Question #9: Does Merriweather Cure The Running Game Woes?
Duane Coleman was set to be the feature back Tommy Bowden had been looking for heading into August of 2004. Coleman had rushed for 622 yards in 2003, and he looked very strong closing the 2003 season after shaking off a year's with of rust. Coleman had garnered separation from Yusef Kelly, Reggie Merriweather, and Kyle Browning. Coleman was poised to start strong, but he broke his foot before the start of the season.
Coleman's injury left the staff scratching their heads as to who would be the starting running back. Senior Yusef Kelly started the opener against Wake Forest, but he was ineffective. In the Georgia Tech game, Clemson fans got a preview of what was to come late in the year. The only positive from the Tech game, was Kyle Browning and Reggie Merriweather leading Clemson to 186 yard rushing effort, including a pair of 50 yard touchdown runs.
Browning would see minimal action the rest of the season, but Merriweather sparked another late season run. Merriweather finished the year with 695 yards rushing on 136 carries. Merriweather had been the team's best home run threat, but he had struggled with blocking assignments in his first three seasons. Merriweather became the complete back and ran over Miami and South Carolina to close the season.
With new offensive coordinator Rob Spence, Merriweather will see a significant increase in carries. The North Augusta native will welcome the added load. Merriweather is very effective in getting yards after contact. He uses a strong leg drive to find the extra yard, but the running game will need more than Merriweather to be successful.
Clemson was pitiful running the football last season. The Tigers averaged 108.0 yards per game. There were three main factors that hurt the running game. First, there was a lack of commitment to the running game from the coaching staff. Secondly, the offensive line play was simply not very good last year. Lastly, the season was nearly over when Merriweather separated himself as the feature back. All three problems appear to have been addressed this offseason.
Merriweather knows he has three talented backs behind him that want his carries in Coleman, Browning, and James Davis. Merriweather can cure the running game woes, but he will not do it alone. The staff has the confidence in him and his offensive line to where they can be more committed to the run, plus Spence's offense requires an effective running game to be successful. Spence was brought in largely because he has been so successful running the football in the past.
Can Merriweather eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in 2005? That is a question to be answered later, but the recipe is there for success in 2005 on the ground.