Coming into the year, there were several areas the Tigers needed to address. Both starting offensive tackles were gone, the power running game left with Chad Jasmin, and replacing a couple of players who declared early for the NFL Draft. We also did not know if this would be the year Coach Tommy Bowden was able to create the running game his offense had lacked since Woody Dantzler left.
The turnaround this defense has made since the second half against Virginia has been tremendous. This is the same defense that was embarassed on national television by Virginia's offensive front. Maybe all they needed was a little home cooking. One of the games was against an inferior opponent, but now the way the defense played against Maryland looks much more impressive. Joel Statham ripped FSU's defense for 333 yards. Creating turnovers had been a problem, but on Saturday they matched the season total of six in four quarters of play against NC State. Give a lot of credit to the defensive coaching staff for helping this unit improve and play better each week. Also, it is nice to see Justin Miller playing like the freshman we saw two years ago. He now has 3 interceptions in the last two games.
The offensive line maybe played their best game of the year against NC State. Charlie Whitehurst was only sacked twice, both were on blitzes. Many felt this was the best front four Clemson had played all year, and the offensive line did not allow a single sack from State's front four. As the unit adjusts better to Brad Scott's scheme each week they improve. Also, true freshman Barry Richardson will continue to sure up Whitehurst's blind side.
The receivers are starting to develop some consistency. Airese Currie simply could not be covered on Saturday. This unit has stepped up in a big way in light of injuries and suspensions. In the last two weeks, junior Michael Collins and true freshman La'Donte Harris have made key third down catches to keep a scoring drive alive. Harris made the big catch against NC State to set up Jad Dean's 47 yard field goal.
Reggie Merriweather is starting to separate himself from the other running backs. The coaching staff has known for quite awhile now that he was their biggest homerun threat. Now Merriweather is becoming a more complete back in this offense, and has a ton of potential. Duane Coleman is still a rock solid player, but we may not see the real Duane Coleman until next season.
So now you must be wondering what is the last ingredient for this team to really close out the year successfully. The only question that remains is the one we did not think existed in the pre-season, Charlie Whitehurst.
In fairness, the bar for Whitehurst is set much higher than for most quarterbacks. However, Whitehurst is not the same player he was last year. Ever since he stepped on campus, he has been able to throw a great deep ball. As we have seen in the last couple of weeks, Whitehurst has not hit the big pass plays that he is known for. Several times, he had receivers open on Saturday for big gains, but did not see them. Vision is one of Whitehurst's best assets, and if he is able to find the downfield vision he had last season this offense could really explode.
The team has made a strong showing coming off the 1-4 start. Now this team has to go back out on the road in a tough environment. If all the ingredients are there on Saturday, this could be a very special day for Tiger fans.