NOTEBOOK: Running game continues to struggle

CLEMSON – Clemson entered the season with what was expected to be one of the best tailback combinations in the nation. With James Davis and C.J. Spiller, gaining yardage on the ground was a foregone conclusion.

Well, we all know what happens when you assume. It turns out that the Tigers have had major issues running the ball this year.

Clemson has just 42 yards rushing over the last two games, eight of which came against Virginia Tech Saturday night, and 566 yards passing.

"We've got to call plays that are going to put us in a position to win the game," Tigers quarterback Cullen Harper said. "And tonight it was throwing the ball because they were stopping the running game."

Questions abound about the running game and remain unanswered. The Tigers are averaging just 2.88 yards a carry this year through six games.

Spiller is averaging 3.29 yards per carry, and has rushing yardage of three, two and negative one in three of his last four games.

To his credit, Davis entered the game averaging 6.5 yards a carry.

Davis, who was nursing a slight shoulder stinger, didn't get his first carry until Clemson's sixth possession of the game. He only had two carries at halftime.

When asked why Davis didn't get more touches in the first half, running backs coach Andre Powell didn't have an answer.

"I wasn't counting carries," he said.

Powell and offensive coordinator Rob Spence both insisted that Davis wasn't injured.

"The biggest problem our kids have is they keep getting reminded what happened last week against Georgia Tech by the media," Powell said. "You can't keep worrying about the past. You have to move on."

AUSTIN TO CENTER: Usual starting right guard Thomas Austin was the game's starting center for Clemson as Barry Humphries was demoted to second team. Brandon Pilgrim was the starting right guard.

However, by the second quarter Austin was back at right guard, Humphries was back at center and Pilgrim was at left guard because starter Chris McDuffie went down with back problems.

According to Austin, McDuffie had been fighting back spasms all week.

Austin said he wasn't sure if continue to be the starting center.

"We'll see the film and see how it looks," he said. "I felt comfortable being there and I worked hard all week."

"BUBBLE SCREEN U" Earlier in the week, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit called Clemson "Bubble screen U" in reference to all the screen passes that Spence likes to call.

Against the Hokies, the Tigers threw eight screens in the first half and three in the second half for a grand total of 11. Two of the bubble screens resulted in Clemson receivers getting drilled.

Jacoby Ford was hit so hard with 9:15 left in the first quarter that he never returned.

"Screens have always been a way to take some of the pressure off the pass protection and try to create some big plays," Spence said. "That worked well for us tonight."

TOUGH FIRST 15 MINS: In the first quarter against the Hokies, Clemson had an interception and allowed two punt returns for a touchdown, but one of them was called back due to a penalty.

Tigers quarterback Cullen Harper threw two interceptions and the offense had three penalties, and two more that were declined by Virginia Tech.

QUICK HITS: Early Saturday morning on ESPN GameDay, analyst Lee Corso said Clemson had the worst special teams in the history of college football. … Clemson's first first down of the game came with 9:02 left in the second quarter. …

When the Tigers scored their first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, it ended a streak of 128 minutes and 54 seconds without a touchdown.

Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham each caught 11 passes. Kelly's 174 yards were the third-most ever by a Tigers receiver. … This is the first time under coach Frank Beamer that the Hokies have returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the same game. …

The three return scores by Virginia Tech were the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd non-offensive touchdowns by the Hokies since the start of the 1999 season, extending their lead over Miami (59) for the most in the country during that span. …

The touchdown reception by Virginia Tech's Justin Harper was the first by a Hokies wide receiver all season. … The 31 points scored by the Hokies in the first half were the most against a Clemson team in the opening two quarters since Wake Forest scored 35 in 2003. …

Punter Jimmy Maners averaged 48 yards a punt on seven attempts. It was his fifth straight game of averaging at least 44 yards a punt. That hasn't happened for a Clemson punter since Chris Gardocki did it in 1990. … The loss ends Clemson's streak of five consecutive wins over ranked teams, which ties the school record.

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