CLEMSON--That Clemson offense that was overhauled in the off-season looks better on the open road but seems to have a problem crossing the finish line.
But despite its shortcomings, the Tigers' offense managed a school-record six field goals here Saturday night to upset 17th-ranked Texas A&M at Death Valley, 25-24.
Although Tigers fans rushed the field as the goal posts automatically came down in a bow to the victory, the post-game analysis will raise some questions about Rob Spence's new offense.
Sure, it looked better than what the Tigers have been doing in the past. Very few three-and-out possessions and no more of that awkward looking over to the bench to get every play from the coaches before the snap of the ball. But even with more moving parts that move in the right direction, getting the ball into the end zone was problematic for Clemson.
The reason it took a school-record six field goals to win this game was because Tommy Bowden's club marched inside the 30-yard line five times and scored no touchdowns.
With Clemson's backfield loaded with talented players who run the ball well between the 20-yard lines, the red zone offense is where the Tigers will be questioned in the aftermath.
The only touchdown of the night came on Chansi Stuckey's 47-yard second-quarter punt return.
And yet, it was a victory to celebrate for many good reasons.
For one thing, quarterback Charlie Whitehurst looked good until he got his bell rung in the fourth period and was forced to leave the game. The senior from Atlanta was 14-for-19 passing for 185 yards and looked good doing it.
But it was junior Will Proctor who came off the bench and saved the day for Clemson, guiding the Tigers flawlessly downfield in the waning seconds for the winning kick.
Good backups are hard to find and good to have around.
And then there are the newcomers who are sure to make an impact as this season unfolds.
All told, Bowden used eight true freshmen in this game and one will have his name in headlines today.
James Davis, the controversial freshman running back, is the real deal.
While some Clemson fans were cursing him in preseason for appearing to be a prima donna, they were cheering the Atlanta newcomer as he churned out 101 tough ground yards and made a lot of new friends dressed in orange.
Granted, Texas A&M is a ranked team with plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball. But the holes that the Aggies opened up in the Clemson defensive line for big gains spoke volumes about where the Tigers are vulnerable.
Bowden had openly feared his defensive line was on the small side and that group got gang rushed by the Aggies O-line all night.
Gaping holes led to multiple runs of more than 30 yards that caused more than 70,000 Tiger fans to gasp each time it happened.
While the pass defense had an acceptable performance, Clemson's work against the run needs repair. Quarterback Reggie McNeal roamed at will as running back Courtney Lewis had a field day against the Tiger line.
But on a picture-perfect night in Death Valley, with nearly 80,000 fans and a national television audience anxious to see what Clemson had to offer, victory turned out to be the answer to any criticism.
Ken Burger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5598.