A Man on Fire

CLEMSON - There is no other way really for Clemson tight end Michael Palmer to describe running back C.J. Spiller than "incredible."

"He is playing like a man on fire," he said.

Spiller has been on fire. Since returning from a hamstring injury that forced him to sit out the Georgia Tech game, no one has really stopped the Tigers most explosive offensive weapon in two decades. Not since the days of Terrence Flagler in the mid 1980s has one player been able to do so much with the football. Whether it is catching the ball out of the backfield, running it or returning punts and kickoffs, Spiller seems to be doing everything he can to carry the Tigers to a postseason bowl game.

"He is a big playmaker," fellow running back James Davis said Monday. "He is what the team has kind of been missing." In the last three games, Spiller has caught 16 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 192 yards and two more scores. Inside those numbers are big plays that have seen him make defenses look silly at times. In Clemson's 31-7 victory over Duke this past Saturday, he had a 24-yard touchdown run that saw him nearly break the ankles of a Blue Devil defender with one of his patented jukes, while his 83-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the third quarter was simply a thing of beauty.

That effort earned Spiller ACC offensive back of the week honors Monday for the second time in the last three weeks. His seven catches for 108 yards against Duke broke a Clemson record that stood for more than 50 years. "He is something special to watch," Palmer said. "When you are out there on the field and you are blocking for someone like that and he is constantly breaking tackles and is fast and is moving and is doing all sorts of crazy things, it just inspires you to keep playing harder for him and for your teammates.

"It pumps up everybody. He is a great player and has been playing really hard and doing some impressive things to say the least."

It has been evident since interim head coach Dabo Swinney and quarterbacks coach Billy Napier took over the play calling following Tommy Bowden's departure that Spiller has been getting the ball more often and thus has garnered more big plays.

Besides his two game-changing plays against Duke, he had a 57-yard run and a 45-yard catch-and-run against Boston College and then a 44-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass at Florida State. He has also produced a 64-yard kickoff return at BC that setup the game-winning score.

"I don't know how many touches he had earlier in the year versus now, but I know he is making a lot happen when he does get the ball," left guard Thomas Austin said. "He is running with a lot of passion. I have noticed that both he and James are running down hill extremely hard and getting those tough yards."

In the first six games under the direction of Bowden and former offensive coordinator Rob Spence, Spiller was touching the football about nine times a game from scrimmage. In the last three games, he has touched it 47 times overall for an average of 16 times a game.

"Spiller is special, there is no question," Napier said. "We are going to do everything we can do to get him touches. I think he had 18 in the first half the other day. We line him up all over the place just trying to get him involved. "He is a special player and is one of the best in the entire country at any level. I think everyone is starting to see him become a complete player that is more physical and catches the ball great. He is truly an elite player." Though it has meant less touches for him, while also further troubling his chances for breaking Clemson's all-time rushing record, Davis likes what Swinney and Napier have done the last few weeks in getting Spiller involved early and often.

"Look at that Georgia Tech game when we really couldn't get that big spark," said the senior, who needs 268 yards to break Raymond Priester's record of 3,966. "You can tell that C.J. was missing. He is a playmaker… He is doing whatever it takes to help this team win. The coaches have put him in position to be the best playmaker on offense as far as breaking the long run and making people miss. "When you have a guy like that, that is just like (Brian) Westbrook for the Eagles.

C.J. he does everything. You can put him up at receiver. You can line him up in the backfield. He can even play at quarterback if he has too. That is the kind of playmaking ability that he has."

It's the same playmaking ability Davis saw when watching some of Spiller's high school highlights when Spiller was being courted by Clemson. "When you have a guy like that, if I'm an offensive coordinator, I'm going to try and get the ball in his hands as much as possible," Davis said.

"He is the one that is making a lot of plays for the team and has opened it up for a lot of other guys… That's a guy that you want on your team and you are kind of happy that he is on you team."

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