TCU's Hughes a handful
CLEMSON -- If the Tigers want to buoy the confidence of Landon Walker, they'll advise him to stay clear of any Jerry Hughes highlight videos easily accessible on the Web.
There, one can see Texas Christian's star defensive end beat tackles with his trademark speed rush, arcing around the flank to flatten quarterback upon quarterback. You can see him knife through the center-guard gap, a shorter route to havoc, and the 6-3, 257-pounder has enough strength and leverage to split double teams.
Hughes lines up almost exclusively over right tackle, which is Walker's position Saturday when the Tigers host the No. 15 Horned Frogs (2-0). Walker said of the 60 plays or so he's seen of Hughes, the All-American end has lined up over the right tackle on all but five of those snaps.
After watching Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan burn the Tigers for three sacks in Atlanta, all eyes will be on the Walker-Hughes matchup at Memorial Stadium.
"I look at it as an opportunity," said Walker, who replaced Cory Lambert in the starting lineup against Boston College. "It's not every week you get to go up against a consensus All-American. It's an opportunity to get my name out there.
"It's not like this is the first time we are facing a really good defensive end --- the ACC is full of them."
Hughes is rated as a first- or second-round NFL prospect by most draft gurus.
NFLdraftscout.com ranks him as the third best outside linebacker prospect in the draft and has him running a 4.59 second 40-yard dash, faster than Morgan's top time of 4.67 seconds.
"He's got a really good speed rush," Walker said. "That's his big thing, not really power."
Hughes led the nation in sacks last season (15) and has already tallied 4.5 this year.
"Hughes is the real deal," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's as good a player as you will see."
Walker said he is not sure how much help he'll receive and believes the staff is "counting on me to do my job."
Against Georgia Tech and Morgan, Lambert received little first-half aid and was replaced at right tackle by Chris Hairston.
Hairston (left knee) is still a question mark and was to be limited to "mentally practicing" Tuesday, according to Swinney, who is concerned about more than just Hughes.
The TCU defense is allowing a paltry 43.5 rushing yards per game, albeit against Texas State and Virginia. But Clemson has been unable to dominate the point of attack against smaller defensive lines in Georgia Tech and Boston College.
TCU is stouter inside with 300-pound tackles Kelly Griffin and Cory Grant, and average 276 pounds per defensive lineman, greater than Boston College (269) or Georgia Tech (266).
While much of the talk centers around Hughes, Gary Patterson, who is 72-27 at TCU since taking over the Horned Frogs in 2000, returns nine offensive starters.
Perhaps the key player for TCU is Andy Dalton, who has 24 starts at quarterback and enters with a 73 percent completion rate.
Behind an experienced offensive line, which has allowed just two sacks this season, the Horned Frogs feature depth at running back. Joseph Turner is the best of the rotation, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. Turner already has scored four touchdowns this season.
"They don't beat themselves," Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "They have more formations than the law allows."
After originally looking at Idaho and Central Michigan to fill out the home schedule, the last-minute addition of TCU offers Clemson a greater test in this interlude from ACC play.
"In every phase of the game they are outstanding," Swinney said. "Their staff has been together a long time and it's obvious they know what they are doing.
"This is a good opportunity to kind of gauge where we are mentally and physically. They are going to challenge you."