NCF Nation: Shaq Anthony

On first glance, the announcement that backup offensive tackle Shaq Anthony has decided to transfer from Clemson may not seem like much.

But when you combine it with the news that running back Zac Brooks is lost for the season, the Clemson run game has now taken on added questions headed into the season.

The Tigers already had to replace starting All-ACC tackle Brandon Thomas, starting guard Tyler Shatley and 1,000-yard back Roderick McDowell. While Anthony was previously suspended for the opener against Georgia, there are no certainties with the offensive line nor the run game in Week 1.

Especially since Clemson struggled to produce consistency in that area last season. Especially since Clemson will need an effective run game to help take pressure off new starting quarterback Cole Stoudt and a new-look group of receivers against what should be an aggressive Georgia defense with familiar foe Jeremy Pruitt taking charge.

Brooks is the bigger blow in the short-term, because he would have contributed heavily against Georgia. Plus, he was the top returning rusher from a year ago and one of the veterans in the group with experience in big games.

But at least Clemson has the luxury of having depth at the position, a group coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have talked up since the spring. Conceivably, the Tigers should still be able to play four to five backs once they settle on a rotation and still be just as good as they would have been with Brooks in the mix.

That, of course, is dependent on the offensive line, too.

So in the long term, the Anthony loss could loom much larger. Clemson has little in the way of depth at tackle with Anthony gone. The Tigers will now be relying on Joe Gore, pretty raw at the position with just 124 snaps over the past two seasons, and Isaiah Battle -- who has been banged up during camp. Anthony was listed as the backup to both players.

Gore has been one of the bright spots this fall, and would have most likely started against Georgia with Anthony suspended. But now there is no margin for error moving forward. The hope is that Gore steps into the right tackle spot without any issues. But if either Gore or Battle gets hurt, the Tigers could be in trouble. Kalon Davis, projected to start at guard, has also played some tackle during the fall so he would be one potential option as a backup at the position.

It all adds a bit more intrigue to what happens with Clemson this season.
Heading into this season, the offensive lines at both Florida State and Clemson were two of the biggest question marks in the ACC. The Tigers had to replace three starters up front, and the Seminoles were coming off a Champs Sports Bowl win against Notre Dame in which four true freshmen were in the starting lineup.

You’d never know it by looking at the stats so far this season, as deceptive as some could be.

As No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State prepare to face each other in Tallahassee on Saturday, both offensive lines have shown significant improvement through the first three games of the season. Florida State is No. 2 in the country in scoring offense, racking up its stats against two FCS opponents and an overmatched Wake Forest team. Clemson is No. 23 in the country in scoring offense, with its most impressive win coming against Auburn. Both Clemson and Florida State are allowing fewer than two sacks per game.

[+] EnlargeGifford Timothy
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesGifford Timothy and Clemson's offensive line could hold the key to victory against Florida State.
Both groups, though, still have something to prove -- particularly at Clemson. The Tigers’ offensive line will arguably get its biggest test of the season Saturday when it faces Florida State’s defensive line. The Noles are tied for No. 10 in the country with 3.67 sacks per game. How Clemson fares up front could be the key to the entire game.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge, no doubt about it,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “But we’re going to find out Saturday night one way or another.”

Clemson’s starting lineup against Auburn was Dalton Freeman, David Beasley, Gifford Timothy, Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley. Timothy was injured on the last offensive play of the game and missed the Ball State game. That opened the door for redshirt freshman Shaq Anthony to start and also play the first half against Furman.

Beasley was injured against Ball State, allowing Kalon Davis to play most of that game and all of the Furman game. Shatley was injured against Furman and missed the second half. Redshirt freshman Ryan Norton played the second half of that game.

Swinney said his offensive line was “pretty average” in last week’s 41-7 win against Furman.

“Nothing great,” he said, “just OK.”

“They are a question mark; they’re still a question mark,” Swinney said. “I don’t think that’s changed. … We’re a long ways away from being a great offensive line right now.”

The good news for Clemson fans is that the starting lineup used against Auburn should be healthy and ready to play at Florida State. And the backups have now had some significant experience. Entering the FSU game, Clemson has eight different offensive linemen who have played at least 98 snaps.

Florida State’s improved pass protection has been measurable. So far, the line has allowed three sacks in 194 snaps and 84 pass attempts. All three sacks, though, came against the best competition they’ve played -- a Wake Forest team that was missing one of its top defensive linemen in injured nose guard Nikita Whitlock.

It’s still a foreshadowing of improvement since last season, when the Noles allowed 41 sacks in 820 offensive snaps, which amounts to one every 20 plays. Only eight teams in the nation yielded more sacks than FSU in 2011.

There’s no question that FSU is also running the ball better. In 2011, the Seminoles produced just 112.2 rushing yards per game -- their lowest average since 2006 -- and managed 1,458 yards on the ground. Through three games the Noles are averaging 279 rushing yards.

The numbers are skewed because they’ve been racked up against unheralded FCS competition in Murray State and Savannah State, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said he likes what he has seen so far.

“I think they’re very good players,” Fisher said. “They’re all very talented. It took a little bit of time to learn, and that’s a position that’s very hard to adapt to, and we loved them because of their size and athleticism. I think that’s where you’ve got to control both lines of scrimmage -- that’s where it’s got to start.

“I’ve been very pleased with them, but I don’t think we are close to where we can be,” Fisher said. “I think each challenge is bigger and bigger each week.”

This one, of course, might be the biggest of the season.

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