CLEMSON - In football, as in life, there is both the known and the unknown.
The story surrounding Clemson this week involves a little of each and revolves around junior running back Yusef Kelly, who is slated to get his first significant playing time of the year Saturday when Virginia visits Death Valley. The game is scheduled for a Noon kickoff (Jefferson Pilot).
What's known at this stage is that Kelly, the No. 1 running back on the depth chart coming into the fall, will split time with Duane Coleman this week. Through the first five games Kelly has exactly one carry - a fumble at Georgia Tech which saw him promptly returned to the bench for the remainder of the game.
The unknown comes into play when trying to dissect the exact reason Kelly hasn't played more this season.
Head coach Tommy Bowden said Kelly came into camp overweight, then suffered a pair of injuries (back, groin) which have limited his availability. Kelly counters that he made all his conditioning runs on time during the fall, and has been healthy and available for every game this season except for week two vs. Furman.
There appears to be no give on either side. To wit:
Said Bowden, "We'll find out this week how he's coming along. He was our No. 1 tailback going into the spring. He came back overweight, then got injured. Then he got injured again. I'm hoping he'll come back to how he was. Against South Carolina last year, he was pretty
productive. He was very physical, broke some tackles, and got stronger as the game went along. We're hoping he brings the same thing to the table that he did that day against South Carolina (last year)."
"To tell you truth I really don't know (why I'm not in there)," he said. "After the Georgia Tech
game Duane did a real good job ... so I guess whenever a running back is on a roll he will continue to do that the next game. I guess that's what they thought he would do in the Maryland game."
Instead, Coleman was part of a running game that mustered just 10 net yards vs. the Terrapins.
Both he and fellow tailback Kyle Browning have been given ample carries in recent weeks, but the Maryland game illustrated a frustrating point for Clemson's offense. Neither of the backs, or even Reggie Merriweather to a lesser extent, have shown the breakaway ability Bowden often talks about where his runners are concerned. They also have had problems shedding first contact and making would-be tacklers miss.
Kelly's style is more straight ahead, more bruising than breakaway. While he likely won't give you the 50-yard run, Kelly is very adept at the gaining the hard yards - four, five or six at a time.
"Most teams you can't really run east - west on," he said. "You have to run straight at them and I think that is where my style of running comes into play. I see myself as being the grimey type. It don't matter how many carries you give me. You can give me 35 or 40 carries but I am going to get you four or five yards a carry and eat up a lot of clock."
That's the Kelly which Bowden hope's to see Saturday, eating up yardage and clock against the Cavaliers.
But the peace - and resulting playing time - remains uneasy.
Asked if he had learned anything through this whole situation, Kelly responded, "Yeah, I learned you really can't miss any voluntary workouts."
Pressed on the issue Tuesday, Bowden continued to deny that Kelly was ever in his doghouse; it was either the injuries or slipping down the depth chart that kept the senior on the sidelines.
Later, Kelly almost seemed to admit that he came into camp out of shape, telling reporters that "reality was I just wasn't able to work out and run this summer like I was supposed to."
Asked if he was backtracking on his statements earlier this season that he was in shape, Kelly said no.
"I am not saying anything different than what I did before. I'm just saying if I had come in better shape and played in the Georgia game things would have been a lot better. My impact on the game would have been a lot better than it was."
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.