GAME NOTES: The 12th-ranked Clemson Tigers open up the home portion of their 2012 schedule, as they welcome the Ball State Cardinals to Death Valley for a showdown at Memorial Stadium.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers won the ACC a year ago and are certainly in contention to repeat. Clemson certainly looked like one of the better teams in the country, grinding out a hard-fought 26-19 victory over a good Auburn squad in the season-opener in Atlanta last weekend. The victory was even more impressive considering the team was at less than full strength on the offensive side of the ball.
Ball State also opened the season with a victory, getting its Mid-American Conference slate off on the right foot with a 37-26 victory against Eastern Michigan in Muncie last weekend. Pete Lembo, who led the Cardinals to a 6-6 mark in his first season at the helm in 2011, has his sights set on much bigger things in 2012.
This marks the third all-time meeting between these two teams, with the first matchup coming in 1992 and the second 10 years later in 2002. Clemson won both meetings in Death Valley.
Ball State's offense overwhelmed Eastern Michigan last week, rolling up 596 yards of total offense, the fourth highest total in school history. The ground game was the driving force at a hefty 329 yards, thanks to sophomore Jahwan Edwards, who rumbled for a career-high 200 yards and three TDs on 20 carries.
With Edwards moving the chains at will, quarterback Keith Wenning only had to manage things. Wenning, who has started the last 23 games for Ball State, did so by completing 26-of-41 passes, for 267 yards. His top target was Jamill Smith, who finished with seven catches, for 119 yards.
While the Ball State offense was clicking on all cylinders, the defense had its struggles. The Cardinals were particularly vulnerable to the run, yielding a generous 180 yards, on 5.5 yards per carry. The pass defense was much better, with the Eagles amassing just 186 yards through the air.
Senior middle linebacker Travis Freeman led the way for Ball State with nine tackles in the win. Defensive backs Jeffery Garrett (junior) and Chris Pauling (freshman) added seven stops apiece.
Clemson erupted for over 500 yards against a good Auburn team and that was without All-American wideout Sammy Watkins in the lineup. Watkins will complete a two-game suspension to start the season this week, but the Tigers certainly have the personnel to assuage the loss.
Quarterback Tahj Boyd is the straw that stirs the drink in Death Valley. He was solid in the opener, completing 24-of-34 passes, for 208 yards and a TD, while rushing for 58 yards.
Lembo knows that Boyd is the key to Clemson's offensive attack.
"Their offense is explosive to say the least. They had 528 yards in offense against Auburn. They run a pistol set a lot, which is basically a quarterback in a modified shotgun formation. Their quarterback is a dual threat with a very strong arm and great feet and he can make a lot happen."
Still, it was tailback Andre Ellington and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins who lifted the Tigers to victory in the opener. Ellington led a rushing attack that amassed 320 yards, with 228 of those yards on an impressive 9.1 yards per carry.
Hopkins, who filled the void left by Watkins' absence, hauled in seven balls, for 119 yards, including a remarkable TD grab in the fourth quarter to secure the win for Clemson.
Hopkins' growing confidence should enhance Clemson's attack the rest of the way.
"Any time the ball's in the air, I feel like it's mine. No matter if there are five defenders or ten defenders or one, I feel like it's my ball."
The Clemson offense is going to drive the team's success this season, as the defense clearly showed in the opener, having its problems against Auburn. Clemson yielded 374 yards of total offense in the game, including 180 yards on the ground, as Auburn averaged just under five yards per carry (4.9).
The squad did record nine TFLs, two sacks and one turnover in the game. Linebackers Stephone Anthony and Jonathan Willard led the team with seven tackles each. Safety Rashad Hall was responsible for the lone turnover, an interception.
Watkins' return will only make the Clemson offense that much more potent starting next week. As the unit is comprised now, Boyd and company are more than enough to post a comfortable win over a Ball State squad that should be improved in the Mid-American Conference.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Clemson 38, Ball State 14