Hard-hitting Diehl's increased role has provided jolt on short-yardage plays

Clemson fullback barrels into action

pstrelow@thestate.comOctober 27, 2009 

Chad Diehl

  • CHANTICLEERS VS. TIGERS

    WHO: Coastal Carolina (3-4) at Clemson (4-3)

    WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

    WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

    LINE: None

    TV: None

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1

CLEMSON - With Clemson needing a touchdown to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter, redshirt sophomore fullback Chad Diehl had a first-and-goal pass thrown behind him bounce off his right hand.

On the next play, a run designed for C.J. Spiller, a flustered Diehl lowered his head and knocked the helmet off charging linebacker Ramon Buchanan.

Buchanan was the same guy Diehl blasted like a cannonball to the gut during a second-quarter run up the middle.

"I was a little bit mad," Diehl said softly Monday. "So I turned it up on him a little bit."

The Tigers have turned to their seldom-used fullback more frequently the past two games, which has paid dividends in the running game.

An inability to convert short-yardage runs has plagued Clemson in key spots the past couple of years, but not in Saturday's 40-37 overtime triumph at No. 8 Miami.

On its final drive in regulation, the Tigers churned out a pair of short-yardage runs by sending thick tailback Jamie Harper to follow in the path of Diehl, a 6-foot-2, 255-pounder.

With 2:10 remaining, Harper went for 6 yards on third-and-1 from Clemson's 49. Then, with less than a minute to go, the Tigers faced fourth-and-1 from the Miami 36.

But instead of having kicker Richard Jackson try to match his season long with a 53-yard, game-tying field-goal try, coach Dabo Swinney could be seen imploring coordinator Billy Napier through his headset to go for it.

Harper followed Diehl to the right for 2 yards, prolonging a drive that culminated in a 30-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining.

"He's a monster out there," Harper said. "We have a big-hit reel, and every game, Diehl has something on that reel. He's unbelievable."

Diehl has not necessarily been playing more - he logged 14 snaps against Miami, two more his season average - but he has made an impact in Clemson's past two offensive outbursts, coinciding with Napier's increasing reliance on I-formation sets to boost running game.

It was more in line with what many thought the Tigers would feature in their offensive package this season after they unveiled a similar scheme in clobbering USC with the run game during last year's regular-season finale.

In former coordinator Rob Spence's one-back system, Diehl served primarily as an H-back - a hybrid tight end whose duties essentially amounted to those of a fullback, only with less of a head of steam.

"He's as good a blocker as you'll see when he zeroes in and has who he's got," said his position coach, Danny Pearman. "He center-cuts people. He's like a heat-seeking missile sometimes. That's his role, and he likes that."

"It's hard to find the ol' true I-fullback. ... It's kind of a thankless job."

Clemson more or less stumbled into the one it found.

Diehl was the least-touted of Clemson's four Byrnes High School signees in 2007.

Virginia Tech and Wake Forest had offered Diehl as a linebacker and possible defensive end (he also played left tackle in high school), and Diehl had figured he would wind up with the Demon Deacons until Clemson extended a scholarship offer.

Proximity to home and friends led Diehl to commit upon receiving the offer.

Within a month of enrolling, though, his father suffered a stroke, and Diehl called former coach Tommy Bowden planning to quit football and return home to help care for his family.

"I think we all go through that homesick stage, but I was probably the worst one in our class," Diehl said. "But I worked everything out and got through that."

Diehl said his father has recovered, although it couldn't have been good for his health when Diehl stunningly was given a pair of carries two weeks ago against Wake Forest - the first carries of his football career.

"The first one I got five yards - somehow," Diehl said.

Diehl said he gained his affinity for hard-hitting while playing defense in high school. And it is telling that defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has prepared Diehl to serve as the backup middle linebacker behind Brandon Maye in goal-line situations.

"If you're not fast, not the most athletic person on the field, this is kind of how I have to play," he said.

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