Whitehurst: Pressing Too Much?

Even as a freshman, Charlie Whitehurst showed the type of poise, promise and potential at quarterback that most coaches hope to get out of seniors. He displayed an ability to throw the ball with the kind of strength and precision that many much older quarterbacks couldn't do.

Then came his second year where he avoided the dreaded sophomore jinx and showed that he was one of the top five sophomore quarterbacks in the nation by throwing for 21 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards in leading the Tigers to a valiant surge to end the season ranked and with a Peach Bowl victory.

He was so good as a sophomore that many "experts" viewed him as one of the top two quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference and among the 20 best in the country. But through the first three games in the 2004 season, nearly all that talk has faded as he has at times looked more like a freshman learning the ways of college football than a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.

Whitehurst's numbers, quite frankly, are shocking.

Whitehurst came into his junior season with a 60.5 completion percentage. This year, he is completing just 50.4 percent, which is the worse than any starter in the ACC. In 22 games over his first two years, Whitehurst had 19 interceptions and 31 touchdowns. He's already thrown seven interceptions this season, with just four scoring passes.

Out of the top 100 quarterbacks in Division I, Whitehurst ranks 87th in passing efficiency with a 103.0 rating. Before the year started, he had a career passer rating of 133.3.

Something is definitely rotten in Denmark.

"I think Charlie is his own worst critic, and I think he's pressing too much," Tigers coach Tommy Bowden said. "I told Charlie he just needs to enjoy himself and go out there and play football and play relaxed, probably like he did the last four games of last year. Charlie, he's a perfectionist. I think Charlie is trying too hard, and he's too hard on himself.

"I think he's not relaxed and I think he's a very good thrower when he's relaxed and in his natural rhythm, and his mechanics just take place naturally. Now he misses a pass and it bothers him too much. He wants to win and he's a competitor, and like I said, he's a perfectionist, and I think it's bothering him more than it should. It should bother you. But I think it can bother you negatively. It's bothering him too much when he doesn't play up to what he thinks is a good football game."

"As you know, our third-down conversion right now is awful (28.6 percent) and the reason for that is we've put ourselves in bad situations and we're pretty much allowed the defense to dictate to us instead of us dictating to the offense," said O'Cain.
Bowden, offensive coordinator Mike O'Cain and Whitehurst have all looked at game film to see if the problem is with his mechanics in throwing the ball. To a man, they all said no.

"I think the biggest thing for me is my accuracy has not been where it was," Whitehurst said. "I don't think I've missed real bad. I'm just putting balls a foot high or whatever and it makes it tough for them to catch it. This last one was the worst. I just have to go at it in practice and try to get it corrected."

One reason his numbers are down is the fact that he and his speedy receivers haven't really connected on big plays when the opposing defenses have blitzed.

O'Cain said Wake Forest and Texas A&M blitzed a lot, with Georgia Tech having blitzed about every other down. When that happens, the quarterback has less time to survey the field, but it also leaves the receivers in more one-on-one coverage, which could lead to a big gain if the ball is thrown accurately.

"I think when you get blitzed, your completions aren't going to be what they would be if they just rushed three and played zone," Whitehurst said. "You'd complete more balls. When they blitz you, you hit bigger plays and we haven't hit those bigger plays. And that's where it's bad. … I've been hit a lot, but I haven't been hit real, real hard yet."

So if he's not getting gun-shy and he hasn't made poor mistakes as the coaches have said, what exactly is the problem?

Clemson ranks 74th out of 117 Division I teams in scoring offense with 22.33 points per game. The Tigers also have the worst red zone offense in the ACC, having scored just 50 percent of the time they've reached the 20-yard line. That, and not all the interceptions, dropped passes and bad throws, is what Whitehurst has a hard time grasping.

"I think the biggest thing is I thought we'd be putting up more points than we are," he said. "We should have scored a bunch of points in every game. Defenses have played well against us, but regardless we haven't hit some of the opportunities. That's probably been the biggest thing."

There are other aspects that may be contributing to the play of Whitehurst and the offense.

"I think that if you're critiquing us offensively, we've had too many third-and-long situations," O'Cain said. "As you know, our third-down conversion right now is awful (28.6 percent) and the reason for that is we've put ourselves in bad situations and we're pretty much allowed the defense to dictate to us instead of us dictating to the offense. When you're in that situation, you're asking the quarterback to make more difficult throws, you're asking the line to protect in a harder situation."

Maybe the worst thing Whitehurst and the coaches can do is overanalyze the situation. They could become their own worst enemy.

"We can't have Charlie out there afraid to throw the football," O'Cain said. "If he's throwing the ball into coverage or forcing it, that's more easy to correct. But when you're talking about six inches on the throw or a foot on the throw, it's just doing it over and over again. You've got to be careful how you go about it. You can't scare him."

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