A Pass-Happy Offense?

Does anybody else find it a little bit strange that people seem to perceive Clemson as a predominantly passing team? They associate Tommy Bowden with having a wide-open spread offense, which is true. But as Tommy himself has often expressed a major point of the spread is to help create room for the running game. Even when coach Bowden was at Tulane his offense was perceived as more of a passing attack when in reality they were one of the few offenses in the nation to average over 200 yards passing and rushing. Bottom line, the real goal is to have a balanced attack.

Clemson's stats, especially from last season, clearly show that they were very capable of running the ball. Last season the Tigers rushed for 2688 and passed for 2554. In 1999 they rushed for only 1812 and threw for a very unTiger-like 3019 with one of the smallest offensive lines in college football.

With the personnel the coaches had at their disposal at the time passing the ball was the quickest and best way to succeed. Brandon Streeter stepped in and did a super job of running a controlled passing game. But now the line is much bigger, stronger and deeper, the talent at tight end has been upgraded, and it's clear that the trend of improving the running game will continue.

Perhaps the most significant statistic from last season is the ratio of 591 rush to 340 pass attempts, nearly 2 to 1. It is likely, however, that after Woody Dantzler leaves, and possibly even before, the ratio of rushes to passes will balance out more. New quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain, a Clemson alunmus, has already been reported as saying that the Tigers often failed to explore passing opportunities across the middle of the field last season and that this year they hope to improve in that area.

When looking at the current offensive personnel and last season's stats, and considering that Clemson has a starting quarterback in Dantzler who is known more for his legs than his arm, it seems like the only conclusion one could possibly draw would be that they are a running team first, passing second. However, considering the fact that the Tigers hope to enroll the nation's number one wide receiver class in August helps illustrate the fact that Tommy wants balance with the offense. He doesn't want to become a one-dimensional offense, either running or throwing.

The reasoning behind wanting a multi-facted offense is well-founded. This was well evidenced last season as the Tigers basically had three main weapons on offense; the better teams they played later in the year were able to key in on these weapons, effectively limiting the Tiger offense.

These three formidable weapons were Heisman candidate Dantzler, All-American wideout Rod Gardner and All-ACC tailback Travis Zachery. By double-teaming Gardner and by focusing on stopping Dantzler and Zachery, Georgia Tech, Florida State and South Carolina were all able to put the shackles on the previously high-scoring Tiger machine.

This is exactly what new offensive coordinator Brad Scott, and Bowden and O'Cain hope to remedy. By bringing back the entire offensive backfield from last year and by upgrading the line Scott will force opposing defenses to respect the run. And by taking better advantage of the vertical passing game opportunities as well as the excellent talent and speed coming in at wideout in the fall he will put pressure on the opposing safeties to respect the pass and not key too much on the run.

An additional dimension for Clemson next season will be the pass-catching abilities of Zachery and of talented tight end prospects like Todd McClinton, Ben Hall and others, who can slip out into the secondary and become pass targets as well as block for the run.

All in all, Clemson's offensive philosophy is very sound. The Tiger rushing game has evolved into a well-oiled machine and the passing attack will be potent as well, creating a much tougher dilemma for opposing defensive coordinators in 2001.

Perceptions are one thing, but the numbers tell a different story. Pass-happy? Sorry, just doesn't add up.

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