Clemson University

Harper sparks Tigers

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper and wide receiver Tyler Grisham celebrate Clemson's first touchdown and one of five Harper passing touchdowns during the first quarter as Clemson crushed Louisiana Monroe 49-26.
Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper and wide receiver Tyler Grisham celebrate Clemson's first touchdown and one of five Harper passing touchdowns during the first quarter as Clemson crushed Louisiana Monroe 49-26.

CLEMSON -- When the hangover wore off, Louisiana-Monroe had Clemson's attention.

Just not its athletes. Or, come to find out, the vertical passing game.

Capitalizing on a rare and perhaps newfound affinity for the deep ball, the 25th-ranked Tigers broke away in the second quarter for a commanding 49-26 victory Saturday afternoon, overcoming a predictable deflation in the wake of Monday night's season-opening triumph against Florida State.

In just his second career start, junior quarterback Cullen Harper posted a school-record five touchdown passes, perhaps taking the first step toward deterring opponents from building a fortress to stop Clemson's vaunted running game.

"The proof is going to be when the competition picks up," coach Tommy Bowden said.

The cautious words were wisdom from a lesson learned, as the Tigers (2-0) were clearly keen on developing their passing game instead of letting it rust -- the mistake admittedly made in last year's nonconference routs.

After a lethargic beginning yielded an early 7-0 deficit, Clemson went on a 35-3 scoring spree to put the contest out of reach two minutes into the second half.

Harper was the trigger man throughout the stretch, twice connecting on long throws against man coverage for touchdowns.

Sophomore speedster Jacoby Ford blew by a reserve safety for a 52-yard TD catch that gave the Tigers the lead for good at 14-7 with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter. On Clemson's opening offensive play of the second half, tailback C.J. Spiller cradled a long pass along the right sideline in stride for a 68-yard score that might as well have been the nail in ULM's coffin.

With the Warhawks (0-2) following the established blueprint of cramming eight defenders at Clemson's line of scrimmage, Harper tallied 270 passing yards by the time his day ended midway through the third quarter.

"For us to do that, it showed we're a good team to be reckoned with," junior tailback James Davis said. "If we can throw it downfield, it's going to help us in the long run."

Bowden said he could find no fault in the Tigers' offense, and for good reason.

They did more with less.

Because of the short turnaround from the first game -- and because of the caliber of opponent -- Clemson kept its game plan basic, choosing to temporarily shelve the gimmicky schemes it unveiled in the FSU victory.

At the same time, there was an irrefutable focus on establishing receiving threats down the deep middle of the field, especially with Ford as the target -- something the Tigers shied away from five days earlier.

Ford, who did not catch a pass against FSU, hauled in three passes for 68 yards and was the intended receiver on another two downfield throws, including a near-miss 40-yard score on the opening possession.

"We were conservative, but we called plays we knew would get us in the end zone," Ford said.

The surprise might have been that coordinator Rob Spence continued calling them.

Contrary to the Tigers' identity as a power running team inside the red zone, 13 of their 16 plays inside ULM's 20-yard line were intended passes, reinforcing the notion Clemson aspires to be more balanced near the goal line this season.

As glowing as the reviews were for the offense, there figures to be heck to pay for the defense, which Bowden said guaranteed heavy contact practices this week because of its poor tackling.

The only reason the Warhawks stayed close early was ULM's ability to play keep-away behind tailback Calvin Dawson (121 yards on 28 carries), who recorded his seventh straight 100-yard game by early in the second quarter.

The second- and third-string defense allowed backup Frank Goodin (102 yards on 10 carries) to top the century mark in the second half, as well, extending ULM's yardage total to 419 -- the second-highest total surrendered in Vic Koenning's three seasons as coordinator.

"We wanted to stay away from a letdown," Bowden said. "When it's all said and done, I think it's a major accomplishment as far as having two games in a short amount of time against two I-A teams."