Speedy Spiller leads Tigers' charge

Clemson depending on C.J.'s 207 all-purpose yards per game to drive team to bowl

The Greenville NewsOctober 8, 2009 

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Clemson running back No. 28 C.J. Spiller evades TCU linebacker Daryl Washington No. 41 after a 60-yard reception during the second quarter as TCU defeats Clemson 14-10 Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. The play set up an eventual one-yard touchdown rush by Spiller.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

CLEMSON - In a season rife with rough seas, Clemson's C.J. Spiller has been a beacon.

Now the Tigers' senior running back would like to lead the Tigers to more victories and a bowl bid.

"We just have to keep pressing forward and hope the season turns around quickly," Spiller said Wednesday.

If Clemson's 2-3 season is to do an about-face, expect Spiller to play a big part. Spiller is averaging 207 all-purpose yards per game this season; only former Southern Cal star Reggie Bush and his 222.3 average during the 2005 season was better.

"We had chances to win all those games, but we didn't," Spiller said. "We're just not making the plays."

Spiller's latest foray into the record book came in Saturday's loss at Maryland when he returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, covering the final 70 yards minus his left cleat courtesy of a teammate who stepped on his foot.

"Amazing," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "It was just a phenomenal effort by an individual who was doing everything he could to help his team win. He has a tremendous will to win and he's having a great year."

Spiller has two kickoff returns and a punt return for a score this year, and ranks first in the nation in punt returns with a 30.0 average. He is fourth nationally in kickoff returns with a 37.8 average.

Now the focus may turn to getting the ball into Spiller's hands more often. He has made 10 catches, which is off the pace of the 34 he had as a junior and sophomore.

"I don't even look at those numbers," Spiller said. "Coach (Billy) Napier does a great job of finding those advantages, getting the matchups we want.

"I just go out there and do what play is called. If he (quarterback Kyle Parker) throws it to me, I'll make the best of it. He has his progressions he has to go through."

Spiller's season-long battle with "turf toe" has not prevented him from being the Tigers' Plan A. He has scored five of Clemson's 11 touchdowns and accounted for 43 percent of the Tigers' yardage.

"I like getting C.J. touches any way possible," Swinney said. "He should have had a couple more opportunities Saturday where we didn't get it to him, but we should have."

Napier agreed.

"When he's been given those opportunities, he's done a good job," Napier said. "I feel like he felt that was one of the things that he came back to work on. I think he felt (catching passes) was a weaker area for him."

And if his opportunities in the passing game increase, perhaps a memorable final chapter to Spiller's senior season will be written.

"Our chemistry is much stronger than it has been," Spiller said. "That's a difference between this team and previous teams. Guys are taking on roles of responsibility and holding each other accountable."

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