Offensive Tackle Still a Question Mark For Tigers

by - Correspondent -
<font class=caption>Starting left tackle T.J. Watkins has been sidelined with a sprained ankle.</font>
Starting left tackle T.J. Watkins has been sidelined with a sprained ankle.

CLEMSON, SC - The offense has put up 100 points in two games. The line effectively shut down Missouri's pass-rushing madman Justin Smith last Saturday. Quarterback Woody Dantzler has run the wide-open attack with clockwork precision.

Yet Clemson coach Tommy Bowden found enough problem areas while scouring the Missouri game film to keep his team from getting too far ahead of itself.

"There are some areas, like fundamentals and intensity, that we need to work on," Bowden said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "As we go up in the level of competition, those type of things can cause you to lose games."

Bowden specifically pointed to the offensive line which, despite shutting down the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Smith last Saturday, seemed to be the most immediate cause for concern.

With starting left tackle T.J. Watkins sidelined with a sprained ankle, sophomore Brady Washburn (6-5, 285) started in his place Saturday. However Washburn's play, along with fellow backup Gary Byrd, failed to inspire a glowing recommendation from Bowden.

Watkins took over the starting tackle slot when in was decided that incumbent Akil Smith would miss this season with a medical redshirt, continuing his recovery from a blood clot in his lung earlier this year. That, coupled with the decision to redshirt junior college transfer Derrick Brantley, left the Tigers dangerously thin at the tackle position.

Bowden wants to see improvement immediately.

"Both of them have a ways to go," Bowden said. "Now you start (thinking), do you put a guard out there and possibly weaken yourself at two positions as opposed to one. You start making those type of decisions, and that's what we're doing now.

"A third tackle has to surface. T.J's hurt at the second, and nobody's really surfaced and played at the level of performance that we need. I was hoping it would be Saturday, but it wasn't."

Meanwhile, this week's matchup with Wake Forest not only serves as Clemson's Atlantic Coast Conference opener, it also will be the 1000th football game in school history.

After reaching a bowl game a season ago, the Demon Deacons have struggled out of the gate this year. Jim Caldwell's team opened the season with an embarrassing loss to Div. I-AA Appalachian State, then fell last weekend to North Carolina, 35-14.

But despite Wake Forest's problems - and his own team's quick start - Bowden cautioned against writing off the Deacons, like many fans and some media have done.

"How do you look past a team that beat us here two years ago, and should have beaten you last year?," Bowden said. "We just haven't had a lot of success here, so there's no reason to stick your chest out. Wake Forest will play very hard, we'll be favored by whatever, and we're going to get their best shot.

"And that's something this team is going to have to get accustomed to. If they start looking ahead we'll lose, because I don't think they're talented enough right now to do that."

Dan Scott is the sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
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