Clemson University

Tigers trounce Paladins

CLEMSON -- The first-string quarterback took all the relevant snaps and again made the most of them. An offensive line filled with so-called "opera-ists" hit a few high notes but also recorded some low ones. Rush defense concerns were assuaged, albeit at the expense of pass coverage.

Whether directly or indirectly, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden publicly challenged each last week despite built-in reasons to declare satisfaction with their overall performances.

If Bowden learned anything from how the No. 20 Tigers handled routing non-conference opponents a year ago, it appears to be the need to continue holding certain players' feet to the fire through the good times.

The good times rolled as expected through Saturday's 38-10 trouncing of Furman. Furthermore, Bowden seemed to accomplish the mission of placing a chip on various shoulders for Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC) to carry back into conference action next weekend at North Carolina State.

"With the way last year went, we don't want anything slowing us down," junior tailback James Davis said.

"We are right where we want to be right now."

Which primarily is off to their second 3-0 start since 1991 and feeling rather confident the quarterback issues that ransacked last year's strong start are not about to resurface.

A week after throwing a school-best five touchdowns, redshirt junior Cullen Harper etched his mark in the record book again by notching the highest single-game pass efficiency rating (253.9) in program history.

Harper completed 16 of 19 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns before exiting early in the fourth quarter with a 29th-straight victory against the Paladins essentially in hand.

The feather in Harper's cap was he did so against a defensive scheme configured to resemble the blueprint Virginia Tech mapped out for opponents to shut down the Tigers the second half of last season.

Furman (1-2), ranked No. 16 in the Football Championship Subdivision, stacked nine defenders at the line of scrimmage, then dropped its cornerbacks deep and toward the middle of the field to test Harper's arm strength and accuracy.

Harper made them pay, connecting on four downfield throws to the sideline of at least 20 yards, including hitting receiver Tyler Grisham in stride for a 49-yard score in the second quarter.

"If I'm not mistaken, y'all asked me to work on that deep throw, so we've worked on it," Bowden said.

And beggars cannot be choosers, which is why Bowden claimed he is not concerned at the impact on Clemson's running game or the productivity of the offensive line as a consequence.

Despite practicing various starting linemen at different positions last week, line coach Brad Scott stuck with the status quo to mixed results.

Davis netted 58 yards and a touchdown on nine carries (a 6.4 average), but sophomore C.J. Spiller again found running room sparse, mustering minus-1 yards on nine touches.

Clemson abandoned its base zone running plays and experienced greater success with power sets in the second half, yet it still was not the dominance expected against a defensive line whose largest starter (267 pounds) was 28 pounds lighter than the Tigers' thinnest one, center Barry Humphries.

"We haven't run as much, so that's probably why we're not as effective," Spiller said.

"Once the coaches call on us to run the ball, it will be polished gold."

The shine on Clemson's burgeoning vertical passing game continues to glisten, but as Bowden maintained, the real test on the Tigers' newfound balance begins in earnest next Saturday.

"We've had a good start and have some momentum," Harper said. "But obviously we can do more."