Grading the Tigers at the Halfway Point


by - Correspondent -
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Charlie Whitehurst has completed 132 of his 197 passes for 1,350 yards and six touchdowns.

CLEMSON — At 3-3, the Clemson Tigers can have their season
go one of two ways. Win them all and go to a decent bowl game, or lose more
than two and spend the holidays at home for a second straight year. The Tigers are capable of beating every team remaining on
their schedule, but with the exception of Temple and Duke, they could quiet
possibly lose three of their remaining five games. Those three games – at
Georgia Tech, Florida State and at South Carolina.



“In the course of twenty eight years of coaching and nine
of those as a head coach, you learn that anything can happen,” said Clemson head
coach Tommy Bowden. “Regardless of how the first half of the season went, you’re
going to march on.”

And it appears for the next month, the Tigers will have to
march on without freshman tailback James Davis. The Atlanta native, who leads
Clemson with 433 yards and four touchdowns, is out with a broken wrist which he
suffered during last Thursday’s 31-10 win at N.C. State.

“At 3-3, you have a chance to win or lose them all,” Bowden
said. “Florida State is always our most difficult challenge and we still have
them left to play. James gives you another ace in your hand, which is good to
have when you have to play teams like that.”

So, how well have the Tigers done through the first half of
the season, and what do they need to improve on to make yet another strong push
at the end of the year?

Quarterback

Charlie Whitehurst is having the kind of season everyone
expected he would under offensive coordinator Rob Spence. It is well documented
in Spence’s previous stops of how productive quarterbacks become in his system. Thus far, Whitehurst has completed 132 of his 197 passes.
That is a 67 percent completion rating for 1,350 yards and six touchdowns. By
the way, he has thrown four interceptions, but three of those came off the hands
of his receivers and should have been caught. This time last year, Whitehurst had the same number of
touchdowns, but he had 13 interceptions and was completing 52 percent of his
passes.

Grade: B+

Running back

Davis is perhaps the best running back to play at Clemson
since Raymond Priester set the all-time single and career rushing marks from
1994-’97. Davis was electrifying in wins over Texas A&M and N.C. State, rushing
for 101 and 143 yards respectively. Reggie Merriweather doesn’t have the same speed or burst
that Davis has, but he is still the same running back that rushed for over 100
yards against Miami and South Carolina last year. Merriweather is averaging 53
yards per game and his 4.8 yard per carry average in just slightly lower than
Davis’ 5.2. Bowden brought Spence in to revamp the Clemson running
game, and though the numbers aren’t through the roof, the Tigers’ 147 yards per
game average is a whole lot higher than the 107.5 they averaged last year.


Grade: B+

Receivers

This is a unit which has improved with each game. Aaron
Kelly is becoming that dependable third down threat the Tigers were missing last
season. Curtis Baham has been the most consistent player, catching four
touchdown passes and averaging more than 20 yards a catch. Chansi Stuckey leads
the team with 29 receptions for 320 yards, while Kelly has 24 for 246 yards. Clemson will miss Kelvin Grant who is out for the year with
a torn ACL, but freshmen Rendrick Taylor and Tyler Grisham should be able to
make up for what the Tigers will miss from Grant. Clemson’s tight ends have been the most pleasant surprise
of the year. Bobby Williamson, Thomas Hunter and Cole Downer have accounted for
19 catches for 172 yards and two scores, the most productive year by the tight
end position in Bowden’s seven-year tenure.

Grade: B

Offensive line

There is no dominant lineman on this year’s offensive line,
but this is a group which has vastly improved from a year ago. Pass protecting
has been solid, and the running game has definitely gotten better. Clemson has allowed just seven sacks this season, five
fewer than it allowed during the first six games of the 2004 year. The short
passing game and the zone blocking they use for running plays are big reasons
for the O-line’s turnaround thus far. However, with that said, the Tigers are still having issues
on short yardage plays and Whitehurst at times doesn’t appear comfortable on
deep drops.

Grade: B-


Defensive line

Clemson’s play on the defensive line has gone down this
year, but that might have more to with the scheme than anything else. The Tigers
have just 8.5 sacks through the first six games and with the exception of the
N.C. State game, has struggled to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Tigers are yielding 149.8 yards a game on the ground,
but that number should go down considering the remaining five opponents average
less than 136-yards rushing per game. Clemson has had descent games against
Maryland and N.C. State, but looked bad against the run against Miami and Boston
College.

Grade: C-

Linebackers

Anthony Waters has filled in nicely for ACC Defensive
Player of the Year Leroy Hill, now in the NFL. Waters is averaging 10.5 tackles
per game and has 10.5 tackles for a loss. Nick Watkins and Tremaine Billie have struggled at times in
Vic Koenning’s system, but both appear to be coming around. In the last two
games, the linebacker position has made big plays at key points, including an
interception by Watkins against Wake Forest late and a caused fumble by Waters
in the N.C. State game when the Wolfpack was driving for a score.

Grade: B

Secondary

This is the unit that has been scrutinized the most on
defense and for good reason. The Tigers have allowed four scoring passes of 29
yards or more, and that doesn’t count the nine more plays in which they have
give up 20 or more yards that didn’t go for touchdowns. Senior free safety Jamaal Fudge has played well and Tye
Hill has had a decent year, but he has given up his share of big plays,
including a missed assignment on Wake Forest’s game-winning catch and a missed
tackle on N.C. State’s lone touchdown. Hill, however, does have three
interceptions and despite the missed assignment against Wake Forest has played
the best of any Clemson defensive back this year.  Michael Hamlin’s start over C.J. Gaddis at “cat” safety
appeared to be the difference in the secondary’s best outing to date against
N.C. State. However, future games against Georgia Tech and its sensational wide
receiver Calvin Johnson, Florida State and South Carolina will tell how improved
the secondary really is.

Grade: D+

Special Teams

There is nothing special about the Clemson special teams.
Kicker Jad Dean is the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference and maybe the
country, but he has no help when it comes to rest of the special teams. Punter Cole Chason is struggling, though he did perform
better against N.C. State, and three of his punts have been blocked – a first
for a Tommy Bowden coached team. The kick coverage is horrible and kickoff returns have been
average at best. Since Stuckey’s opening-day punt return for a score against
Texas A&M, the Tigers have done little there. Clemson has yet to block a punt
after blocking four last year.

Grade: F

Coaching

Clemson’s coaching staff has done a great job teaching the
fundamentals and discipline. The Tigers rank near the top in the country in
fewest turnovers and penalties. Clemson’s players have given it everything they
have had in each of the six games, a direct sign they believe in the coaches and
what they are saying. The play calling on both sides of the ball have been
suspect at times, including Bowden’s call for the fake field goal against Wake
Forest that perhaps cost Clemson a win. In the coaches’ defense, in each of Clemson’s first six
games, they have called enough good plays to put Clemson in position to win
every one of them.

Grade: B



Will Vandervort is the Sports Editor for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger.

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