Getting Offensive

The offense was not supposed to be a problem. Returning four offensive linemen with starting experience, the team's leading rusher, and a potential Heisman contender at quarterback was enough to turn the doubters' eyes towards the defense for question marks.

But through three games the Tigers are averaging just 20 points during regulation and have not been able to move the ball offensively consistently on the ground or through the air.

This offense actually more resembles the 2003 version that was shut out by Georgia, and was later held under 200 yards passing by an N.C. State team that was ranked number 117 against the pass when they faced the Tigers last year. In fact, the 2004 offense actually has had the same problems getting going that the 2003 version did. So much so that I've found that by looking at the 2003 version, answers can be found to problems here in 2004.

Looking back at the 2003 team there were two things that happened that got the offense rolling and wins in the win column.

Revamping the Running Game
It wasn't so much what the coaches did to revamp the running game in 2003. They just happened to stumble upon Chad Jasmin who went on to give the Tigers a legitimate running threat and a shot in the arm in short yardage situations.

The Tigers won't have to pound the ball 30 times a game, but they will have to be able to provide a running threat in order to keep defensive linemen out of the offensive backfield and off Charlie Whitehurst's back. The rough days the Tigers have had with the running game could be a lot brighter in the future with a little more Reggie Merriweather.

This is why the potential announcement that Reggie Merriweather would be the starter against the Seminoles has come as as music to Tiger fans' ears. Where it took seven games in 2003 to find that spark in Jasmin, the Tiger coaching staff could have found the spark the running game needs now while it is still early in the season. And there's little doubt the sophomore has earned more chances as he has made the most of his touches to this point. Merriweather has averaged 9 yards a run making some scratch their heads as to why it took so long to put him in the starting lineup.

Reggie has proved to be the best back with the ball in his hands and it is not only what he can do for the running game that should have Tiger fans excited. It is no coincidence that after he ripped off a 20 yard run to start Clemson's only touchdown drive against the Aggies Saturday night, that Whitehurst on the next play was able to stand in the pocket without pressure and find Airese Currie down field for a 20 yard pass play, a play that set up the scoring pass to Ben Hall. Play action works a lot better when the running back that the ball is being faked to actually provides a threat to the defense.

Charlie Giving Charlie More Time
In 2003, there was no doubt that a young offensive line got better as the season went on. Many Tiger fans give credit to this unit for the extra time Charlie had in the latter part of the season. While this is true of the 2003 unit and will be true from the 2004 unit as they get more time and experience under their belt, a lot of the credit should go to Charlie himself, as he started using the weapon that were available to him. The emergence of Duane Coleman as a legitimate receiving threat in 2003 kept blitz happy defensive coordinators honest and linebackers on their heels.

This year defenses have been able to pin their ears back as they have not had to give much thought to a receiver coming out of the Tiger backfield nor a tight end slipping into the secondary. Part of the fault has to go on the shoulders of Charlie Whitehurst. Many times he has had an open back out of the backfield who doesn't get a look from Whitehurst who is still looking to his receivers down field.

In fact, to this point in the season the running backs have only got three balls thrown their way, one going to Merriweather for 5 yards against Georgia Tech, and two to Browning who took one for a score against Wake and another for 8 yards to set up second and short against the Aggies.

Although they don't have hands as sure as Duane Coleman, Merriweather and Browning provide a serious threat out of the backfield and in the open field, a threat that Whitehurst can no longer overlook if he is to get this offense moving. He will have to show patience in getting the passing game going as 2-3 dumps to his tailbacks could be just what is needed in order to keep defenders out of the Tiger backfield.

So am I saying that it as simple as getting Merriweather his carries and Charlie being more patient in the passing game in order to get this offense going?

Perhaps, but I will say this.

The offense has other issues, like getting more production from its revamped line. But I do know that this offense has the weapons to be a potent force in the near future. And if you don't believe that a threat in the running game and a little patience in the passing game can help this offensive line and get this offense going, just go back and look at how the Texas A&M Aggies neutralized Leroy Hill and had the Tiger defense on its heels with a few good runs from Courtney Lewis and few dumps over the middle from Reggie McNeil to his tight ends.

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