Five Things to Watch When Georgia Southern Takes on Clemson

Nearly 29 years after the Hugo Bowl, Georgia Southern will come out with a sequel: The Flo Bowl. Despite much deliberation between Georgia Southern and Clemson officials, the game will go on, with a slight adjustment. The game will kickoff at 12:00 EST on ESPNU rather than 3:30 on ESPN2.
As of now, the forecast for game day calls for only a 20% chance of rain. Hurricane Florence is stalling and weakening. Any effects Clemson will feel from the storm aren’t projected hit until late Saturday at the earliest. Details could change, but the show will go on.
Georgia Southern has a $1.9 million incentive to play this game. As for actual football, Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney had some nice things to say about Georgia Southern.

Very kind words from one of the best coaches in the country. Georgia Southern might not get the respect it deserves from casual fans, but among the coaching fraternity, it is held in high regard. Dabo totally gets what makes Georgia Southern such a special place. The Clemson fans might see this as a warmup for Georgia Tech next week, but that’s not how Swinney views it.
Both schools enter this match-up undefeated. #2-ranked Clemson is coming off of a controversial 2-point victory over Texas A&M in Kyle Field. The Tigers are 34.5 point favorites over the Eagles. Clemson is a juggernaut on both sides of the ball. Their defensive line is historically good. They have two talented quarterbacks and a bevy of offensive weapons. Even Hunter Renfrow is still playing, don’t ask me how.
But Georgia Southern is not known for lying down against P5 opponents. The wetter and windier it gets Saturday the more level the playing field will become. The Eagles are bringing a travel gnome on the road this week for good luck, anything can happen. Here are the key storylines for Saturday.

Chad Lunsford vs. Dabo Swinney

Lunsford and Swinney share several parallels. Both were little-known position coaches before being elevated to interim head coach following a coaching change. Both did such an excellent job as interim head coaches that their respective schools decided to hire them full-time. Both are excellent recruiters. Both are young, high-energy, players coaches.
If Chad Lunsford is even half as successful as Dabo, then Georgia Southern is in good hands. But the Lunsford era is young. With a win over UMass last week, Lunsford elevated his winning percentage as head coach to .500, with a record of 4-4. He’s won 4 of his last 5 games. But Clemson is the toughest opponent he’s faced yet. His first game against a top-25 P5 team. It doesn’t get much tougher than Clemson. Georgia Southern has a tradition of giving P5 teams fits, we’ll see if Chad carries the torch.

Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence

Clemson will play two quarterbacks. The incumbent starter Kelly Bryant and the true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Both have played exceptionally so far this season. Bryant is the dual threat, and Lawrence is more of a pocket passer. Through two games, Bryant has thrown for 332 yards and 2 TDs, 0 INTs and has run 98 yards on 20 carries. Lawrence has thrown for 230 yards and 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Both present a stiff test for the Eagles’ defense Saturday.

Clemson’s mindset

Clemson played a wild one last week vs. Texas A&M. They needed a couple favorable calls there at the end of the game to escape with the 2-point win. Next week they face rivals Georgia Tech. This is that classic sandwich game where Georgia Southern could catch a big team looking ahead.
There’s also the small fact that Hurricane Florence could be battering the Lowcountry of South Carolina come game time. Several families of Clemson players will most certainly be affected by the storm. Will they be focused on this game? Or will their minds be elsewhere?

Georgia Southern’s OL vs. the Clemson DL

Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins.
Learn their names. There’s a good chance all four ends up playing on Sundays one day. All could be first-round draft picks. Who are they? They’re Clemson’s defensive line. The best in college football. Georgia Southern’s offensive line will have its hands full keeping those four out of the Eagle backfield Saturday. Getting the inside dive established will be difficult no doubt. So how do the Eagles adapt if the inside isn’t working? It might take a real special effort from Shai Werts to keep this competitive.

Georgia Southern Secondary vs. Higgins/Rodgers/Renfrow

Who else wants to see Monquavion Brinson cover Hunter Renfrow? Because I do. But chances are Brinson probably won’t be assigned to cover the slot often Saturday. Brinson and his partner in crime, Kindle Vildor, will have their hands full with Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers all afternoon. Both Higgins and Rodgers are sophomores. Higgins is a 6-4 deep threat, averaging 26 yards a reception. Rodger is a 5-9 speedster that is dangerous after the catch. Renfrow has been catching passes at Clemson since the Tommy West era. This trio will be tough to contain. The Eagle secondary must prevent big plays and keep them out of the end zone to keep this game close.
 

Prediction

Clemson 35
Georgia Southern 14
I don’t buy the forecasts. There’s no way in hell there’s only a 20% chance of rain Saturday. The outer bands of Florence will affect this game. It will be a windy, rainy affair. This should work in Georgia Southern’s favor, slowing down Clemson’s offense somewhat. Eventually, I think the Tigers separate themselves in the 2nd half, but I would put down a big chunk of change for Georgia Southern to cover that hefty +34.5 point spread.

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