Running Game: Work in Progress

After starting the season with high hopes, Clemson may have fallen to earth, but that doesn't mean the Tigers (1-4, 1-3 ACC) have gone to the ground.

In fact, it's just the opposite.

The Tigers are running less, which is partly because they have had to go to their passing game more after falling behind late. But the difference between last season, when the Tigers ran nearly 36 times per game and threw it an average of 23, hasn't escaped notice.

In the five games to date, the Tigers are averaging 28 rushes, but take away the carries of QB Charlie Whitehurst and the wide receivers on end arounds and the average dips to around 17 carries for the running backs. Whitehurst is averaging 34 passes per outing.

TB Duane Coleman noted the frustration among the backs as the Tigers prepare for Saturday's home game against Utah State. Coming off a foot injury, Coleman has logged only 17 carries in three games, the last one a start against Virginia.

"Maybe this might be the game we get more chances," he said. "But going into the first few games, that was just the game plan and how it was all drawn up."

Coleman hopes the opportunity to carry the load is fast approaching.

Among the other running backs, Yusef Kelly has been the busiest with 35 carries (100 yards). Reggie Merriweather has 21 carries (162 yards) in five games, and Kyle Browning has 13 (104).

They likely will play in a four-man rotation against Utah State, which obviously will limit their individual opportunities. Some early success will help change things.

"We know if we break one early, they're going to come back to running the ball again," Coleman said of the coaches.

"If you're not productive in the first few carries you get, that can be the last. Then with the rotation we've got, if you're not the hot hand, you'll be watching from the sideline as well. It's just tough altogether."

"They're disappointed," said running backs Coach Burton Burns of his troops. "They'd love to carry the ball 20, 25, 30 times a game. But they've got to understand what our overall philosophy is. And there might be one or two games where that might happen."

Utah State will be the first of three consecutive home games for the Tigers, who have not played in Death Valley since losing to Georgia Tech on Sept. 11. The Tigers play Maryland on Oct. 23 and are host to North Carolina State on Oct. 30.

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