The Future is Here: Willie Simmons

The man who many Clemson fans have pinned their hopes on is now set to take over control of the Clemson offense. Willie Simmons will have the opportunity to showcase that golden arm of his, but how many victories will it translate into next season? Is he truly the football player that can lead the Tigers to the "next level?"

After two years of waiting as a backup to Woodrow Dantzler, quarterback Willie Simmons will finally get his chance to step up into the spot light next season.

Alright, alright, we all hear the rumors about Charlie Whitehurst being a capable challenger to the Simmons thrown this spring, but for the sake of arguement lets assume that Simmons is able to hold off the young gun. After all, didn't we hear the same thing about Woody Dantzler the last two seasons?

Thats what I thought.

With Willie as the starter, what sort of changes can we expect in the 2002 version of the Clemson offense?

First, you have to understand the fundamental differences between Woodrow Dantzler and Willie Simmons. Dantzler, a fantasic runner with a strong arm, had the ability to improvise any play with his tremendous speed and running ability. However rarely did you see the down field passing action that many fans had been groaning about the lack of over the last 10-15 regular season games.

For better or worse, Dantzler often escaped the pocket a little quicker than the coaching staff would have liked. It worked to his advantage against teams like Georgia Tech and N.C. State, but to his disadvantage against the Florida State and Virginia Tech's of the world.

Willie Simmons brings the threat of the downfield passing game back to Tommy Bowden's fast paced offense. The two mainstays of the Clemson playcalling over the last two seasons, the quarterback sweep and quarterback draw, will probably be replaced by 15-yard curls and 15-yard out patterns with Willie running the show.

To put it simply, Simmons has the ability to distribute the football to all areas of the field. The only question that has yet to be answered is can he consistently make the correct reads based on changing defense alignments throughout the course of a football game?

He more than proved his worth two seasons ago against the North Carolina Tarheels, rallying the Tigers from a 17-0 deficit to the eventual 34-28 win. Simmons tied a school record with 4 touchdown passes on a 10-18, 200+ yard performance- all of that in a little over a half of football. He threw the long ball with pin point accuracy and showed off his arm strength by delivering eye-popping passes with regularity.

This season, he entered blowout games against Maryland and North Carolina and the end result could have probably been expected- he became excited and tried to do too much at once. With limited opportunities, he finished the year 19 of 51 for 235 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.

Without question Willie Simmons is an exciteable and emotional football player. In his first collegiate action against the Citadel two years ago, he was quoted as saying he felt like he was going to throw the football out of the stadium. He entered the game and hit only 5-of-16 passes for 30-yards. We saw similar performances against North Carolina and Maryland this past year as a flustered Simmons overthrew his targets more than so than not.

Those performances really don't concern me as much as it does some fans.

Simmons possesses one of the strongest arms this program has seen in a long time. A strong arm can get you out of a lot of jams as a quarterback. It means he can throw a deeper ball, even if its off his back foot. It means he can throw a 15-yard out pattern across the field with authority, and it also puts more pressure on the secondary to defend the downfield passing game. All of this translates into serious potential, and with all of the talent being stockpiled at wide receiver, good, if not great things are bound to happen for our Tigers in 2002.

That being said, does that mean that Clemson will come out and win the National Championship next season?

Don't be fooled- probably not.

The loss of T.J. Watkins, Kyle Young and Will Merritt across the offensive line will leave several large holes to fill, and we haven't mentioned the defense yet.

The secondary and defensive line will once again will have a large say as to how many games this team can win next year. Getting more pressure on the quarterback and stopping the big play will be of prime importance once again for the Tigers. Failing to improve defensively will certainly result in a similar record and a similar season for Clemson.

On a positive note, you have to feel that with all of the experience returning at wide receiver and the plethora of talent just waiting to be tapped at running back, this team will have a legitimate shot to break almost every offensive record that exists in the Clemson record books. Whether or not the defense can keep pace is another story, but at least it appears that some immediate help is on the way in the form of several JUCO transfers.

With Kevin Youngblood returning from his horrible leg injury, and with Roscoe Crosby, Airese Currie, and Derrick Hamilton back for their 2nd full seasons, the Tigers will have plenty of firepower for Simmons to throw to on the football field.

In large part, it will be up to him to live up to the enormous expectations that will be placed on his shoulders. The talent is there, the arm strength is there, and he has just enough experience to come in and be dangerous right off the bat.

He'll provide the Clemson faithful with as much excitement as can possibly be expected from a quarterback. He's no Woody Dantzler, he's Willie Simmons.

We'll find out exactly what that means down in Athens, Georgia in about 239 days.

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