CLEMSON -- No matter what Tommy Bowden says about the size of Clemson's offensive line, undersized is rightsized in Clemson's new offense.
Quick is better than big and sweaty. Being mobile is better than having a neck like a bowling ball.
William Henry found out the hard way. The freshman from Greenville came in at 305 and now he weighs 270 after eight weeks at Clemson. Bowden might have experience problems on the offensive line. He doesn't have size problems.
"Clemson people are going to be surprised when Marshall walks on the field," he said. "They have a line going 308, 319, 270, 313, 307. And then here comes Clemson - mighty, big, bad Clemson - 252, 270, 255, 250, 270. We're giving up thirty to forty-five pounds a man."
Bowden gets legitimately worried when he looks at his second team: 234 pound center Brian Outlaw goes in if Kyle Young gets hurt. Clemson hasn't had a center that small since Hank Phillips in 1989.
Bowden is looking for a tradeoff, though. It's passe to say that bigger is better on the offensive line. Clemson's offense hasn't averaged over 250 yards a game rushing since 1992. Last year's team averaged 120 yards a game with an offensive line that averaged 304 pounds.
"We're ready for the challenge," said sophomore offensive tackle Akil Smith, an understudy last year. Smith is the brand of offensive lineman everyone looks for: quick feet and some size (he weighs 270 pounds). "Even though we're a new offensive line, we've grown together and clicked. We're
all sophomores just about. We know we're going to be around each other for a while."
And they're unlikely to see any big offensive linemen coming in. "We're not going to rule out any kid, but the biggest thing is we want a kid that's mobile and athletic," said offensive line coach Ron West earlier in the summer. "We want the kind of athlete that can change direction. Our linemen will pull. We don't want fat guys.
"A lot of my philosophy on coaching comes from coach (Danny) Ford, who coached me when I was here. We were never the biggest offensive line in the country, but they were very athletic and had guys on the line that could change direction."
West said he would rather have a smaller lineman and make him bigger than a big offensive lineman and have to try to make him quicker.
If the line's size makes it an underdog this year, then that's OK with Smith, too. "If you watched the games last year, if we were the underdog, we played the best," he said. "We played up to the level of the other team."
Clemson is the underdog Saturday against Marshall by a couple of points, which suits Bowden. "Instead of being favored by three or six points, I would rather be the underdog Saturday," he said. "It will give us a point
that we can measure from."