As tailback James Davis said immediately following Clemson's waxing of Central Michigan, the key for the rest of the season could be the simple flip-flop of right guard Thomas Austin and center Barry Humphries. Early indications are Davis is right.
Not only did the move help secure the center position, which had been the subject of much ridicule all season, but in turn, it looks to have been the best move for the guard position, too.
The main concern with moving Austin to center was that backup guard Brandon Pilgrim would be the starter, when in fact he may not quite have been cut out to be one. But something a little unexpected happened with the flip-flop – the Tigers may have found their starting guard.
Humphries, who struggled at center, appears to have found a home at guard, where he played about 30 meaningful snaps in the first half against Central Michigan. In fact he could very well end up being the starting by this time next week.
"I was really proud of the way he responded because sometimes you lose your job and you pout, you just kind of go over there and cash in your chips, and he didn't do that," offensive line coach Brad Scott told CUTigers.com. "During the open week, I practiced Humphries almost exclusively at guard and he went in there and played real well. I don't think he had to think as much so he could just get out there and play. He's looked good so far this week, too."
After having had a chance to review the film, Scott could not have been more pleased with what he saw. It was the best he line looked all season.
"Pilgrim had a solid performance, but Barry really did some good things – had like five knockdowns, he was running around, he was cutting, he was chasing the ball and playing pretty relentless out there, which I liked. I told him he's earned more quality playing time and now I'm going to roll him in there early and see how he does and let him compete for that job."
Not to take anything away from Pilgrim, because he is still a valuable key to the offensive line. He is the backup to Chris McDuffie at left guard, while also being responsible for things at right guard.
And should Humphries eventually win the starting job, Pilgrim will see ample playing time at both spots. But right now, all eyes are on Humphries to see how he handles playing against a better team like Maryland.
"I think he's going to get more and more playing time over there," Scott said of the redshirt sophomore. "He brought a little punch to the table. Sometimes when you play center, you've got to snap the ball and make all the calls and guys are right on top of you. I just think it was easier for Barry for that transition, which just shows you just what a good job Austin has done, because it's a harder job."
A stable line is something Clemson didn't have through the first half of the season. The Tigers ranked at the bottom of the ACC in allowed sacks and was one of the worst in the country in that category.
The running game had also been atrocious at times, especially against decent competition. But all that could be a thing of the past.
"Guard's a little easier to play than center because when you get off the ball you get to wind up a little bit and hit people," Humphries said. "But where ever (Scott) puts me, I'm going to play to the best of my ability.
"When you play center, you know what everybody else's scheme is. You have to tell them most of the time when you're working with the guard. So now, I already know what the center is going to tell me, so I don't have to rely on him as much since I played the position."
Note: With Humphries now at guard full time, Bobby Hutchinson has been switched back to center and will play there exclusively.
Has the OL Turned the Corner?
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