The first step toward recovery is admitting that there is a problem.
And after watching his team's offense rank near the bottom of the NCAA Division I-A ranks this past season, head coach Tommy Bowden took that initial step by acknowledging there were issues with the Tigers' offense .
The Tigers finished 2004 ranked 110th out of 117 Division I teams in total offense, averaging 295 yards per game. Clemson averaged only 107.5 yards a game, which was their lowest output since 1938. Also, the offense scored just 21.4 points per game, which is the fewest amount for Bowden in his eight years as a head coach.
Make no mistake about it, this is a major admission. The Tigers' running backs were averaging over six yards per carry at one point this past season, the most since he's been a head coach at Clemson.
The problem was that the combination of Reggie Merriweather, Duane Coleman, Kyle Browning and Yusef Kelly were only carrying it only 15 or so times a game.
The frustration in the lack of offensive production was not only felt by the fans, but with the players too.
"Yeah, they want the ball," running backs coach Burton Burns said during the season. "There ain't no doubt about that. … They're disappointed. They'd love to carry the ball 20, 25, 30 times a game. … In this system, you're only going to get so many carries a game. You don't have a whole lot of time to get adjusted to the tempo of the ballgame."
No one was more disappointed with the offense than Merriweather, who consistently led the team in rushing, but wasn't given a chance to be the featured back until there were only a handful of games left in the season.
"It always a struggle when you have to rely on the pass," Merriweather said. "You see schools like Texas, Tennessee, (South) Carolina, Miami and Florida State, they're always running the ball and running the ball and then they throw it just to keep you on your toes."
Bowden's second step toward fixing the offense came in the hiring of offensive coordinator Rob Spence, who guided the Toledo offense to a 13th or higher national ranking in each of his four years with the team.
Also, the Rockets were the only team to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 2,000 yards last year. Those numbers have been a goal of Bowden's ever since he came to Clemson.
"I didn't do a good job of keeping up with the Joneses, and he has," Bowden said. "He studied, he spent more time, he did a better job than me of keeping up and keeping a competitive advantage.
"The last few years I've studied hard, I've tried hard, and the success we've had for the first five years running the football, somehow I lost the edge to do that, and I want to recapture that. And he's recaptured that where he's been.
"He has had the productivity that I messed up. So I've hired a guy to fix the machine."
One condition of Spence, 46, accepting the job was that he would have complete and total control of the offense. He will be the first offensive coordinator at Clemson to have that power since Rich Rodriguez left in 2000 to be head coach at West Virginia.
"If you're playing against equal talent, you need to be able to run the ball," said Spence, who will also coach quarterbacks. "You need to be able to manufacture a running game, because the best way to throw the ball is in the play-action game."
Besides concentrating on the running game, Spence will also allow quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to change the play at the line of scrimmage. That has something Bowden has never allowed.
"The quarterback should be trained to be able to make decisions at the line of scrimmage," Spence said. "He needs to be able to operate with that in mind. I use the analogy that he's like an airplane pilot. He should have the ability, if something were to go wrong, to land the plane."
Bowden said he has signed off on that idea.
"Whatever (Spence) does, the quarterback has been awful productive," Bowden said. "So he's got the freedom to make them as productive as those other guys. He knows what he's doing."
Bowden Fixing the Offense
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