The No. 2 Clemson Tigers (9-1, 7-1 ACC) will run down the hill one final time inside Death Valley this season as they take on The Citadel Bulldogs (5-5) Saturday (12:20 p.m., ESPN).
Clemson holds a 31-5-1 advantage in the series that dates back to the 1909 season. Clemson won that first meeting by a score of 17-0. The Citadel’s first win came seven years later in 1916 by a score of 3-0 in a game that was played at the County Fairgrounds in Orangeburg.
Fast forwarding nearly 100 years, the last time the Tigers and the Bulldogs met on the gridiron, the Tigers celebrated Senior Day with a 52-6 victory — as No. 6 Clemson picked up its 10th win of the season.
The Tigers will once again look to pick up a 10th win against The Citadel while celebrating Senior Day and Military Appreciation Day.
Who to watch when Clemson has the ball
- Kelly Bryant (QB): Much has been made of the first-year starter’s struggles throwing the ball since the Tigers’ loss to the Syracuse Orange in October.
While Bryant has done an outstanding job leading Clemson to a 9-1 record in his first year as a starter, and can match the Clemson record for most wins by a first-year starting quarterback (10) with a victory over The Citadel, Tiger fans, the coaching staff and the media are ready to see Bryant get back to “making the layups” or the passes that he should make.
With the Tigers’ ability to run the ball at will against the Bulldogs and with the chances of Bryant facing a dominant pass rush being slim, look for the coaching staff to let Bryant work through his issues by airing the ball.
- Travis Etienne (RB): True freshman running back Travis Etienne has emerged as the Tigers’ leading rusher—with a team-best 617 yards in only 80 attempts. The true freshman already has four runs of at least 50 yards.
His 617 yards are the most by a Clemson freshman since Wayne Gallman had 769 yards in 2014, but Gallman had more than double the attempts (161) than Etienne has this season. Etienne is also ahead of C.J. Spiller’s record for yards per rush by a freshman, 7.7 yards per attempt for Etienne to Spiller’s 7.27, and is only one touchdown from tying Spiller’s record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman (10).
- Aron Spann III (Rover; The Citadel): The junior rover leads the Southern Conference and ranks eighth nationally with five interceptions.
Spann had career-high games this season in tackles (12 against Mercer), tackles for loss (one against Furman last week), pass breakups (one against Newberry), interceptions (two at Chattanooga), forced fumbles (two against Mercer) and quarterback hurries (one against Mercer).
Who to watch when The Citadel has the ball
- Dorian O’Daniel (LB): The senior linebacker will celebrate Senior Day against an offense that he made a name for himself against — the triple-option.
The Tigers’ “option-killer” made a name for himself for his disruptive plays against the option attack of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets over the last three seasons, and will once again have an opportunity to play the role of head-hunter Saturday.
Through 10 games this season, no one has had more big plays on defense than O’Daniel — who had consecutive road games with a “pick six,” against the Louisville Cardinals and the Virginia Tech Hokies -- and one would assume that he will have a couple bigger plays this week.
- Austin Bryant (DE): Not related to quarterback Kelly Bryant, Austin Bryant has been a key to the Tigers’ defensive success this season.
Bryant has a team-best 14.5 tackles for loss this season, and his 7.5 sacks are tied for the best on the team and 16th in the nation with fellow defensive end Clelin Ferrell. Bryant has 46 tackles so far this season, including 39 first hits (tied for second on the team).
- Dominique Allen (QB; The Citadel): As with every option team, the quarterback is the key component to the offense and that is no different with The Citadel.
Quarterback Dom Allen leads the Bulldogs in passing and rushing this season, as he has amassed 571 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while he has thrown for an additional 458 yards and three touchdowns.
Allen earned Offensive Player of the Week honors following The Citadel’s 31-25 victory over East Tennessee State University, in which he threw for 104 yards and a touchdown, while he added 52 yards rushing and another score.
Preview and prediction
Clemson will look to put together 60 minutes of complete football this week ahead of next week’s annual rivalry game against the South Carolina Gamecocks — while giving head coach Dabo Swinney his 99th win as the Clemson head coach.
More important for the second-ranked Tigers than the margin of victory is how the team looks.
Will they come out and play their best 60 minutes of the season, or will they look sloppy? If the Tigers want to build momentum for the next two weeks against the Gamecocks and then the following week against Miami in the ACC Championship Game, it begins this week — taking care of The Citadel.
Clemson 49, The Citadel 3