David Hood: Thoughts on the O-line

by - Senior Writer -

Think back to mid-season, when the Clemson Tigers seemed to be a team in turmoil, with a coaching change the major story, the offensive inconsistency showing up in the win-loss column, and a season seemingly on the brink of disaster.

The largest flash point, apart from the spotty play at quarterback, was the offensive line, which seemingly found ways to struggle and accrue injuries at a frightening pace, and not only this season looked bleak, but the future as well.

Only one lineman finished the season where he started, and the Tigers were forced to use seven different line combinations during the first nine games.

Fast forward to the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day, and the once-maligned offensive line has turned into a bit of a strength, with the injuries healed and the youngsters seemingly able to finally find their comfort zone out on the field.

"I think we have a lot of confidence up front right now," junior lineman Thomas Austin, who started the season at center but moved to left guard, said. "The last couple of wins, we won a couple of games in pretty dramatic fashion. At Virginia, it was very close, like a fist fight, and we definitely learned a lot up there."

Austin, however, says that main thing has been getting past the injuries and having the same group on the field together, and that it all seemed to come together during the South Carolina game, which saw the same starting five for the third game in a row.

"They key has been having the same group of offensive linemen, "Austin said. "That has definitely been the key to our success, and I am very excited about next season, because we have some tremendous younger players as well. That is why a win over Nebraska would be key for us, to help build that momentum going into the offseason.

"We went through a lot of growing pains with everybody injured, and then we had the six or seven different lineups. It was hard to build that continuity that you need. But one thing that has paid off for our team down the stretch is that young guys have been getting a lot of experience, especially down there on the right side with Mason (Cloy) and Landon (Walker). They are redshirt freshmen and they have been playing especially well."

Austin said the line's success against the Gamecocks helped heal some of the wounds from the season.

"After the first couple of series, you could look in their eyes and tell we wanted it more than they did," Austin said. "All week before the game, we had to hear how tough the SEC is, and after the Alabama defeat (to open the season), that left a bitter taste in our mouth and wanted to go out there and prove something."

Cloy, the freshman All-American from Columbia, said he knew after the first play that it would be the Tigers' day.

"For me, it had to be the first play, when me and Landon took a three technique and drove them seven yards off the ball into the linebackers," Cloy said. "That set the tone for us right there, and let everybody know we would be smashing heads. I am by no means looking past Nebraska, but I am looking forward to next year, having a spring together and having more time together. It will be a lot of fun."

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