Facing the 6th ranked Tennessee Volunteers in Friday's Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl will be no easy challenge. The Vols, winners of 6 consecutive games, turned around their season after a 41-14 loss to Georgia and never looked back.
Included in those 6 victories was a very impressive 10-6 road win over Miami and a hard fought, 51-43, 5 overtime win over archrival Alabama.
While some fans have pointed to the Vols' season ending schedule as one of the primary factors in their climb up the rankings, the turnaround in Knoxville was anything but an accident.
Tennessee lived off of a dominating defense in 2003, limiting the opposition to just 181 yards per game through the air, a number that ranked 2nd in the SEC and 15th in the nation. The Vols also finished 3rd in the conference in passing efficiency defense a number that was also good for 18th in the country.
Those stats may not sit too well with Clemson fans, considering the Tigers have used the passing game to move the football all season long. In fact, the Tigers passed for 3,441 yards compared to just 1,626 yards on the ground. That's more than twice the total offense through the air.
Hence, using that same sort of game plan in the Peach Bowl, may play right in Phil Fulmer and company's hands.
"Tennessee has one of the best defensive backfields that we have seen this year," said senior wide receiver Kevin Youngblood. "They play a lot of man-to-man. We feel like they are going to give us a run for our money, but our job is keep going out and make big plays, and that's what we plan on doing."
WR Kevin Youngblood
Youngblood, who has been one of the Tigers' top deep play threats this year, bringing in a team high 67 catches for 833 yards and 2 touchdowns, says that the man-to-man coverage that Tennessee employs, could end up backfiring in the long run.
"We kind of like that pressure to be honest with you," added Youngblood. "We want the game to be in our hands. We are expecting those guys to line up in a lot man coverage, and then it will just be up to us to go out and produce. That's what it's all about in a game like this. We match up our strength against theirs and see who is better."
Man-to-man coverage is something that Clemson has had some success against this year, but perhaps nothing can help the Tigers more on Friday than having a healthy Airese Currie back in the mix.
Currie practiced at full speed Saturday and appears to be back at 100% after suffering through a high ankle sprain most of the year.
"He looked good out there today," said assistant coach Dabo Swinney. "He should be ready to go for the game, and that's a good thing, because we are going to need him."
"My ankle is fine," added Currie. "I'm back to full strength and I'm just ready to play."
Like Youngblood, Currie also likes the idea of the Vols lining up in man coverage a good bit when these two teams clash later this week.
"They play man coverage pretty much the whole game, and they are really fundamentally sound in the secondary. We've got to be the same way. We know that those guys will be right there on us, and there won't be any wide open passes out there. They'll be on us, we've just got to catch it and move the chains."
Consistently "moving the chains" against a team like Tennessee will be critical, especially if the Tigers expect to walk out of the Georgia Dome on January 2nd with a win.