CLEMSON — In the history of its football program, Clemson has won 75 percent of its football games in years when at least four of the previous year’s starting offensive linemen return.
That’s a good thing, considering the Tigers’ all-time winning clip is 59 percent.
So it only makes sense Clemson rolls those same four out again in 2013, which appears to be the case as announced Tuesday by offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
It’s not much of a surprise, but at least it’s a solidified decision: left tackle Brandon Thomas, left guard David Beasley, right guard Tyler Shatley and right tackle Gifford Timothy retain their starting spots from last season, while center Ryan Norton has come through on his hand-picked selection.
“They’ve had the most consistency through camp,” Morris said. “By all means just because those guys are the five today doesn’t mean it’ll be the five we put out on the field on Aug. 31.”
Could there be a change? Sure. Morris doesn’t have to fill in the mythical lineup card for another 10 days. But it’s not like he’s crossing his fingers for controversy.
“You have to get that five kind of in a mix,” Morris said. “Doesn’t mean the other guys aren’t going to play behind him, but those five have got to be confident and they’ve got to be able to feed off each other.”
Jokingly, Morris did assure reporters Tajh Boyd was the starting quarterback. Fifth-year senior Roderick McDowell figures to get the first snap at running back, Sammy Watkins and Charone Peake are likely to be listed as the starting receivers, and either deep threat Martavis Bryant or fullback/tight end Darrell Smith would become the 11th offensive starter.
“It just depends on how we are (on the field),” Morris said. “Darrell has really improved in a lot of areas. Definitely a hard-nosed guy and a very physical player. You look for his leadership to start this thing out.”
Wait till next year
McDowell, true sophomore Zac Brooks, redshirt junior D.J. Howard and walk-on C.J. Davidson may have done their part to do the somewhat unthinkable: sit down highly-touted freshmen Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman for 2013.
“You’d like to,” Morris said. “That’s kind of our intent right now.”
Dye has battled a back injury, and Gallman has produced a stellar camp yet struggled at the second intrasquad scrimmage. With only so many carries to go around in this offense and plenty of candidates to take them, a running back committee is forming into place.
“I need help. I can’t do it by myself,” McDowell said. “I’m not going to sit there and be like, oh, I don’t want the ball, because I’d be lying. But I’m going to need all my running backs.”
As fall camp comes to a close, full attention begins to be shifted toward Georgia, and the Tigers’ coaching staff has long since been preparing for their fourth SEC opponent in the past 365 days.
“We do season study on all of our opponents, but obviously there’s a lot of emphasis on your opener, since the spring,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve seen everything you can see on Georgia, they’ve seen everything that they can see on Clemson.”
Because the Bulldogs must replace over half their defense, it’s not easy to discern what types of looks they’ll throw at Boyd and the offense.
“You don’t ever have this amount of time to prepare for one game,” Swinney said. “But there’s a lot of changes for them, from a personnel standpoint, so it’s hard to piece it all together, and there’s changes for us too. It’s always a challenging game, the opener — it doesn’t matter who you play, because there’s a lot of unknowns.”
Up to the challenge
Rightfully so, a prevailing storyline going into the Georgia-Clemson showdown compares the two experienced quarterbacks, Boyd and Aaron Murray.
But the Bulldogs’ talented duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall can’t be overlooked. Both players rushed for more than 6 yards per carry and rated in the top 40 nationally in that category as freshmen in 2012.
“They’re big guys, and they run extremely strong,” Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey said. “They seem like they’re extremely hard to bring down. They both are really good out in open space — they can run over people, but they’re also quick and shifty.”
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