Like two experienced gunfighters standing out in a dusty boomtown in the Old West, TCU and Clemson prepare to duel in Death Valley this Saturday, as two top 20 defenses square off. The game has been moved from its original time of high noon to 3:30 pm to better accommodate tailgating, but the spirit of the duel continues on.
Last year, TCU ranked No. 1 in the country in rushing defense (allowing 47.1 yards per game), No. 1 in total defense (allowing just 217.7 yards per game), No. 4 in passing defense, and No. 2 in scoring defense.
Clemson finished at No. 13 in scoring defense, No. 10 in passing defense, and No. 18 in total defense.
The game came about in large part because new Clemson coach Dabo Swinney did not want to play two FCS schools this year. The Texas Christian Horned Frogs were the only FBS school available. "Holy smokes" was Swinney's reaction.
Showing that taking a challenge is more important to Coach Swinney than getting an easy win, he decided to line up and face the challenge head on. Whether that was foolhardy or wise will be determined on Saturday.
Clemson's defense looks as tough as ever this year, as demonstrated by last Saturday's game against Boston College. BC was completely dominated, having only 54 yards in total offense.
TCU's defense is led by DE Jerry Hughes, who led the nation in sacks last year and is looking to up his number this year. Every team will be double-and triple-teaming him, but it matters little, as he still has been able to get in the backfield and dominate. He is third in the country in sacks right now, having played one fewer game than most teams in the country.
On offense, Clemson has been having some difficulties moving the ball and scoring touchdowns. To date, the Tigers have only five offensive touchdowns and none on the ground.
Clemson is loaded with talent and potential on offense, highlighted by RB C.J. Spiller, who has three touchdowns so far this year, but none rushing. Battling turf toe, Spiller had 214 total yards last Saturday, including a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown. Spiller also had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season opener against MTSU.
TCU's offense has been particularly balanced over the last several years, fitting into coach Gary Patterson's philosophy. For Patterson, the offense should work to help the defense by wearing down the opposition, controlling the clock, and scoring just enough points to win.
With a big offensive line and a strong stable of running backs led by senior Joseph Turner, who is currently averaging 8.5 yards per carry, TCU led the nation in time of possession last year.
Keys to Victory
1. Shut down the TCU offense.
2. Score points on special teams.
3. Win the turnover battle
1. Contain C.J. Spiller.
2. Control the clock.
3. Hold on to the ball.
The Duel at Death Valley will not receive national television coverage but instead will be relegated to ESPN360, which, while not great, at least allows everyone in the country to see the game on their computer.
The weather forecast looks like the rain that has been soaking the Southeast and causing flooding will continue through this game.
TCU needs to win to preserve the Mountain West's effort to secure an automatic bid for the conference from the BCS, as well as keep up the Frogs' hope of going to a BCS bowl this season.
While most of us will be seeing this game via the Internet, those who take the time to seek out the game will be witnessing a true test of football toughness.