks.

Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. Yeah, the defense is firmly under the microscope entering 2012, but the offense will once again be the calling card at Clemson. And the only potential stumbling block for the unit is an inconsistent O-line replacing three starters. Dalton Freeman is an all-star center, and veteran Brandon Thomas should be able to plug the gap at left tackle. However, there'll be plenty of hand-wringing about right tackle and the two guard spots until after the season begins.

The season will be a success if ... Clemson wins 10 games for a second straight year. The upcoming schedule is tailor-made for success. The Tigers will play seven games in Death Valley, and there's only one true thorny road test on the schedule. The opener with Auburn is outside of South Carolina, but it'll be a neutral-site game in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Plus, they get Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and South Carolina at home, and back-to-back scrimmages leading up to their showdown in Tallahassee.

Key game: Sept. 22 at Florida State. The season-ender with the rival Gamecocks is also enormous, but it won't impact the ACC Atlantic Division race. The winner of this game at Doak Campbell Stadium instantly becomes the favorite to capture the division, if not the entire conference. The winner of the game between the Tigers and the ‘Noles has played in the conference championship game the last three years—it's a growing trend that's likely to continue in 2012.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Time of possession: Clemson 28:05 – Opponents 31:05
- Rushing yards per game: Clemson 158.5 – Opponents 176.9
- Third quarter scoring: Clemson 151 - Opponents 99

- 2012 Clemson Preview | 2012 Clemson Offense
- 2012 Clemson Defense  | 2012 Clemson Depth Chart  
- Clemson Previews  2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006