The Clemson Tigers don't have a shiny BCS ranking, a sparkling record or even a road win yet this season. But here's why the Tigers (3-3, 2-2 ACC) could end up derailing the 10th-ranked Canes (5-1, 2-1) when they resume ACC play this Saturday at 3:30 at Land Shark Stadium:
In a nutshell, Clemson has a pair of home run threats on offense and special teams in running back CJ Spiller and receiver Jacoby Ford. And their defense is much better than advertised.
> Clemson has given up 92 points in six games – a 15.5 points per game average that ranks 17th in the nation and second fewest in the ACC. But those stats are a little misleading. Clemson's offense and special teams have given up six touchdowns. Take away those 36 points and the defense is really only giving up 11.3 points per game. Only the No. 1-ranked Gators, Penn State and Oklahoma are stingier on defense.
> The Tigers secondary ranks seventh in pass defense (yards allowed), 17th in pass efficiency defense and is littered with theives. Defensive backs Chris Chancellor, Crezdon Butler and DeAndre McDaniel have a combined 27 career interceptions and rank in the top 6 among active career leaders in the ACC. Both on the Chancellor and Butler are on the Thorpe Award Watch list with nine and 10 career interceptions respectively. McDaniel leads the nation in interceptions with five.The Tigers held Georgia Tech and Boston College to under 30 percent completion percentage in consecutive games.
> C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford are the top kick return duo in the nation. They have a combined nine returns for scores. Spiller has 17 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more and Ford has eight. "This week we have to focus on the fundamentals, have fun, do our job and stop him," defensive tackle Joe Joseph said of Spiller. "He’s a very explosive running back, fast, world class speed. He’s a real good talent. We have to get there, gang tackle him and wrap up and swarm to the ball."
This isn't to say the Tigers don't have their faults. Offensively, beyond Spiller and Ford, there hasn't been much consistency. But consider the Canes well aware of what the Tigers do well and ready and focused for Saturday.
> FIRST DOWN IMPORTANT FOR CANES: UM coach Randy Shannon said avoiding third and long situations against the Tigers will be of vital importance. "When you watch them on film, they cause havoc. They can get you in third and long. First down is going to be very big for us. We have to control our penalties. Those are the biggest things we have to get done. In second and six we can't have a holding, a false start. We have to be sound and secure in doing the things we need to get done."
> PREPARING FOR SAPP, BOWERS: A big part of staying out of third and long will be avoiding the pressure created by end Rick Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers. Last week, UM quarterback Jacory Harris was sacked six times by UCF. Harris compared Sapp and Bowers to Jason Worilds of Virginia Tech, who terrorized right tackle Matt Pipho in UM's 31-7 loss to the Hokies.
"I think their front seven is just like Oklahoma's front seven," guard Orlando Franklin said Tuesday. "There’s not a guy you can single out and pick on. Going into games, you try to assess people and see where the weaknesses are. Some people have good d-tackles and not so good d-ends. But their front seven is pretty good and like I said they’re two deep at it. We have to continue doing what we do and play assignment football."
> MORE ROLLOUTS?: Just because you saw Harris rollout against UCF to avoid blitzes and pass pressure, don't assume that's going to be UM's game plan the rest of the season. Harris said it was something specific to what the Knights were doing. "I like doing it," Harris said. "But that’s something that fit with UCF. They were sending blitzes from outside, knife it in, so we'd get outside of them. It would give you time to set up and throw the ball."
> MAN TO MAN COVERAGE: One thing Harris and his receivers are looking forward to aside from facing one of the nation's top pass defenses is the man-to-man coverage the Tigers employ.UM hasn't seen that since it faced Florida State in the opener.
"They have faith in their secondary," Harris said. "They're going to play man, and say `You beat us,' I guess they believe in their front seven, and their front seven is really good. Last week they put a lot of pressure on Riley Skinner [of Wake Forest]. And that was the main in focus in their win. We have to take care of their front. I think we have talented enough wide receivers to go against their corners man to man.”
Leonard Hankerson is confident he and his unit will win out: "Personally, I don’t think anybody can play us man."
Frankling agrees: "I really don’t think any team could play man against us because of the type of routes Coach Whipple has brought in and the type of guys we got," Franklin. "It's real hard to backpedal against someone who runs 4.3 and has as good hands like Leonard has. It’s going to make it real hard."
THIS AND THAT...
> In case you missed it, safety Randy Phillips said he's passing on surgery for his torn labrum to play the rest of this season. Phillips said he missed the UCF game because of the flu.
> Guard Joel Figueroa practiced Tuesday and is expected to play this week. Last week, all five starters -- Jason Fox, Orlando Franklin, AJ Trump, Harland Gunn and Matt Pipho -- played until the final minute and a half against UCF. Franklin, who mentioned he practices every day at right tackle, said he prefers it that way.
> Running back Graig Cooper is practicing again. So, too is defensive end Eric Moncur. But I'd only write it down in pencil that both will likely play this week.