Spotlight Shines On Whitehurst and McNeal
It is less than a year removed from their first meeting, but Charlie Whitehurst and Reggie McNeal have completely reversed roles. In 2004, Whitehurst was coming off a stellar sophomore campaign and poised to put himself in position for a trip to New York. McNeal was surrounded by question marks after he struggled with an ankle injury in his sophomore season. Whitehurst went on to struggle throwing 17 interceptions, while McNeal made his statement that he was one of the best playmakers in college football. This year McNeal is expected to be a strong contender to earn an invite to New York, while Whitehurst is looking to silence his critics.
Heading into the first game of the year, the spotlight is focused on the two quarterbacks. You do not have to look hard to find criticism of both quarterbacks. McNeal was untouchable in College Station last season, but he struggled in road losses at Utah, Baylor, and Texas. Also, in the Cotton Bowl McNeal struggled against Tennessee. With an expected crowd of 80,000 on Saturday, McNeal will be tested once again on the road. It is an environment he is not familiar with, and also a defensive scheme he has not seen.
It goes without saying that Clemson’s number one defensive objective is to make McNeal beat them with his arm. Last season at Kyle Field, the Tigers were unable to do just that. McNeal had more rushing attempts (17) than completions (14). He helped pace a 324 yard rushing effort for the Aggies. If McNeal has over 100 yards rushing, it almost a sure sign of defeat for Clemson, but Whitehurst stands to have his say come Saturday night.
The trip to College Station is where the heat was turned up on Whitehurst. Whitehurst threw three interceptions, which unfortunately set the pace for the season. It is a new year and Whitehurst is ready to step forward and leave the past behind him. Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden signed three recruits in the off-season to help Whitehurst. The biggest being new offensive coordinator Rob Spence. Spence has an impeccable track record with quarterbacks. His ability to take different types of quarterbacks and make them successful is a big reason why many are optimistic Whitehurst will return to form. True freshmen wide receivers Rendrick Taylor and Tyler Grisham give the receiving corps much needed depth.
For all of the talk of areas Whitehurst needs to improve, it is still the running game that needs to improve to take pressure of Whitehurst. In games, where Clemson has had success running the football, Whitehurst has shown he can shred a defense.
Whitehurst and McNeal are both looking to make statements in their final year of college football. Both have aspirations of the NFL, but they also understand there is a lot to be accomplished before that next step. In what will be one of the top non-conference battles all year, two of college football’s most talented quarterbacks will be looking to open 2005 with a statement.