In what best could be described as a confusing start to the 2003 season, the Tigers' offense has struggled to put points on the board.
Sure, Charlie Whitehurst threw for over 300 yards last weekend against Furman and Kevin Youngblood caught 10 passes for 100 yards, but players with that kind of talent and physical ability are supposed to do that to a team that plays Division I-AA football.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Clemson has managed only 159 yards on the ground. At the same time, the Tigers have put up a combined 28 points, but all of those were scored in the first half against Furman.
Georgia's defensive line, considered to be one of the most talented in the country this year, simply plugged up the running lanes against the Tigers' offensive line. And in Saturday's win over Furman, the offensive line played better against weaker competition, but Duane Coleman wasn't hitting the holes as they were opening up.
The concern in the running game has been well documented.
In reviewing some of the set backs from last season, Tommy Bowden's biggest concern was a lack of production in the running game. "We've got to run the ball better, especially in short yardage situations," Bowden said.
With the Tigers failing to establish Bernard Rambert and Yusef Kelly as serious threats on the ground, the offense became predictable and largely ineffective against superior competition.
This year, Clemson is actually averaging 40 yards less in the ground game through the first two games of the season, and this comes after the Tigers spent the entire spring and fall focusing on becoming a tougher, more hard-nosed football team.
So that brings us to week number three, when the Tigers face Middle Tennessee State this Saturday in Death Valley. Is now a time that we could see a change in offensive philosophy of head coach Tommy Bowden and his staff?
Perhaps, but not in the way you might be thinking.
Against Georgia, the game plan was to use the running game to set up the passing game. Against Furman, that strategy began to shift, and I suspect we'll see that trend continue into week number three.
With Whitehurst hitting Airese Currie for a 72-yard bomb in the first half, the Paladins' secondary began playing deeper to insure that wouldn't happen again.
Theoretically, that should help the Tigers running game.
Unfortunately, it didn't.
For whatever reasons, Duane Coleman was never in-sync with his offensive linemen Saturday afternoon. The holes that were opening up, were opening up with Coleman still in the backfield.
Simply put, the running game was largely ineffective against Furman. I'm sure that I won't be the first person to pose this question, but if you can't run on Furman, than who can you run against?
The strategy for this offense now appears to be clear, at least until the running game becomes a weapon as opposed to a liability.
Pass first, run second.
Instead of using the running game to set up the pass, the opposite must occur- at least for now.
A quick look at the schedule reinforces that very notion.
Middle Tennessee State will present the Tigers with one more opportunity to improve their offensive play, and their running game. But then the schedule gets much more difficult, as conference play begins when the Tigers travel to Georgia Tech the following week.
Anybody watch the Yellow Jackets' dominating defensive performance against Auburn?
Against what was once considered to be one of the most fierce rushing attacks in the land, the Yellow Jackets gave up a mere 40 yards on 38 attempts in shutting down the nationally ranked Auburn Tigers.
Until the Tigers can start running the ball with more consistency, the offense has to go more into a pass-first mentality. It worked during the first half again Furman, and it should work the next two weeks when the Tigers face two teams that, on paper, have more talent than the Paladins.
We'll worry about the rest of the schedule, when we get to it.
Pass First, Run Second
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