Offense shows big-play capability, but needs to sustain more drives

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CLEMSON – Tiger running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper were calling themselves the New Storm following Saturday’s 35-10 victory over North Texas in the season opener, and the performance of the two backs was just one of the bright spots for the offense on opening day.

Both backs gained over 100 yards rushing, and the Tigers had 423 yards of total offense on the day. If you want to get picky over a 35-point, 400-yard day, however, there were spots of concern and we’ll try and go over the good and what merits some concern.

THE GOOD: Harper and Ellington were explosive, racking up 225 yards between the two of them. Ellington took the handoff on the second play of the game and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown, almost immediately laying to rest any doubts about whether Clemson still had big-play ability with the departure of C.J. Spiller.

Ellington averaged 10.2 yards per carry, while Harper averaged 11.3 yards per carry.
Ellington said after the game that the dynamic duo had a nickname, and then talked about the big run that opened the game.

“Jamie and I are calling ourselves the New Storm,” Ellington said. “It’s more of a together thing than a separate Thunder and Lightning thing. I always think I’m going to break a long run like that first touchdown—I expect it. But I didn’t think it was going to be my first carry of the season. Once I saw open field, I just ran. After a few broken tackles it was end zone. All I saw were fans in front of me.”

Harper said the blockers were to thank after the dual, 100-yard efforts.

“Our line puts a lot of confidence in us, just like we put a lot in them,” Harper said. “When they told us [about each gaining 100 yards], that’s the first people we go to. We just thanked those guys and our tight ends. [Fullback] Chad Diehl was just killing people. Our wide receivers were making blocks down field, so we were capable of making the runs.”

Another bright spot for the offense was the play of the young wide receivers – Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown and DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins each had a team-high two receptions, and it was interesting to see both McNeal and Hopkins on the field to start the second half. It will be worth watching to see how much each of them are on the field next week [a LOT], and the following week at Auburn.

Brandon Clear broke free on a 70-yard pass and catch from Kyle Parker, and had a blistering block on one of Jamie Harper’s long runs, and I thought he did a great job blocking all day.

Going back to the quick strike ability of the offense – the first drive lasted all of 16 seconds [the Ellington run], the 3-play drive just before the half consumed just 29 seconds, and Parker’s strike to Clear was the first play of the drive and lasted just nine seconds. That’s three touchdowns in 54 seconds folks.

In fact, all five scoring drives lasted a total of 5:18 off the game clock.

The offensive line played pretty well, considering that North Texas was doing a good job of mixing the coverages and showing a lot of odd fronts.

THE BAD: Clemson was just 2-for-9 on third down, and because of the quick-strike ability of the Tiger offense, and the fact that the Clemson defense couldn’t get North Texas off of the field, Clemson ran just 46 offensive plays and had the football for just 18:08.

The Tigers had 12 drives – five ended in touchdowns, six on punts and one on an interception in the end zone.

The interception ended what was turning out to be the best Clemson drive of the day. The Tigers had taken over at their own six-yard line and driven to the North Texas four-yard line -90 yards in six plays – but the interception, which was forced into double coverage, ended the threat.

The longest Clemson drive of the day was just seven plays, whereas North Texas had three drives over 10 plays and one that was nine plays. The Tigers also had four drives that were three plays and out.

At wide receiver, the veterans [Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones and Terrance Ashe] were all held without a catch, and tight end Dwayne Allen, expected to be a big part of the offense in 2010, had one catch. However, it was a 24-yarder and set up Clemson’s third touchdown.

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier agreed the offense was a mixed bag on Saturday.

“I think we can do a lot better, but I think we did some things well,” he said. “For me, the only negative, probably, was the third-down percentage wasn’t very good. The turnover—I could do a better job of coaching on that one. We had a turnover in the red-zone, at the four-yard line, and you can’t have that. Ideally, you would like to move the ball progressively down the field and score.”

Napier also said the coaching staff would continue to look at all of the receivers, and while he was pleased with the play of the younger receivers, he would like to find the right combination that he can depend on.

"I think the ball just happened to go there," Napier said of the youngsters catching more than the veterans. "But we did think those guys could be productive and they were. We'll continue to try and see who we are going to move around to be that guy."

WHAT WE WANTED TO SEE: A dominant offensive line and a time-consuming offense that chewed up yards and the clock, and mixed in with big-play ability. A great effort from the running backs. Also, we wanted to see more of tight end Dwayne Allen, and for the veteran receivers to step up. We wanted to see Kyle Parker lead several touchdown drives, look sharp, and give way to backup Tajh Boyd, who would also look sharp.

WHAT WE GOT: We got good play from the offensive line and that quick strike offense. We didn’t get the long drives – in fact, the longest Clemson drive of the day was just 3:13. The running backs came up big, and it would have been nice to see the duo get more than 21 carries. Allen was taken out of the game by the North Texas coverage, but the young receivers stepped in and did a nice job. Parker looked a little jittery early, but in all fairness, two of his first three passes were drops that should have been caught. Boyd looked shaky, but it was his first college game.

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