CLEMSON — At this point last season, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden expressed the desire to insert freshman quarterback Willy Korn into relevant action so the Tigers could develop a backup plan.
A year later, the plan has changed, keeping Korn the undisputed backup.
Senior starter Cullen Harper did little in a 54-0 rout of South Carolina State to squash seemingly growing sentiment on fan forums and call-in shows that Korn be given a shot to show what he can do with Clemson’s first-string offense.
With the Tigers returning to ACC play Saturday against Maryland, Bowden reiterated that Korn will see action only because of a blowout or an injury.
“Last year, at this time, Cullen was an unproven product,” Bowden said. “And was the Florida State game a flash in the pan? Was the next game a flash in the pan? I think that where getting significant playing time (came from).
“But once he kept performing at such a high level, there was no reason to do it. It’s a different scenario. Cullen’s a different player than he was this time last year. He’s a proven product.”
However, Harper had thrown 12 touchdowns to zero interceptions last season. This season, the preseason ACC player of the year has three touchdowns and has not looking as comfortable executing downfield throws.
It is uncertain how much that performance has been a reflection of the team’s young, inexperienced offensive line and its pass-protection issues.
Bowden stood by his assertion that Harper’s completion rate (66.3 percent) indicates he is still playing at a high level, although the offense’s reliance on screen passes is affecting that number .
“We seem to be able to do alright, in our three wins, the way teams have defended us, taking what they give you,” Bowden said. “If they choose to play one way, you have to do something else.
“I’m not worried about creating a controversy. The controversy is only created by the media and fans, and I surely am not making a decision based on either one of those.”
Bowden said there is still separation between Harper and Korn, who showed a scrambling element Harper lacks while running for 19 yards and a touchdown with the S.C. State outcome decided.
Yet Bowden was careful to neither exonerate Harper nor isolate him from criticism, considering how a generic comment about Harper needing to improve had been taken out of context two weeks earlier.
“You know what, when I say the team needs to make improvement, he would be one of those guys that need to make improvement, along with about 85 other ones,” Bowden said. “I surely wouldn’t exclude him. ... He can play better, like the rest of the guys.”