Clemson safety Travis Blanks appears to be on the verge of a breakout sophomore campaign, but he and his secondary mates likely will be under siege Saturday night against Georgia.
Blanks (6 feet, 200 pounds) and junior Robert Smith (5-11, 210) should form a relatively solid safety tandem. But Clemson's cornerbacks are a question heading into the opener -- not good when the opposing quarterback is Georgia senior Aaron Murray.
Clemson coaches haven't named starters at the corner spots yet. Those battling are juniors Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland on one side and senior Darius Robinson and junior Martin Jenkins on the other. All have started at least three games in their careers, but none have stood out.
Not only do the corners and safeties have to worry about Murray, who threw for 3,896 yards and 38 TDs last season, they also have to worry about Georgia tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns.
"The biggest concern is they have the ability to throw it 50 times or run it 50 times," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Georgia's offense on Wednesday's ACC teleconference. "That's what makes them so good."
Clemson struggled to stop the pass last season, giving up 23 TD passes and coming up with just 13 picks. The Tigers were torched through the air by Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State and South Carolina, in particular.
"Everybody knows that's the area of our team that's got to improve the most," Swinney told reporters about the secondary earlier this month. "We've made improvement, but nowhere what we need to be the type of caliber team we want to have."
While Blanks is the youngest player expected to see a lot of time in the secondary, he also has the most talent. He started eight times last season as a true freshman -- but at nickelback and at outside linebacker. This season, he will play his more natural position of free safety.
"You're further away from the ball, so the margin for error isn't as small," he told cutigers.com this week. "At nickel, it was really small because I might be covering a guy man-to-man and have 2 yards in space. So if I make a mistake, I'm pretty much dead. It's a little different at safety, playing 12-15 yards back."
Clemson can only hope there aren't many mistakes Saturday night.