Midterm questions

Six games into the 2012 campaign; CUTigers takes a look at the questions facing Clemson in the second half of the regular season.

Can Sammy Watkins return to form?

Most assumed Watkins would hit the ground running when he returned from his two-game suspension, but that hasn't really been the case. Through three games [163 snaps], Watkins has 16 catches for 118 yards, eight rushes for 99 yards and 128 kickoff return yards.

Keeping in mind that Watkins also missed the Boston College game with an abdominal virus, it's been a bit of a sophomore slump for the freshman All-American.

Fortunately, for Clemson, there are six more games left on the schedule. And Watkins is bound to break out in at least one of those, right?

Who's ready to be the guy off the edge on defense?

This was supposed to be the season that Malliciah Goodman emerged as a premier defensive end. Da'Quan Bowers did it in his last season, so did Andre Branch.

Goodman has 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback pressure in 279 snaps this season.

Corey Crawford has been the most productive defensive end this season. In 260 snaps, he has 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback pressures.

The only Tiger defensive end with a sack this season is Victor Beasley, who's tied for the team lead with two. Third among the defensive ends in tackles is Tavaris Barnes, who's made nine stops in 116 snaps.

Will Tajh Boyd keep up the pace on the ground?

Chad Morris made no bones about the fact that he needed Boyd to trim weight during the offseason, to be more effective with his feet. Since Boyd cut those 20 pounds off his frame, the difference has been night and day.

Through six games, Boyd has already eclipsed his rushing total from 2011. He's picked 224 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns this season.

Tajh Boyd is making a clear case for ACC Player of the Year consideration. (Roy Philpott)
A number of those yards have been picked up when things are breaking down around him and/or he doesn't have an open receiver down field. The improvisational runs tend to look a little more impressive than the designed calls, but both are just as effective.

Are these young defenders going to play more?

One of the top storylines from preseason camp was the status of Tony Steward. Dabo Swinney was steadfast in his desire to keep Steward on the field, away from a redshirt. Brent Venables had a different point of view.

Steward's logged playing time at linebacker in only three games this season with 37 total snaps under his belt. Problem is, for Steward, he's behind Jonathan Willard, who's been the most consistent player on Clemson's defense this season.

Most folks assumed that Carlos Watkins would step into the rotation on day one. And, maybe, be ready to take over a starting job at some point during the season. Watkins has played in three games this season, logging time against Ball State, Furman and Georgia Tech.

Fellow freshman D.J. Reader has handled the transition from high school to college ball with a little more consistency than Watkins. That's why he's played 105 snaps, including 19 against Georgia Tech.

Lateek Townsend drew rave reviews from just about everybody during preseason camp. He was a one-man sack machine. But, for some reason, that hasn't result in playing time on Saturdays. Townsend has played just two snaps this season.

The main issue was Townsend didn't know where he was supposed to lineup, pre-snap.

Is Andre Ellington going to stay healthy?

One of the reasons Ellington returned for his senior year was to show NFL talent evaluators that he could stay healthy over the course of an entire season. So far, the future pro has kept his name off the injury report.

And, of course, he's been one of the top offensive performers in the ACC.

Ellington leads the conference in rushing with 597 yards and is first among running backs with six touchdowns. He's also been effective in the passing game, hauling in seven passes for 137 yards.

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