QB Harper benched as Clemson's offensive woes continue

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

This is not the answer.

Quarterback Cullen Harper has been nothing but the consummate Clemson teammate. He has said all the right things, and never once criticized anyone in the struggling program despite being given ample opportunities to do so after the past two losses.

"Cullen doesn't let on that this stuff bothers him," center Thomas Austin said earlier this week. "He's definitely the leader of our team and one thing I admire about Cullen is -- and I said this at the team meeting -- he's never pointed fingers, mentioned the young, inexperienced offensive line, never said, 'Hey, we don't throw the ball enough,' or whatever.

"He doesn't make excuses. He just goes out there and works hard and he demands respect and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cullen and what he's done this year. He's a very good player and he's definitely the guy we want at quarterback right now."

Unfortunately, Tommy Bowden is using Harper at starting scapegoat instead.

For a fleeting moment, Clemson boosters and fans will get what they've been screaming for all season -- backup Willy Korn. He might be a very good quarterback one day, but Korn is not ready now, and Georgia Tech's veteran defense will expose that very quickly on Oct. 18.

The root of the problem with Clemson's offense is its offensive line, not Harper, who has started each of the past 19 games for the Tigers. Harper has completed 99 of 161 passes for 1,121 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions this season. He has had to play behind an offensive line that has gone through five different starting lineups in six games.

And yet he smiles and politely answers questions about the staff and its play-calling. Harper was asked after the 12-7 loss to Wake Forest if the criticism of offensive coordinator Rob Spence is unfair.

"Well, yeah," Harper said. "He's got a tough job right now. He's trying to work in some young offensive linemen, and they're doing a great job. Tonight they protected me pretty well. He's a great offensive coordinator. We've had great offenses here in the past and there's no doubt in my mind we'll get this thing going here."

Harper failed to mention that he was hit about a dozen times by Wake Forest and the line in front of him was manhandled, allowing him to be sacked four times. The only glimpse into his true disappointment with the team's 3-3 record came just outside the locker room after the game.

"I'm very frustrated," he said. "This is my senior season. I want to go out with an ACC championship game. I've been here for five years now and we haven't won one yet. That's why I came to Clemson, was to compete for a national championship and win an ACC championship game. But right now, times are tough, but that's really when people's character is tested."

Harper has passed easily.

Last year, when he was protected by Barry Richardson and Chris McDuffie, Harper led the ACC in passing efficiency in 2007 and set 22 school records. He has already proven himself.

Bowden has not, and he's had 10 seasons to do it.

Benching Harper won't change that.