If you've checked out this week's One Sentence Predictions you'll notice something odd. That's right Michael Felder, the resident football brain here at In The Bleachers has selected all of the underdogs to win their league title games. Sounds crazy? Did I blow your mind?
Well the picks aren't changing and as it stands currently according to several gambling sites the lines are as follows:
So how did I arrive at this tremendous level of faith in the underdog? Well for starters picking Alabama, Clemson or Nebraska to win their respective game was no stretch, only in concert does this three way +20.5 point swing become a leap of faith. However, I am not shy, I picked these games with some odd combination of my long cultivated football acumen, gut and, since lying isn't cool, my own personal dreams and selfish desires.
In the Clemson and Nebraska case we can go back to the start of the season where I selected Dabo Swinney's squad as my Dark Horse ACC Champion and did the same with Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers. So I'm trying to stay on my horse, no matter how dark and ride it home. In the case of Alabama, you can hear on this week's podcast that I'm absolutely enamored with Saban's coaching style and the hard nosed fashion in which they play big boy football.
So how does Clemson beat the 'Reck Style?
Read more for Clemson's Anatomy of the Upset...
For our second installment in "Anatomy of the Upset" we head down to Tampa for the ACC title game. Clemson and Georgia Tech have the dubious distinction of being the only of the six teams involved in league title games to have already played this year. The Jackets won that contest 30-27 in dramatic fashion after sprinting out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. So why can Clemson expect to win this game, a match up that they've already lost?
Well first of all I don't truly think Clemson lost the game. Sure they took an "L" on their schedule and they helped boost Georgia Tech's ranking but for me the Tigers were by far the more impressive team, even in a losing effort. A quick look at the box score will detail why I feel this way; the Yellow Jackets scored three touchdowns this game. None of the TD's came on drives, each was a spectacular "explosion play" where they caught the Tigers off guard. First with a one play 82 yard run by Anthony Allen on the first play from scrimmage. Second score was a botched pooch punt attempt by Clemson that the Jackets returned for an 85 yard touchdown. Third the Wreck scored on a fake field goal in which they snuck Demaryius Thomas out on to the field and he scooted for 43 yards into the end zone.
Point being, take away Allen's 82 yard run and the Jackets only amassed 336 yards of offense and no offensive TD's in this contest. So with that on display lets look at Clemson's recipe for success this evening.
First and foremost the Tigers will have to eliminate big plays. That means passes of over 30 yards to Thomas as well as runs over 20 yards by Nesbitt, Allen, Jones, Wright and especially Jonathan Dwyer. But this isn't limited to just offensively, Clemson must take away the punt return game of Tarrant as well as any of the "trickeration" that Coach Paul Johnson has got up his grizzled sleeves. If the Tigers had adhered to this maxim in the first contest they would have walked way with a 27-9 win. So this is job one for Kevin Steele's defense and the special teams coordinator Andre Powell. Having played for Powell, believe me, he will have their coverage units keyed in to the importance of every play on the teams. They won't make the same mistake twice.
The second key to the Tigers escaping with a victory is the play of CJ Spiller. Yes his return game is nice and he must have a solid effort returning the football to help inspire his troops. However, the key to this game is Spiller actually running the football. His biggest knock is the fact that he is not even close to being an every down running back. This was exemplified by his less than 20 yards against the defense of Sakerlina. Tonight Spiller needs to prove the critics wrong; and that means running at the GT defense, not around them but through them. Getting up field and picking up tough yards.
Third step and in staying on the offensive side of the ball the Tigers need to get some production from players other than Spiller. Yes Jacoby Ford is a nice player who is capable of going the distance but he's not a true #1 receiver and with the exception of a game against a putrid Virginia squad he hasn't shown up since the Miami game. They need their true receivers Marquan Jones, Xavier Dye, Michael Palmer and co to have big games against a GT defense that will be focused on Spiller and Ford. If Parker can spread the ball around against the zone looks he's likely to see these guys will need to reel in catches to extend drives.
Fourth and final step is the Tigers' defenses ability to get Tech off the field on third downs. Last game the defense did an outstanding job; holding the Jackets to just 3-14 on third downs. They need to duplicate this effort to reach the Orange Bowl. The first way to stop the Wreck is to bottle them up on first and second downs. Forcing third and longs is a must as they're less than equipped to pass on a consistent basis. This means playing assignment football. One guy was responsible for the long play in September; Kavell Conner the linebacker. He didn't take his assignment and Anthony Allen got out the gate for a score; this game Conner is too good a player to make that mistake.
In summation the Tigers have a more dynamic offense than the Jackets, a more multifaceted approach to moving the football, a defense that has proven they can stop the triple option and special teams that are on alert for the big plays. Clemson has the tools, the talent and the skills to win this football game; this boils down to mentality. We know CPJ's squad is going to be as mentally tough as they come and Clemson in this chance to win their first league title since 1991, must match that intensity. Under Bowden the Tigers failed time and again to match that level intensity; Dabo can make his bones by proving he is not Tommy.