Did Loss of Rodriguez Hurt Clemson Offense?


by - Correspondent -
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Rich Rodriguez was Clemson's offensive coordinator in 1999 and 2000.

CLEMSON - The recent struggles of Clemson's offense have not only brought
questions about play-calling and execution, they've also resurrected a name
from the team's recent past:


Rich Rodriguez.


Rodriguez, offensive coordinator under Tommy Bowden at Tulane (1997-98) and
Clemson (1999-2000), left the Tigers to take over as West Virginia
University's head coach prior to the 2001 season. Given Clemson's poor
offensive performance over the past two weeks, the question most often
popping up is this:


When Rodriguez left, did he take the heart and soul of Clemson's offense with
him?


In 2001 it was rarely, if ever, an issue.


Rodriguez and the Mountaineers struggled to a 3-8 season his first year,
while the Tigers - though only a 7-5 team after the Humanitarian Bowl victory
- put up huge offensive numbers and had, in Woody Dantzler, the first
quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in
the same season.


But beneath the surface, future unrest was boiling.


Rodriguez's struggles at WVU were due in large part to a talent-deficient
squad left to him by former coach Don Nehlen, a team with nowhere near the
athletic ability he and Bowden inherited at Clemson in 1999. His 5-3 record
this season has been among the nation's pleasant surprises, and he has done
it mostly with a dominating rushing attack.


Meanwhile, many of Dantzler's numbers came in bunches against lesser
opponents a year ago, and it can be argued that his tremendous athleticism -
which allowed him to turn numerous broken plays into huge yardage - masked
the depth of the offensive problems the Tigers would face this season.


Still, Bowden maintains that Rodriguez's departure has had no effect on
Clemson's offense.


"Last year at West Virginia they wanted to give him back," Bowden joked.
Then, turning serious, he added:


"That kind of goes with the territory. Last year without him, even though we
were 98th in the nation in turnover (ratio) we were within a couple hundred
yards of having the most productive offense ever, and (Rodriguez) wasn't
here. He's a good coach, but I've been around successful football before I
met Rich and we've been successful here without him."


One major difference in the Tigers since Rodriguez's departure has been the
tempo of the offense.


After running at the fastbreak pace for the first two years, Bowden has
ground his team's pace to a halt since the beginning of the 2001 season. The
reason, he said, revolves around the running game.


"If you're in running mode, it usually involves some checks being made
because of the different schemes and blocking assignments," he said. "It gets
a little more complicated. In 1999 our running game wasn't as diverse.
Offensively and defensively things evolve over four years. We're trying to do
more in the running game.


"Yeah, we were faster paced then, but the running game wasn't as involved as
it is now."


In contrast, West Virginia's offensive attack in 2002 is predominantly
run-oriented. Moreover, operating out of the spread, just like Clemson,
Rodriguez still has his offense in fastbreak mode, often snapping the ball
with 16-18 seconds remaining on the play clock.


The hurry-up attitude hasn't hurt the WVU running game. The Mountaineers
currently lead the country in rushing yards per game (305.75), and tailback
Avon Cobourne is second individually at 147.13 yards per game.


Meanwhile, West Virginia ranks No. 13 in total offense (439.25) to Clemson's
No. 96 (339.25). The Mountaineers also have a decided edge in scoring
offense, ranking 29th (32.38 points per game) to Clemson's 73rd (25.00).


Whether or not the numbers prove Rodriguez's departure hurt Clemson's offense
is still a matter of debate. But the fans, at least, are beginning to ask
questions.


NOTES


- Bowden continues to maintain he has yet to decide on a starting quarterback
for Duke, and stuck to his now-familiar line when asked when a decision might
be coming.


"You'll (media) be the first to know," he said.


When pressed on whether or not it would be a gametime decision, he relented
just a bit.


"Probably," he said.


- Backup center Tommy Sharpe was in yellow (no contact) Wednesday, suffering
from a bacterial infection. He is expected to be ready for Saturday.


Starting guard Cedric Johnson would be the next backup to starter Jermyn
Chester if Sharpe's situation got worse instead of better.


Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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