1. Cole Downer is out after having a big game last week. Is there a big drop off after him? How will it impact the offense?
Downer's backup, Bobby Williamson is about the same skill level as Downer. So initially there should not be much of a drop off in talent. The problem is depth. Clemson now only has two usable tight ends in an offense that requires A LOT from the tight ends with run blocking 75% of the time and pass routes the rest of the time. Throw in the no-huddle element and two tight ends could be rather winded by the end of a close game. There is a third tight end on the roster, but he is a true freshman, and Tommy Bowden would prefer to redshirt as many freshman as possible, especially on the lines to build depth and strength. The only way the freshman tight end would be used if there was an injury to one of the two remaining tight ends. The tight end is becoming a favorite target for Spence's offense. If there is inexperience up front, expect Clemson to throw to a back coming out of the backfield more this Saturday, as they did in the Texas A&M game. #28 Kyle Browing and #37 Reggie Merriweather are favorites to throw out of the backfield.
2. BC faced a Rob Spence offense a few years ago. Aside from the athletes, how is what he is doing at Clemson different from what he did at Toledo?
Well, not being an expert on what Toledo has been up to the past few years, my first response is to say: not much, to what Spence has been doing. Clemson does have a lot of depth at wide receiver and running back. At each position, there are probably three players who could start today for most other teams in the ACC. Another thing Spence has this year is the biggest offensive line in Clemson history, who have some experience after last year's struggles up front. Last season, Clemson's offense under former Tiger QB, Mike O'Cain was known for an unimaginative running attack and an inability to throw underneath linebackers 5 yards out. Clemson had a good post pass pattern in the offense and not much else. Unfortunately, the offense ran what was known as the "hurry up and wait" offense. The team would get set up and then just sit and wait until the play was called, sometimes changed, from the sideline. It was infuriating as a fan to watch. But much worse opposing defenses fairly quickly figured out what was coming and did a great job of disguising coverages, ending up in 17 Whitehurst interceptions last year. This season, so far, Clemson still does not huddle (has not since '99 when Bowden arrived) but Whitehurst calls a play from among 2-4 options he is given and then the play is called. The offense thrives on high percentage passing - which is why Whitehurst has a 70% completion percentage for the year, and mix of zone/man blocking for the running backs. You will notice a very quick hesitation from the backs before they pick a route to run. They are waiting for one of two or three holes to open with the blocking scheme before they commit to one.
3. Charlie Whitehurst's pick cost you guys the Miami game. Is that the type of thing that will send him into a funk this week or do you expect him to bounce back?
Beyond his skills throwing the ball, what sets Whitehurst above his competitors is his leadership and his competitive spirit. I don't mean this to be hyperbole, but if Whitehurst could have lined up to play BC at 10PM on Saturday night, 1 hour after the Miami game, he would have done it. He wants to get back on the field. Last week, Whithehurst made some of the errors that plagued him last week: throwing the ball high to receivers or even to hard, causing drops. A lot of that can be attributed to the speed and power of Miami's defense and the 5 to 6 future NFL players on their starting defense. There is probably no one in college today that you would want more leading a team downfield with the game on the line. He has a way of putting the pall through 2 defenders and leading his receiver to a point. I do expect this Saturday for Clemson to set up the passing game with the run. If Whitehurst does get into a funk, it will be caused by a frustrating defense from the BC side that he has difficulty figuring out. You will notice his frustration if and when he keys on one receiver continually. If Whitehurst is throwing the ball around, using a variety of plays, he's having fun. He is a solid leader, has great physical skills; but at the end of the day he just loves playing ball in a team concept. The players, by all accounts love him. He is not especially vocal, but has such high demands on himself that the other players find him easy to follow. He'll probably be a 2nd round NFL draft pick next season. Taught correctly, he has potential to be a star in the NFL, and go places where his father, former Furman U. and Green Bay Packers QB, David Whitehurst did not go.
4. At Clemson, Tommy Bowden has had some rough starts. This your a few plays away from being 3-0. You also could be 1-2. Will it always be a rollercoaster ride with his teams or has he finally turned the corner?
Well, I don't want to be a contrarian just to be a contrarian but the idea of Bowden's rough starts is a little over-blown in the media. Here is a snapshot of Bowden's starts at Clemson:
--'99 turn a 3-8 '98 power option-team into a 6-6, 3rd place in the conference team by winning every other game, starts by losing to a top 20 Chad Pennington led Marshall team, then defeats a top 20 Virginia team
--'00 starts the season out 8-0 on the way to a #3 ranking in the nation, losing 3 out of 4 to Georgia Tech, Florida St. and Michael Vick's last game at Virginia Tech and beating a top 20 Holtz led Gamecock team
--'01 starts the season out at 4-1 under Woody Dantzler's 2000 pass/10000 rush QB play, but then loses three straight in November to Florida St., ACC champ Maryland and the best USC team in a generation
--'02 starts the season out at 3-1, then struggles in October by losing 3 of 4 to ranked teams from Virginia, Florida State and NC State - probably Bowden's worst team, finished with 7-6 record
--'03 starts the season out at 3-1, then proceeds to lose every other game in October, including getting blown out by Wake Forest, then finishes with wins over top 10 ranked Florida State, Tennessee and a historic rout over rival USC
--'04 starts the season out at 1-4, then wins the rest of the way against teams like Miami and Maryland with an inexplicable loss at the last second to Duke being the only blemish on the second half of the season.
I list that out to show that Bowden has only had 1 real bad start to the season, last year, since he has been at Clemson. He has gotten in trouble with the middle part of the schedule when Clemson has played good NC State and Maryland teams after playing ranked Virginia and Florida State teams. October is the danger month for Clemson under Bowden. You can't really predict how 18-23 year olds will react on any given week, but there are signs that players are better motivated and are concerned about putting in a consistent effort week end and week out. For example, Sunday is an off day for the Clemson. Until this year, 3 to 4 playes would voluntarily watch film. This year just about the entire team is watching film on Sunday evenings. Clemson has only made one turnover, the last play against Miami in overtime, and less than 10 penalties in 3 games (whereas Miami had 14 Saturday). The team is playing with a lot more precision this year. Now they are still flat, for some reason, in all 3 games in the 3rd quarter. All of our opponents so far have played better and scored more, than Clemson in the 3rd quarter, which is why Clemson has had to come from behind in all 3 games. There have been times in the past when the offense would just disappear for a quarter or two, unable to move the ball at all. That has changed this year. I don't recall a series yet where Clemson just goes 3 and out without gaining a yard. Even when Clemson is punting, they are still gaining 5 or 6 yards on the ground. The improved running game, especially under freshman James Davis #1, has been the biggest improvement and the lack of a running game has been the biggest detriment when Clemson faces teams with large defensive lines. Now that a running game is there, let's see how the middle part of the season goes. The team is eager to get back on the field after last Saturday, that's public knowledge. If Clemson has turned the corner from last season, it is because they have a new defensive coordinator, Vic Koenning, to whom good enough is not good enough and Spence who is thriving on multiple formations that are involving a lot of the offense that makes it difficult for the defense to adjust to and strokes the players’ competitive fire.
5. Anything that else BC fans should know?
Clemson's glaring weaknesses this season have been punting (witha 30 yard average) and kick off returns - average start around the 20. This has forced Clemson to drive for much longer distances down the field.
Clemson's Death Valley this past Saturday against the Miami Hurricanes was loud, jet-engine, little children crying, shaking the stands, loud for several hours Saturday when Miami was on offense. When Clemson's offense was on the field, you could probably hear a pin drop. I don't know what the Eagle team is used to, but I would expect more of the same from the Clemson faithful this Saturday. Clemson is the reason the NCAA instituted a noise rule, after Notre Dame's Dan Devine complained after a '77 matchup in Death Valley when Joe Montana brought the Irish back to win. Bring ear plugs if you come.
Another thing: the temperature will be in the low 90's this Saturday with a 12 o'clock start. In both Clemson homes games this season, which started in the evening or late afternoon, lots of players had heat-related cramps. BC will need to substitute freely in order to save their players for a probable close game. For fans, find the first aid station underneath the section where most BC fans will sit and drink the free cold water provided. I expect the heat to be brutal.
For more information on Clemson, check out CU Sporting News.