Commentary: It's Time for Tigers to Shine ­ or Else

by - Correspondent -
Whitehurst will have to make quicker decisions and getting rid of the football if no receivers are open against the NCSU blitz. (Travis Bell)

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

CLEMSON -- Last Saturday, the Clemson Tigers overcame an anemic offensive performance by coming from behind in the final minute to defeat Maryland 10-7.

The win was huge on several fronts. First, the 2004 Tigers proved they could come up big when it counted -- something many fans have been questioning since the Georgia Tech debacle in September -- and the win came against long-time nemesis Ralph Friedgen.

Friedgen, if you will remember, had never lost to the Tigers in six previous tries -- consisting of three seasons as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech and his first three seasons as Maryland's head coach. There may be the Curse of the Bambino for Boston Red Sox fans but, for Clemson fans, The Curse of the Friedge was seemingly every bit as real.

While Saturday's game changed all that, the win against Maryland will only be a temporary bright spot on the Tigers otherwise dreary postseason prospects unless it beats N.C. State Saturday.

A loss to State would drop the Tigers to 3-5 on the season. With a Nov. 6 trip to the Orange Bowl to face the third-ranked Miami Hurricanes looming on the horizon, the prospects of the first losing season in six years, and, therefore, no bowl appearance, would appear a virtual slam dunk.

In order to defeat the Wolfpack, the Tigers must solve a defense led by a man who was once one of their own.

Reggie Herring served as Clemson defensive coordinator from 1996-2001.

Herring did not exactly receive a fond farewell as many Tiger fans grew tired of his high-risk, high-reward defense that, in his final seasons, saw less rewards to offset the risks.

Herring's defensive philosophy involves plenty of blitzes, often spelling trouble for immobile quarterbacks such as Clemson's own Charlie Whitehurst.

The thought process is that, by keeping constant pressure on the quarterback, he is either going to be sacked, his throws are going to lead to interceptions or he will at least hurry those throws into incompletions.

However, the risk is that a quarterback who picks up the blitz can find an open receiver for a big gain or even a touchdown. By doing so, the defense would see their aggressiveness work against them.

What Whitehurst needs is for running back Duane Coleman to catch some short passes -- the kind that slowly, but surely carve up opposing defenses. In addition, the offensive line must be ready to pick up any blitzes and allow Whitehurst the protection necessary to find the open receiver.

Whitehurst must also do his part by making quicker decisions and getting rid of the football if no receivers are open.

Clemson's defense, as they did against Maryland, must again step up to the plate against the Wolfpack. Unlike the Terrapins, N.C. State boasts T.A.

McClendon, one of the top running backs in the country when healthy, and that makes the task even more formidable.

At quarterback, N.C. State misses Phillip Rivers but McClendon can certainly take some of the pressure off the quarterback and is capable of having a 100 to 150-yard game that would virtually assure a Wolfpack win.

Although I'm not so convinced that Chuck Amato is the great coach all the so-called experts have made him out to be, there is no doubt the former Florida State assistant has brought in some dynamic recruiting classes. N.C.

State is filled with athletes on both sides of the football and a complete performance could spell the kind of trouble that occurred the last time the school visited Death Valley -- to the tune of 38-6.

Clemson can win this football game, but they also could easily lose it.

While the Wolfpack are not at the level of a Florida State or Miami, the Tigers are going to have to play much better than they did last Saturday against Maryland.

Should they do so, a bowl trip can remain on the Tigers' holiday plans.

However, a loss Saturday, no matter how good a performance this team displays, is virtually a sure bet that the only bowl games this team will be watching over Christmas and New Year's will be those found on television.

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