Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger
CLEMSON — The football sat at the Maryland one-yard line. All that stood between Clemson and its first offensive touchdown of the 2005 season was 36 inches of green grass. After 16 plays and 9 minutes and 47 seconds, the Tigers stood on the edge of the threshold which could very well define them as a football team.
Do they go for it? Or do they kick it?
“When we didn’t get it on third down, I was like ‘Man (Coach Tommy Bowden) is about to kick it. Here it comes again,” said Clemson center Dustin Fry as he recalled last Saturday’s fourth and goal call in the Tigers’ 28-24 victory. “It was definitely in our minds.”
What was in the offensive line’s minds? The Texas A&M game. The week before, Clemson drove the ball inside the Aggies 10-yard line on four separate occasions only to conclude each of those drives with a Jad Dean field goal.
But this time it was different. Bowden didn’t call in the kicking team, instead he motioned for the offense to get back on the field.
“We said ‘Listen we have to get this, we can’t let them stop us on the one inch line,’” said Fry.
They did not. Clemson running back Reggie Merriwaether broke through a hole on the right side on fourth and goal to end the streak, bringing some pride back to the Clemson offensive line.
“It helps our confidence knowing (Bowden) still has confidence in us though we didn’t score in those red zone chances against A&M.”
Bowden had his doubts, however.
“We haven’t had much success in our goal line offense,” he said. “When you get up there and you have first and one and you run the ball and get zero, then you run the ball and get zero and you run the ball and get zero… I had serious thoughts about kicking the field goal on that first drive.
“We need to display a little more confidence to (me) that we can run that ball in at that down and distance.”
Fry remembers those days when his coach would not have gone for the touchdown. For much of the last three years, Clemson’s offensive line has lacked very little punch if not any at all. The Tigers have consistently struggled to pickup that one or two yards that can make a difference in a ballgame.
For example, last year’s loss to Georgia Tech and Duke. In both of those games, Clemson had the ball late with a chance to run out the clock and in both games they failed to convert on third and short situations. Against the Yellow Jackets, Clemson had a second and one with under a minute to go and failed to pick up the first down on two straight runs.
But through two games this year, Clemson’s offensive line has made a statement when it comes to running the football. They’re going to run it, no matter what the odds. Clemson is averaging 148.5 yards a game, considerably higher than the 107.5 yards it averaged in 2004.
“It is a source of pride that those guys are accomplishing something and a little bit of burden can be put on their shoulders,” said Bowden. “Offensive linemen by nature, tradition and temperament run the ball hard nosed. That’s what they like to be perceived as, you know, tough guys.”
Clemson’s offensive line has been tougher this year, especially when the game has been on the line. In both of the Tigers’ two wins to open the season, Clemson used the running game to set up the winning scores. Freshmen James Davis carried the ball eight straight times, thanks to the hawgs up front, to move the Tigers into field goal range against Texas A&M. Against Maryland, Davis and Merriweather carried Clemson towards the goal line in the final three minutes before Merriweather broke off a 38-yard score down the right sideline for the game-winner.
“Anytime you have success on the ground, it is a direct compliment of the offensive linemen and the backs,” Bowden said. “I also have to bring mention to the tight ends and the fullbacks because they are also out there blocking.”
Fry said any success the Tigers had running the ball in the fourth quarter was a direct result of Bowden’s decision to go for fourth and one on that opening drive.
“It makes you want to fight harder, knowing he is going to give you a chance on fourth down in the red zone,” said the junior. “It definitely helped our confidence and even more as we go into (the Miami game).”
Fry feels last years success at Miami will pay dividends this week when Clemson tries to run the football against the Hurricanes’ defensive front. The Tigers had one of their best rushing performances of the 2004 season in the second half against Miami.
The majority of Clemson’s 114 yards, including the 113 from Merriweather was in the second half.
“I don’t know if we just kept wearing them down or if it was the fact that Reggie is just so hard to tackle. I don’t know if they got tired or complacent last year. Hopefully, we can do the same thing and just keep wearing them down so in the fourth quarter we can takeover.”
And if the ball is down on the one-yard line, the offensive line knows it will get another chance to stick it in the end zone.
“(Bowden) gave us a chance,” said Fry. “Now we know if we need to pick up that yard even on a fourth and one, he can trust us to get it done.”
Will Vandervort is the Sports Editor for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger.