October 6, 2003 CLEMSON During the off week, all was quiet in Clemson. With the Tigers standing at 3-1 after routing Georgia Tech, coach Tommy Bowden and the team were quietly confident. Even many of the same fans who screamed for Bowden's head after the loss to Georgia fell silent for a while. The question that always arises during an open date after a big victory popped up again: Will the time off hurt momentum? Bowden's answer was that he had seen an open date work both ways. It did come at a good time for Clemson, with three games in 12 days on the schedule following the break. And it wasn't just any three-game stretch. It was a three-game stretch that would determine Clemson's season at Maryland, Virginia, at N.C. State on Thursday, Oct. 16. Another question that came up during the off week was about confidence. Would the Tigers be overconfident after the smashing of Tech? Overconfident? I don't think so, center Tommy Sharpe said. We're not even thinking about Georgia Tech anymore. We've got to think about Maryland. We haven't beat them two years in a row. So we can't be too confident. We have something to prove, and we have to go up there with the objective to win. And that's all we can think about right now. There was even some talk of not losing another game, if the Tigers could continue to play at the level they reached in Atlanta. If keyword if' if we play like we did (at Tech), we will not lose another game, linebacker John Leake said. The keyword is if,' though. We got to play like that every week. So don't get that out of context. The Tigers practiced three times during the off week. The practices were physical, with a concentration on fundamentals. The game plan for Maryland started formulating the Monday after the Tech game, and the coaching staff needed the extra time. Ralph Friedgen's success against Clemson as Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator and Maryland's head coach was duly noted by the media during the two weeks leading up to the game against the Terps. But the good vibes Clemson was feeling after Tech disappeared in College Park. Friedgen got them again, which means the Tigers again found themselves in a serious battle to keep their season from circling the drain.
Offense Becomes One-Dimensional It's no secret now. Despite working exhaustively on the running game in the offseason, the Tigers have no running game. None. It's all up to sophomore quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who still hasn't beaten a team with a winning record. The Tigers rushed for just 10 yards against Maryland. That stat was a little deceptive, because Whitehurst was sacked six times. But sacks or no sacks, the Tigers' running game is a mess, ranking near the bottom of the ACC for the season. We couldn't do anything consistently, Bowden said. We were not good enough to overcome our mistakes. The sacks were tough to overcome. Part of the problem is the offensive line, which can't get any push. The starting five averages 6-4 and 305 pounds per man, but it isn't getting the job done. In addition to poor blocking, Clemson has running backs that prefer to run sideways rather than straight ahead. The much-ballyhooed I-formation isn't producing, and the running plays the Tigers try out of the shotgun are just bad plays. The delay counter handoff the Tigers use out of the gun is one of the worst pages in the playbook. We were a little out of sync, Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott said. Our running game just didn't produce. Junior Yusef Kelly is Clemson's most physical and effective back, but he's currently fourth on the depth chart because he's in Bowden's doghouse. He showed up for preseason camp out of shape, and he missed some time to be with his girlfriend, who gave birth to the couple's child early in the season. Kelly didn't help himself when he publicly disputed coaches' claims that he was struggling with his conditioning. With no running game, it all falls on Whitehurst. How important is Whitehurst to Clemson? When his left ankle was slightly injured after a running play in the second half against Maryland, Bowden called a timeout to give the Clemson training staff enough time to slap a couple rolls of tape over the player's left shoe. The Tigers don't have much hope on offense now, but if Whitehurst goes down, the season is done. Whitehurst is tough. He has proven that time and time again. But how long can he hold up if opposing defenses continue to key on him and beat on him?
When given the opportunity, Clemson's trio of veteran wide receivers Derrick Hamilton, Airese Currie and Kevin Youngblood have made plays. Hamilton had a 70-yard reception for a touchdown against Maryland. During the run, he got blocks from Youngblood and Tony Elliott. Bowden has admitted he should have thrown more deep balls against Georgia. He probably should have done the same against Maryland. Pressure is the key to beating Clemson. Pressure Whitehurst and get in the faces of the wide receivers, and the Tigers are going to struggle.
Fourth And One Means Done The most embarrassing two plays in the Maryland game came in the second half, when Clemson had two fourth-and-one situations and came up short on both plays. The short-yardage problem was supposed to be fixed in the offseason. It hasn't been fixed. If anything, it has gotten worse. With just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-one at the Maryland 31. The ball was pitched to Chad Jasmin, and he got nothing. Early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers had a fourth-and-one at the Maryland 25. Whitehurst threw a pass in the left flat to fullback Cliff Harrell, who could not make the catch. What those two plays told the opposition was this: We don't trust our offensive line, so we're going to have to trick you in short-yardage situations. If Bowden doesn't survive after this season, he can point to his team's lack of production in short-yardage situations in the last two years as one of the keys to his demise.
Placekicking Must Be Addressed Aaron Hunt is a struggling senior placekicker, and it's time for Bowden to consider putting him on the sideline. Hunt has hit only two of six field goal attempts this season, and he always has had questionable range. With the offense struggling to score, the Tigers need a weapon at placekicker, not a liability. Hunt is now a liability. He's in a funk, and it may be too late for him to recover. Freshman Jad Dean has a stronger leg than Hunt. Dean has helped strengthen Clemson's coverage statistics by consistently banging kickoffs into the end zone. In practice, Dean reportedly has made a field goal from 68 yards. On top of the placekicking problems, punter Cole Chason had his worst game against Maryland. His first punt traveled 15 yards. His second punt also was a shank. Chason understandably was trying to kick away from dangerous Maryland punt returner Steve Suter, but it didn't work. Chason needs to stop thinking and just punt the ball.