COMMENTARY: The Need to Sign Jamie Harper

Make no mistake about it, Clemson will return two of its most talented running backs in school history next year in James Davis and C.J. Spiller. But that doesn't make five-star running back Jamie Harper any less important in the grand scheme of things.

In fact, Clemson needs to sign Jamie Harper.

That's right, I said it, and I have no problems repeating it.

Clemson needs to sign Jamie Harper.

While James Davis will go on to break the school's all-time rushing record next season and Spiller has more explosiveness than any back I've ever seen in orange, Harper is one of the recruits that represents the proverbial "next level" so many Clemson fans have been waiting to get to for the last 17 years.

At minimum, he's the power back with speed that should alleviate some of the short-yardage concerns that have plagued this program the last three years.

That's no knock on Davis and Spiller mind you, that's the reality of the situation.

Think about it like this, a 225/230 pound Jamie Harper stands to pick up more 3rd-and-goals from the 1-yard line than a 205 pound Davis or a 200 pound Spiller.

And that's important. In fact it is very important for Clemson football in 2008.

Think back to each of Clemson's conference losses in each of the last three seasons.

In 2007 against Boston College, with an Atlantic Division Championship on the line in the early stages of the third quarter, the Tigers faced a 1st and goal from the Eagles' 2-yard line. On first down Davis rushed for no gain. On second down, Cullen Harper threw an incomplete pass to Aaron Kelly. Third down? A bad snap resulted in a loss of three yards.

So a quick recap: first and goal from the two ends up in fourth and goal from the five with just one rushing attempt in three plays. The end result was a chip shot field goal that gave Clemson a 10-3 lead. The Tigers would go on to lose the game 21-17 but many point to that sequence of plays that kept the Eagles in the game and ultimately led to their come-from-behind victory.

Looking at the bigger picture, Clemson struggled to move the ball at all on the ground all night long against Boston College, which had the nation's No. 2 ranked rush defense coming in. In fact, the Tigers managed just 47 yards on the ground the entire game.

Similar problems crept up earlier in the year against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech - two of the stingier defenses in the ACC and the country, and also against Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

For whatever reason, whenever Clemson lined up for a second-and-short or third-and-short, it seemed like no matter what play was called - it wasn't going to work.

Give Davis credit for scoring a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But if you were at the game, you know what a struggle it was to even get it to that point.

Going back to 2006, those very same short-yardage problems crept up in a 13-12 loss to Maryland- again a loss that left Clemson on the outside looking in of the ACC Championship game. It was four trips into the red zone that resulted in zero touchdowns that was the difference against an inferior opponent.

Other losses during that same season and even the year before also saw similar issues in short-yardage/red zone/goal line situations.

Many point to problems on the offensive line as one of the main culprits, and to a certain extent that is true. At the same time, are you willing to tell me you didn't expect more out of the 2006 line that featured four seniors and a future first or second round pick in junior Barry Richardson?

Or this past year, when Clemson had two first-team All-ACC performers on the line? Wouldn't you expect the ground game to be more productive and wouldn't you expect offensive coordinator Rob Spence to have more confidence in short-yardage situations?

Clemson needs a running back like Jamie Harper, and whether you want to admit it or not right now, Clemson probably needs him next season.

Even as the third running back in the rotation, Harper gives Spence's offense an added dimension of toughness ... and that may be the one thing this team needs more than anything else, especially given the struggles of this team when toughness is seemingly needed most.

First-and-goal at the 2-yard line next year against Alabama should mean three consecutive carries, and Harper, even though he'd only be a freshman, may give you the best option of picking up those two yards.

So if you're thinking about Clemson winning the ACC next year, you may want to look at the two biggest obstacles that have kept the Tigers out of the championship game the last two to three years – special teams and the inability to consistently convert short-yardage situations into first downs or more importantly- touchdowns.

At this point, it's just common sense.

Harper is one of the top running backs in the nation and he has the size to compliment his speed.

Meanwhile Clemson has struggled in picking up "the tough yards" in each of the last three seasons and it's been those tough yards that have prevented the program from turning the corner.

I'll say it one last time, Clemson needs to sign Jamie Harper. Top Stories