Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
It was the heart of Clemson’s problems last year -- so much so that former offensive coordinator Rob Spence was fired, the offensive line took most of the heat, former quarterback Cullen Harper was benched in favor of Willy Korn, and a team loaded with speed and talent baffled anyone who watched with its ineptitude.
As the Tigers head into Thursday night’s game at Georgia Tech -- the ACC’s marquee matchup of the week -- they do so still having something to prove offensively under first-year coordinator Billy Napier and coach Dabo Swinney. First-year starting quarterback Kyle Parker, who showed his potential in Saturday’s 37-14 win over Middle Tennessee, will face one of the better secondaries in the conference, as the Jackets are led by safety Morgan Burnett, and a linebacking corps that is more experienced and healthier than it was a year ago.
“I think our secondary is pretty good, and our guys have to go against them in practice every day, so they’ve been matched up with good guys before,” Parker said. “They’re definitely going to have to play lights-out to be successful, but I think they’ve seen the caliber athletes we’ll be matched up against.”
Parker completed 9 of 20 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, but the Tigers left a lot of plays on the field in the process. There were several dropped balls, including two wide-open passes to top receiver Jacoby Ford. And while the receiving corps is no doubt talented, its consistency has been in question since summer camp. Injury-prone running back C.J. Spiller left the game early with a minor foot injury, leaving some to wonder if he really can carry the offensive load by himself. And, finally, just how much better is Clemson’s offensive line, which returns all five starters from a year ago?
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Parker said. “We’re just going to go out and work on it. We kind of limited ourselves and we made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t think it’s anything too big to worry about. I think our guys will get better.”
The Tigers were 4-of-14 on third-down conversions, lost a fumble and threw an interception. And Parker said there were a few times he could’ve gone somewhere else with the ball, but he’s convinced he and his receivers will get better with time.
“I think the chemistry is pretty good. In the game Saturday they dropped some balls early on, but you could definitely tell they were getting better and they made some plays later on in the game,” Parker said. “I think they’ll get better every time they go out there and get experience.”
Thursday night’s game will reveal a lot about how far the Tigers have come under the new staff, and how much more experience is needed.