Burns: Young blood makes tight ends sexy

by - Correspondent -
Senior Michael Palmer is second on the team, behind senior receiver Jacoby Ford, with 23 receptions. (Gary Rothstein/Icon SMI)
Senior Michael Palmer is second on the team, behind senior receiver Jacoby Ford, with 23 receptions. (Gary Rothstein/Icon SMI)

For so long they’ve been merely offensive linemen, glorified guards, tackles beyond the tackles – blockers for the skilled talent carrying the football – but offensive coordinator Billy Napier and coach Dabo Swinney are giving them the ball, too. Three of them have scored. It’s never been so sexy to be a Tiger tight end.

Senior Michael Palmer is second on the team, behind senior receiver Jacoby Ford, with 23 receptions. He and fellow tight end Dwayne Allen, a promising freshman, have two touchdown receptions each. And senior tight end Durrell Barry caught a touchdown pass last week in the Tigers’ 40-24 win over Florida State.

As a group they have 38 receptions, the most by Clemson tight ends since 1971.

The offense they help drive has scored at least 38 points in four consecutive games for the first time, ever – in a long and storied history.

Suddenly Napier, 30, the youngest coordinator in the Atlantic Coast Conference, doesn’t seem over his head, even with a freshman quarterback under a rookie head coach who’s not yet 40. Napier was criticized as overmatched on message boards and talk radio as Clemson fell to 2-3 after losing to Maryland. He spent the following off-week tuning the attack, and since, the team has flexed more muscle, ran aggressively with multiple backs and relied more on tight ends.

Collectively, with world-class speed around quarterback Kyle Parker and a nasty defense on the other side, they’re on the brink of Clemson’s first appearance in the ACC Championship Game

“I don’t think Billy Napier is too young and inexperienced,” said Hunter Reid, Furman University’s sports information director. “He’s going to make an excellent coach – he already is.”

Reid watched Napier, the son of a north Georgia high school coach, throw 44 passes to his tight end, just three less than to his leading receiver, in his first year as a starting quarterback for the Paladins in 2001. With a trio of super receivers the next season, Napier threw to the tight end less. He made an adjustment. Perhaps it was foreshadowing, reversed.

Dick Sheridan coached Furman to throw to tight ends way before Napier’s time. Sheridan led the Paladins to six conference titles before going to NC State, where he gave Clemson fits in the heydeys of the 1980s.

The Tigers (6-3 overall, 4-2 in the ACC) play coach Tom O’Brien’s NC State Wolfpack (4-5, 1-4) at noon Saturday in Raleigh.

Palmer and posse will be there with pads and hands, and they intend to use them all. With just eight more catches, Tiger tight ends will tie the all-time record of 46 set in 1970.

Lies and statistics

The numbers are adding up.

Palmer caught two passes last week after missing action because of a concussion from a violent hit at Miami. He’s the first Clemson tight end to catch 20 passes in a season since 1984. Palmer, Allen and Barry combined for four catches and two scores last week. As Palmer has predicted, Allen will, indeed, compile even bigger numbers in the coming years.

Clemson’s four-game winning streak is the longest since 2007, the last season the Tigers finished in the AP Top 25. They joined the rankings this week at No. 24. They’ll finish even higher – that is, lower – better. They could wrap up the Atlantic Division by Saturday evening, with a win over State and a Boston College (6-3, 3-2) loss to the Virginia Cavaliers (3-6, 2-3), the Tigers’ following opponent. Clemson would take it with two wins, regardless, and I think they will. I think these guys are going to seal the deal. The usually-poorly-attended conference title game and Tampa will be thankful.

Richard Jackson’s first missed extra point last week broke a 116-kick streak. He missed two point-after kicks and two relatively short field goals on the night. Swinney elected to go for a two-point conversion early in the second quarter, too early for such risk. Jackson tied a team record with six field goals in the 25-7 win over Boston College, but he’s connected on just six of his last 12 attempts. Spencer Benton, who also missed a point-after last week, will start this week because of what Swinney called an academic violation, according to reports.

Kyle Parker threw four touchdown passes against FSU to tie the Clemson single game record for a freshman. He has 1,665 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes on the year, breaking the previous freshman records of 1,554 yards and 10 touchdowns by Charlie Whitehurst. But some think he’s just keeping the center warm for Tajh Boyd.

DeAndre McDaniel intercepted his eighth pass of the season against FSU to tie the Clemson single season record. Then he separated Christian Ponder’s shoulder after pointing to warn Ponder not to try to make the tackle. As a team the Tigers are tied for the national lead with 19 picks. NC State’s Russell Wilson owns the NCAA record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception, and he’s 10th in the nation with 294 yards of total offense per game, but he’s thrown nine interceptions in his last five games.

CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford became the all-time all-purpose yard leaders for two teammates with their totals last week. Spiller and Ford have 10,334 yards. Spiller needs just 298 to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000. Spiller scored his 20th career touchdown of 50 yards or more, eighth this season, last week.

Basketball season tips off Friday night. With football and basketball teams ranked No. 24, Clemson is one of four schools in the nation to rank in the Top 25 of both the AP football and men’s basketball polls, joining Texas, Ohio State and Georgia Tech. I’d love a piece of Rick Barnes and Texas basketball after an extra helping of Georgia Tech football in Tampa.

Hater’s game

Posted by “1321wolf” this week on PackPride.com:

“For a football program that has no significant accomplishments to claim in 20 years, Clempsun fans possess possibly the most undeserved sense of entitlement and accomplishment in any sport. When you remind a Clempsun fan that they haven't won anything in 20 years it actually takes them by surprise. They have just assumed that they are a football powerhouse for so long that they don't realize that the last time they won a championship of any kind was before the ACC included Florida State, and the last time they won anything nationally there was no such thing as a cell phone or the internet and Ronald Reagan was still in his 60's.

“I used to like Clempsun, in fact I almost went there. But I have been talked down to - as if they were Alabama or Georgia or Florida or even close to that level - by too many Clempsun football fans to take them seriously.”

What’s wrong, 1sensitivewolf, bitter that the state fair left town with your hopes for a bowl? Did Clemson fans pee in your stadium? If they’ve hurt your feelings already, I’d avoid them Saturday. Even State fans are predicting scores of “Wolfpack X, Tigers 3X.” That must really hurt the pride of the best football fans in North Carolina – west of Greenville, N.C. and east of Boone, N.C., that is. As for that ACC title and national significance, let’s see what’s posted by the end of the season.

Postgame shake

Until such is reached, though, there may be something to 1321wolf’s rant. We Clemson fans are, in fact, entitled – just ask us – it’s just been too long since we’ve had what’s rightfully ours. The road to fixing that soon enough runs through Raleigh. It’s a school that’s somewhat similar to Clemson in a nice-enough town, kind of like Columbia with more obnoxious and spoiled neighbors, Triangularly speaking. And O’Brien just may elevate State’s program in due time, but not by the noon kickoff.

If Parker remains consistent in execution for this Textile Bowl, expect Clemson to approach 38 points for a fifth consecutive game. State has allowed more than 41 points per game in ACC play. After faring well against Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner, Miami’s Jacory Harris and a hampered but talented Ponder of Florida State, the Tiger defense faces another dangerous quarterback in Wilson. I’ll take Clemson’s D against his A game.

Other Columns by Michael Burns

- Burns: It is more than it is

- Burns: C.J. Spiller is Clemson’s best, ever

- Burns: I hate it when Tommy Bowden is right

- Burns: Watch it the old-fashioned way

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