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Clemson Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ball State

Eric SteitzAnalyst IIIJanuary 1, 2017

Clemson Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ball State

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    The Clemson Tigers knocked off the Auburn Tigers 26-19 last week in one of the more exciting contests of college football's opening weekend.

    This weekend’s contest for Clemson is against Ball State (1-0) and shouldn’t be as exciting. It’s still an intriguing matchup for the Tigers, who will need to continue to do things well in order to beat the Cardinals.

    The win over Auburn was a big step for the Clemson program, but this early in the season it doesn’t mean much.

    "Great, we carried the banner tonight. We got a huge win. But we've got a whole season to play,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

    "One of the great things about playing a game like this early in the season is I think you get a very good idea of not only where you are at this moment, but where you need to go," said Auburn coach Gene Chizik.

    Clemson is hoping to stay on the right track against Ball State. BSU knocked off Eastern Michigan 37-26 in its season opener. The Tigers are favored by more than three touchdowns in this contest, but they still have to perform well.

    Here are the keys to the game for No. 12 Clemson in their home opener.

Andre Ellington and the Rushing Game

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    The Clemson Tigers rushed for 320 yards against an SEC defense. Senior running back Andre Ellington racked up 228 of those yards on 25 carries―a 9.1 yard-per-carry average. The only downside to Ellington’s performance is that he didn’t find the end zone.

    That shouldn’t be the case this weekend.

    Both the Cardinals and Tigers gave up 180 rushing yards in their respective games. Clemson’s opponent was obviously more difficult, but controlling the clock and field position starts on the ground.

    The Tigers made a statement by knocking off an SEC foe last week. They will need another strong performance from Ellington and the rushing game to continue the momentum as they count down the weeks to the Florida State matchup on Sept. 22.

Tajh Boyd’s Ability to Stretch the Field

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    Junior QB Tajh Boyd didn’t have an eye-popping stat line in the Auburn game. He went 24-of-34 for 204 yards, a touchdown and a pick. He also rushed 19 times for 58 yards.

    Without standout sophomore wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Boyd found new targets. The main target was DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 13 passes for 119 yards and a score. That score came with just over nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter to put Clemson up for good. Hopkins also set a school record with the 13 receptions.

    Boyd averaged 6.1 yards per completion. The longest catch of the day was a 25-yarder to Hopkins.

    Without Watkins’ dynamic play-making, the Clemson offense was a bit more methodical. The short and intermediate passing game worked well for the Tigers.

    Come Florida State, the Tigers will need to be able to stretch the field with a downfield passing attack. These next two weeks will provide an opportunity to work on another deep threat to complement Watkins when he returns.

Jahwan "Quake" Edwards

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    Ball State’s sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards entered Week 1 in midseason form. The talented RB went for 200 yards on just 10 carries―that’s impressive regardless of the opponent.

    Nicknamed “Quake,” the Matthews, North Carolina, product impressed coaches at Ball State last year with his size and agility. He earned the starting nod in Week 6 last year and hasn’t looked back since. BSU was the only FBS team to offer Quake a scholarship. He has made the most of that, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards in just nine career starts.

    The sophomore is 5’10” and weighs 217 lbs—down 21 from last season. This year, he is even more powerful. Quake squats 550 lbs. Eastern Michigan saw that power all too well.

    Clemson’s defense gave up 180 yards last week against Auburn, and could have its hands full with Quake. He plays a big game to go along with his big size and a big nickname, too.

    “I used to get mad when people called me Jahwan, but I understand why Jahwan has to be used, and I’ll go with it. But I prefer to be called Quake,” he said.

    The Tigers are hoping it’s more of a tremor than a quake on Saturday.

    “He was ‘Quake’—and he was big,” BSU WR Jamill Smith said. “He came here and said, ‘My name is Quake.’ People on campus call him Jahwan Edwards, but to me he’s always Quake.”

Consistency

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    Last season, the Clemson Tigers struggled against weaker opponents. They beat Wofford in Week 2 by just eight points, knocked off a rebuilding Maryland by 11 and lost to North Carolina State by 24.

    The Tigers can’t afford to play down to BSU’s level. Ball State has the ability to knock them off, if the Tigers bring a C-game. Clemson has beaten Ball State in each of their two meetings, by a 54-17 combined score. The last meeting was in 2002.

    The Cardinals were selected to finish fourth in the MAC’s West Division. They aren’t expected to be major players in the conference, but a strong performance against Clemson could change that mentality.

    Ball State has dropped its last 12 contests to Top 25 teams. The last win was in 2001 against Toledo. Clemson doesn’t need an A-game to beat the Cardinals, but it does need a B-plus to build momentum and continuity on both sides of the ball.

The Friendly Confines of Death Valley

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    Death Valley has been friendly to only one team in recent years: Clemson. The Tigers are 12-2 at Memorial Stadium this decade and have lost just 99 games there since 1942.

    Last season, the Tigers went an undefeated 7-0 at home, giving up an average of 25.7 points per game. If that trend continues, look for Saturday’s home opener to be a shootout.

    Clemson’s offense racked up 528 yards against Auburn. Ball State outdid them by earning 596 yards against Eastern Michigan.

    After the first week, BSU has the ninth-best offense in the country. Look into that as much as possible with such a small sample size. What it shows is BSU has weapons. They play a balanced game―with 33 rushing attempts and 34 passing attempts last week. BSU led 34-13 last week heading into the fourth quarter.

    The Tigers' home winning streak should add another this weekend, but they have to be careful and play at a solid level. An energized home crowd should help Clemson avoid a slow start.

    Style points and margin of victory do matter this weekend, considering Alabama jumped Southern Cal in the polls, even though both teams won. With eyes on the top 10, Clemson needs to focus on the Cardinals, not the big ACC contest in two weeks against Florida State.

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