Tigers Need a Spark

CLEMSON - It could often be said the backup quarterback is the most popular player on a football team.

And nowhere could that be more evident than this year's Clemson football team.

But before we walk down that twisting, winding road which leads to all things improving in the downfield passing game, let's rehash what we know and what we have seen within the past year to help set the table.

No. 1, we found out in 2007 Cullen Harper is a very good quarterback who is capable of leading this team to big victories over good teams, including nationally ranked Florida State in his very first start and also Wake Forest.

He also directed a game-winning drive, on the road at South Carolina, in dramatic fashion no less, helping lift his team to a 23-21 come-from-behind win.

No. 2, we also know that since that game against South Carolina, Harper simply hasn't been the same quarterback, and the statistics reveal that commentary loud and clear.

In his first 12 games as a starter, Harper won nine of those contests and completed 268-of-400 passes (67 percent) for 2,887 yards and 27 touchdowns and six interceptions along the way.

When you consider it was his first year as a starter, those statistics are as impressive as any you'll find in college football.

However in his last six games, going back to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl loss to Auburn, Harper's production has fallen off somewhat dramatically, as he has completed 98-of-159 passes (61 percent) for 1,048 yards for three touchdowns and five interceptions.

No. 3, despite this drop-off in production, it's important to point out Harper hasn't been horrible. While it's true he hasn't played at the same level as he did during the first 12 games of his career, he hasn't been so bad that it has been blatantly obvious a change needs to be made or that he has to be replaced as the starter.

No. 4, we also know that Harper has also been injured. In fact he had surgery before the bowl game, which affected his performance then, and he's also had both shoulders roughed up this season. Despite what some people in Internet-land are thinking, Cullen Harper is a tough kid. Go back and watch last year's Boston College game if you need further proof of that statement when he injured his shoulder on a 4-yard scoring plunge with the Atlantic Division on the line.

No. 5, we know that there hasn't been a quarterback at Clemson that has represented the university with more class, more substance or more heart than Cullen Harper. He emerged out of nowhere to become the starting quarterback when nobody gave him a chance a year ago. There's something special about a player who is able to do accomplish a feat like that.

But now, with all that being said, it seems at this point in the season, the team needs a spark.

It needs a sense of urgency. It needs a sense of hope.

It needs a change of pace- especially on offense. It needs a leader - someone the team can rally behind.

Quite frankly, the team needs Willy Korn.

That's not a statement about the starting quarterback position, at least not yet, but at bare minimum, he deserves a role in the offense starting with the next game and continuing throughout the rest of the season.

And by the way, suggesting Korn is a "change of pace" should be taken in a literal context.

He's more mobile. He can create plays on the ground when the pocket breaks down and he could also provide a spark to an offense that, quite frankly, seems to lack on a number of fronts.

And maybe he could also do something that would help the current starting quarterback out by giving him perspective from the sideline- again at bare minimum if only for a series or two.

Don't misconstrue what is being written in this space- this is not a suggestion that Korn, a redshirt freshman, is the savior of the program at this very instant, because until he proves otherwise, he isn't.

But we do know that Harper's play over the course of the last six games, which is half of a season, would likely warrant some kind of change if he were playing any position other than quarterback- like left tackle or safety or linebacker.

And we also don't know what Korn brings to the table on game day in a meaningful situation, do we?

Much in the same way we never found out what Harper could do in 2006 when less-than-stellar play at quarterback was a primary reason the Tigers suffered a similar slide compared to this season.

Remember what happened then? The Tigers went from being ranked inside the top 10 to outside of the top 25 in the span in just the span of a month.

Sound familiar?

What if Will Proctor could have been given a series or two on the bench that season? What if Harper came in and played at the same level he did for most of last season?

What would have happened?

We don't know and we never will because it never did.

Tommy Bowden is as brilliant as dodging questions from the media when it comes to quarterbacks, scheduling and upsets as any head coach in the country, often comparing what is happening at Clemson to other schools like Florida, Southern California and Georgia.

But haven't those schools used a two-quarterback system to some extent and had success? Florida did it and just so happened to win a National Championship along the way.

LSU did it last year as well. Even Ohio State just benched its starting quarterback for a true freshman.

I'll be the first to admit I'd love to see Harper rebound and close out his Clemson career by playing the same way in which he did most of junior year.

It's hard not to root for a kid that has already overcome so much in his career and was truly the underdog since he arrived on campus.

And if you are a true Clemson fan, then you are agreeing with me right now, no questions asked.

But I'll also be the first to tell you that if this team wants its best opportunity to turn this thing around, and turn it around quickly, it needs some kind of change at the most important position on the field.

It needs a spark.

It needs Willy Korn.

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