Tigers Halfway Home

by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - Before the season even started, Clemson's football team set high expectations for itself. It's safe to say that through the first half of the season, the No. 12 Tigers have met those expectations.

With a 6-1 record, including a 3-1 mark in the ACC's Atlantic Division, Clemson finds itself in position to win its first ACC title since 1991 and qualify for its first BCS Bowl game. The Tigers road to Jacksonville-the site of the ACC Championship game-continues Saturday when they host No. 13 Georgia Tech in an ESPN primetime game at 7:45 p.m.

"Coach Blackwell and I were talking yesterday and he told me that this team has a national championship feel to it right now," linebacker Nick Watkins said Monday. "We are winning and we know we can be good, but at the same time, we know we can get a whole lot better.

"We are trying to take it in stride. Take it one game at a time, one play at a time and just let everything fall into place."

If the Tigers hope to make it to the BCS, they will need to continue what they have done the first half of the season, and improve on a few things they haven't done.


Clemson's offense has been everything coach Tommy Bowden wanted it to be when he brought in offensive coordinator Rob Spence in the winter of 2005.

The Tigers lead the ACC in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense and third down conversions, while also ranking second in the ACC in passing offense. Clemson's balanced attack is second nationally in scoring with a 43.9 average, while averaging 459 yards per game.

Thanks to ACC leading rusher James Davis (106.4 yards per game), the Tigers lead the conference with 250.6 yards per game on the ground, while quarterback Will Proctor has the passing game averaging 208.4 yards a game. Even with pass catchers Chansi Stuckey and Rendrick Taylor out, Clemson has still been very productive through the air.

All-everything freshman C.J. Spiller has also picked up some key pass receptions out of the backfield, catching 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. He has also been very productive running the football with 416 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

Davis leads the ACC in scoring with 16 touchdowns thanks to a veteran offensive line that has dominated every opponent it has faced.

Grade: A


When preseason All-American linebacker Anthony Waters was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in the season opener against Florida Atlantic, many thought Clemson would struggle on defense. Prior to Waters' injury, the Tigers had already lost senior linebacker Tramaine Billie to a broken foot in the preseason.

When safety Michael Hamlin went down with a broken foot against Boston College in Week 2 - it appeared the Tigers defense was done.

But that has been anything but the truth. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has done a masterful job putting young and inexperienced players in positions to make plays which has allowed Clemson to lead the ACC in scoring defense (13.3), total defense (234), rushing defense (69.7) and pass efficiency defense (96.3 rating).

The Tigers have not allowed an opponent over 300 yards on total offense since the Boston College game, and the Eagles only got its 322 yards because the game went into overtime.

Gaines Adams has turned his play up a notch as well as becoming more of a vocal leader. He leads the ACC in sacks with 7.5, while linebackers Antonio Clay and Nick Watkins have done a great job filling Waters' and Billie's spots.

Duane Coleman and Chris Clemons have become solid leaders in the secondary and since Hamlin's return the group has only improved as opponents are completing just 52.5 percent of their 219 passes.

Grade: A

Special Teams:

First the positives. Punter Cole Chason has improved greatly, with a 38.9 average, up from 34 yards a year ago. Freshman Jacoby Ford has a 94-yard punt and a 94-yard kickoff return for touchdowns - the first person in the program's history to have a 90 plus-yard punt and kickoff return for scores.

Now the negatives. What has happened to Jad Dean? The Lou Groza Finalist has had six kicks blocked or deflected, this after entering the season without a single kick being blocked. He is 8 of 12 on field goals, but he is just 1-3 from 30-39 yards. He was 6 for 8 from that distance a year ago.

The kick coverage team is downright awful. The Tigers allowed Temple-a team averaging 18 yards a game coming into last Thursday-240 yards on nine returns. Opponents are averaging 25 yards per kick return this season.

Grade: D

Bowden and his staff have done a great job having this team ready to play each and every week. Having a reputation in the past of playing down to its competition, the Tigers have beaten the four teams on their schedule with losing records by an average score of 55-6.

The only negative for the coaching staff has been the continuous problems on special teams. For whatever the reason, Bowden has not figured how to correct the kickoff coverage team's errors or fix the demons that keep haunting Dean.

Grade: B

Courtesy of Daily Journal

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