As of Sunday, it was the lowest win probability for any power-five team against another power-five team for the entire season, according to ESPN. It’s a tick lower than two other Tigers opponents visiting Death Valley – Boston College (1.8%) and Wake Forest (2.2%).
Coach Geoff Collins does not dwell on such talk. At his Sunday news conference, he described a more clinical approach to preparing for a opponent.
Collins said he presents information such as an opponent’s schemes, formations and tendencies.
“That’s what we talk about,” Collins said. “We don’t really talk about our opponent much. We have a great deal of respect, we understand what a great job they’ve done with players and coaches and recruiting and all those things, but we have to worry about us.”
For Tech coaches, there does not seem to be any need to make certain that the preseason No. 1 Tigers have their players' respect. The focus, rather, is instilling an attitude of fearlessness against an opponent that won its final 10 games of last season by 20 points or more, including its 44-16 demolition of Alabama in the national championship game.
“We’re not going to be afraid to go out and play anybody anywhere,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “We’ll just put the ball down and play whoever we get a chance to play. That’s kind of our mentality.”
Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker offered a message similar to Collins’. His defense will know Clemson’s tendencies and plays and be wary of the array of playmakers across the offense, starting with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
“So the big message for us in our defensive meeting room is, know them, and we literally put up a slide (Sunday in a meeting): Know them,” Thacker said. “But more important, know us and then, no freaking fear. I don’t think our kids are going to fear anything, I really don’t.”
There is ample reason to respect the Tigers’ potency, starting with Lawrence. Thacker said that the sophomore from Cartersville High would have been the top overall pick in the NFL draft this spring had he been able to leave Clemson after his freshman year.
“Not even understating it — you’re seeing a generational quarterback,” Thacker said. “He is the elite quarterback in college football, in my opinion.”
Lawrence can pitch or hand off to All-American running back Travis Etienne or throw it to wide receiver Justyn Ross, who torched Alabama with six catches for 153 yards in the national championship. Thacker is not cowering.
“I can’t call a game scared,” Thacker said. “You can’t cover everything on every single play. You can’t double team everybody on every single play. So we’ve got to be us.”
If the Jackets have any doubt, they’re not showing it. Wide receiver Adonicas Sanders said that, from study of game video, he knows that Atlanta native A.J. Terrell is the team’s best cornerback.
He also told reporters in an interview shared with the AJC that the Tigers have a safety “who’ll come downhill and hit you, but he can’t cover, so we’ll be able to work him out in space.” (If you’re wondering, both of Clemson’s starting safeties, K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse, are returning starters.)
Offensive tackle Zach Quinney takes confidence in what he has seen from his team, and disregards the underdog talk.
“Because to us, everybody that’s coming up with the point spread or whatever you want to call it, they’re not really seeing what we’re doing every day in summer workouts, every day in fall camp,” he said.
Defensive lineman Antwan Owens insisted that the Jackets won’t back down.
“This is a tremendous challenge with these guys coming in No. 1-ranked team, rightfully so, have a lot of skill guys, great QB, great running back a great team,” Owens said. “But I feel like we’re up for the challenge. As always, we never back down from anything. We’re going to attack, attack, attack, just like coach Collins says, and it’s going to be a great game.”