O-Line Looking for Answers

CLEMSON - Going back to spring practice, it was known the offensive line was going to be a work in progress this season, but nobody expected the first game to end up the way it did.

At the end of the night, the scoreboard told the story of what happened in the house of horrors known as the Georgia Dome: Alabama 34 Clemson 10.

But a further inspection of the stats revealed that was only the beginning.

Alabama's rushing yards in the game? How does 239 sound?

Clemson's rushing yards on the evening? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

For all the hype surrounding Clemson's skill players, including the thunder and lightning backfield of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, the Tigers' offense never got going and it all started up front.

Too many times Alabama was able to get pressure on Cullen Harper with its front four, meaning the defense had the luxury of dropping seven players back in coverage for most of the second half.

As a result, it was nearly impossible to get the ball downfield.

"Things really didn't go the way we wanted to," said starting left tackle Chris Hairston. "We got behind the 8-ball early in the game and we were limited in our play-calling after we got way behind. It was a learning experience, that's for sure and the one thing we did was never give up and we can at least take that away from a game like that. We were battling."

Hairston said once Clemson got behind by 20 points, it was difficult to come back, simply because the Alabama defense knew the Tigers were looking to pass first and only run if in short-yardage situations.

And again, with seven defenders expecting the pass because of the lopsided score, it became extremely difficult to move the ball through the air.

"That's the worst spot you can be as an offensive lineman is when you become one-dimensional," Hairston said. "Guys were just pinning their ears back and coming with all kinds of looks and twists. They were just rushing four and still getting to the quarterback."

In addition, part of the problem on Clemson's offensive line against Alabama, was of course, starting experience.

Going into the game, Hairston had just one career start, as did starting right tackle Cory Lambert. Meanwhile, starting left guard Jamarcus Grant was making his first career start.

And then to make matters worse, starting right guard, Barry Humphries, went down on Clemson's 19th offensive snap of the game.

"He was playing hard. He was playing absolutely his best game he'd ever played at Clemson," offensive line coach Brad Scott said of Humphries earlier this week. "I think he had 19 plays and five knockdowns."

Replacing Humphries, who is a redshirt junior, was Mason Cloy, a redshirt freshman.

Cloy performed adequate, but again, it was his first career game at Clemson after being redshirted last year.

"He had that strength about him with his lower body and all and he didn't get pushed back very much," said Scott. "The other thing with Mason is he had no missed assignments. To come in as a redshirt freshman he did as good as any of these kids I've had. He gives us some strength but he needs to finish blocks and has to play more aggressive but that will come with more confidence."

Cloy said while the game isn't anything to remember, it may not be quite as bad as most fans think.

"It was little break downs here and there," said Cloy. "An offensive line is like an engine. You have to have all five pistons firing at the same time and we weren't consistently firing. Our car had problems and we weren't running efficiently. But we are getting the kinks worked out this week against The Citadel."

With Humphries out through the end of September at bare minimum, Cloy will now step into his starting spot at right guard.

Scott also hinted earlier in the week that Smith could move into the starting rotation as well to replace Grant. Also Wilson Norris could log some snaps in the interior as well.

Tommy Bowden said Wednesday after practice any personnel changes would likely be announced Thursday.

"We'll probably wait until the end of the week [Thursday]," he said. "We'll have to talk to Coach Scott and see how he wants to handle it."

True, the offensive line still has a ways to go in terms of starting experience, keep in mind the unit will have a chance to get better over the course of the next month- starting this weekend against The Citadel.

While the Bulldogs are a formidable opponent from the FCS, Saturday's game is one the Tigers will be expected to win and win comfortably.

The following weeks Clemson will again be a heavy favorite playing at home against N.C. State and S.C. State before Maryland comes calling in the final home game of the month.

"We will get better," Hairston said. "This is a young group of guys and we haven't played in a bunch of games together before. But we are going to do nothing but improve and that starts this week."

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