Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney took the media on a trip down memory lane this week as he recalled nights spent in Statesboro.
“When I was an assistant at Alabama my recruiting area was kind of Augusta to Savannah and all the way across the state so I spent a lot of time in Statesboro,” Swinney said at his weekly news conference. “That would be one of the places I used to love to stay
“I would go jog the campus at Georgia Southern,” Swinney said. “They had a little lake there and I would go around and think what a cool football town is here. You could just feel the football tradition of Georgia Southern when you were in that town.
“There was a little bar-b-que joint there—I can’t remember the name of it—where Erk Russell use to eat (Snooky’s) and I would go there and eat. I would always try to make a point to spend a night in Statesboro.”
That nostalgia and fond memories will not be on Swinney’s mind when his No. 2 Tigers (2-0) take on Georgia Southern (2-0) at noon on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
The game was originally scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. start but was moved up due to Hurricane Florence. This will be the only FBS football game being played on Saturday in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. All other games involving FBS teams in the two states have been cancelled.
Despite the 34-point spread set by the oddsmakers and the fact the Eagles are coming off a disastrous 2-10 season Swinney is taking nothing for granted.
“This is a very, very proud program,” Swinney said. “They won six FCS national championships, went to The Swamp and won, ran for over 300 yards at Alabama and did the same thing at Georgia.
“Their quarterback (Shai Werts) is their best player and he’s a kid from Newberry (S.C.) that we offered,” Swinney said. “We offered him as an athlete, but he wanted to go and play quarterback. He’s a really good athlete.
“On defense they’ve got 11 guys who started three to four games last year. They’ve got some thumpers there who will flat get after you. They’ve got a good scheme. You’ve got to be smart.”
The Eagles are coming along at a good time for the Tigers who are coming off a thrilling 28-26 win at Texas A&M last weekend and face Georgia Tech in their Atlantic Coast Conference next week.
Georgia Southern’s run game will be sorely tested by a Clemson defense whose front four have all been projected as future No. 1 NFL draft picks.
Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Freell and Austin Bryant are a key reason why Clemson has given up only 188 yards on 85 rushing plays by Furman and Texas A&M.
While the Georgia Southern offense will have to contend with that front four and any seven others the Tigers send out the Eagle defense will be tested two by an offense gunning for its second national championship in the last three years.
Clemson’s offense is averaging 472 yards per game, 182 rushing and 290 passing. It’s like a snake with two heads.
Senior quarterback Kelly Bryant is 23-for-34 for 337 yards and two touchdowns and freshman Trevor Lawrence is 14-for-23 for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Twelve receivers have caught at least one pass with Amari Rodgers leading the way with nine receptions for 122 yards and a score. Hunter Renfrow has seven for 83.
Clemson’s leading rusher is Travis Etienne with 19 carries for 107 yards.
Swinney pointed out that the Tigers lead the nation in explosive plays with six going for 40 or more yards.
The Georgia Southern defense has given up only one play of 40 or more yards, but in South Carolina State and UMass it has not faced a team with the overall talent of Clemson.
“This is a huge game for us to try to improve,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to continue to be explosive, but the main thing about this game is fixing up details and executions.”
Werts is one of seven players from South Carolina on the Eagles roster. Werts has 429 all purpose yards and has scored six touchdowns. Last week he had 237 yards and three scores in a 34-13 win over UMass.