ORLANDO - Since taking over as Clemson's starting quarterback four games ago,
Charlie Whitehurst has set the world on fire.
In those four games the Clemson offense has averaged nearly 29 points per
game, as opposed to 21 in the previous eight. The Tigers have won three of
Whitehurst's four starts, and along the way he has set 26 school records.
Yet when the Tigers face Texas Tech in today's Mazda Tangerine Bowl (5:30 p.m.,
ESPN), Whitehurst enters the game known simply as The Other Quarterback.
That's because of the monster year Tech's Kliff Kingsbury has put together.
The numbers boggle the mind:
- 4,652 passing yards;
- 42 touchdowns;
- 447 completions in 669 attempts;
- Just 12 interceptions.
The Red Raiders score 37 points per game while averaging 483 yards of total
offense, only 100 of which is on the ground. Head coach Mike Leach's
offensive scheme - crafted first as Hal Mumme's offensive coordinator at both
Valdosta State and the University of Kentucky, then perfected with Bob Stoops
at Oklahoma for a year - has set the Big 12 Conference ablaze.
So where in most games the obvious story line is too simple to be correct,
that's not the case here.
Since Tech also allows 33 points per game defensively, can Clemson find a way
to stop the Red Raiders by either outscoring them or finding a way to slow
Head coach Tommy Bowden is eager to find out.
"The key is trying to confuse him," Bowden said. "You try different looks,
different coverages, bringing pressure from different places, anything you
can to throw him off."
Such has been the mode of operation of every Tech opponent this season.
Texas, then ranked No. 4 by the Associated Press, tried it in November. The
Longhorns tried blitzing Kingsbury from all angles and playing his receivers
man-to-man, but the senior quarterback's quick release burned the defensive
Have a cornerback play too aggressive? Kingsbury is likely to pick up on the
tendency and use the corner's style against him.
Blitz him with single, outside linebacker, and more often than not he'll find
running back Taurean Henderson wide open in the linebacker's spot.
"I've seen so many different looks that teams use to try to stop this
offense," Kingsbury told The Dallas Morning News after leading Tech to a
42-38 upset of the Longhorns. "Whatever they throw at me, I just feel
comfortable no matter what they try to do."
And yet Clemson will attempt the same strategy, one that worked so well not
once, but twice, against Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown - last year
in the Humanitarian Bowl and again during the second week of the 2002 regular
McCown's team is the only opponent Clemson has faced with a similar offensive
strategy. At Death Valley this year, defensive coordinator John Lovett's
versatile, ever-change looks and coverages confused the veteran quarterback
on more than one occasion.
Bowden hopes Lovett can turn the same trick today.
"The key will be to give Kingsbury) different looks," Bowden said. "You can't
sit in one coverage, and you can't be predictable with what you'll do on
first down, second down or third down. You have to mix it up. Use different
"The key is to be comprehensive in preparing so we're not confusing our
players, but we're giving him things to think about. We've got to try to get
him out of rhythm."
If the Tigers are successful doing so, it will be in large part to how much
pressure the defensive line can get against Tech's mammoth offensive line and
its unique wide splits. Rushing Kingsbury with four and dropping seven into
coverage would go a long way toward Bowden's goal of confusing the Red
But if Kingsbury can thwart the strategy and engineer points, the focus will
be squarely back on Whitehurst and the Clemson offense.
Texas Tech's defense is similar to that of Virginia, operating in a
bend-but-don't-break mode. The Red Raiders try to force opponents to use 10
or more plays to score, taking away the big play to see if the opposing
offense can play mistake-free football.
At Virginia, Clemson moved the ball all over the field but couldn't find the
endzone. It lost that game 22-17.
"We've got to take advantage of our at-bats," said offensive coordinator Brad
Scott. "And I'm talking about touchdowns, not field goals."