Clemson University

Tigers gain ground on Diehl's power play

CLEMSON - Chad Diehl is an endangered species.

Diehl is a lead-blocking fullback, a battering ram in the run game. The position has become rare with the proliferation of pass-heavy spread offenses in college football.

But to Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier, Diehl remains a valuable asset. Diehl is a physical and psychological weapon, playing a role in the resurgence of Clemson's running game despite receiving three carries this season.

"I think for a guy like that, there is an accumulative effect during a game," Napier said. "You get tired of dealing with that guy. It's well documented - everyone on this team will tell you - he is the most physical guy we have.

"I think he wears on guys, he keeps showing up, and defenses tend to not like that."

Following the loss at Maryland, which pushed the Tigers' record below .500, Clemson emerged from the bye week with more power offensive sets suited to Diehl's style of play.

After rushing for 190 yards or more once in the first five games, the Tigers went over that mark five times in the last eight games. Diehl has played at least 11 snaps in six of the past seven games.

It is the type of traditional pro-style sets Napier was familiar with as a quarterback at Furman. It's the kind of balance Napier intended to install as Clemson's offensive coordinator, mixing finesse and power.

And as the spread has proliferated throughout Division I, might teams be overlooking the value of such formations, and players such as Diehl?

"There are so many ways to move the ball successfully," Napier said. "(But power football) has an accumulative effect, dealing with that guy (Diehl).

"I think it's just a matter of philosophy and then matching what personnel you have on your team."

Sometimes replacing a third or fourth wide receiver has been Diehl, a compact, 6-foot-2, 250-pound redshirt sophomore who is like a crash-test dummy in his propensity for being involved in head-on collisions.

"Everyone has fear," Diehl said. "Everybody does experience fear, even myself if I get banged up or my head gets rattled and that fear is in the back of my head. But it's something you have to overcome and still go full speed with."

Diehl, like Napier, believes the power formations are especially effective in the second half of a game.

"I think any player in the game, including myself, gets a little tired and banged up as the game goes on," Diehl said. "But it's all how you handle it mentally, and who keeps going full speed. If you're that person and you're full speed the whole game, you don't have that fear.

"If they are weaker than you mentally, they kind of back down eventually in the third and fourth quarter."

Clemson freshman linebacker Corico Hawkins said the effects of dealing with a player like Diehl extend beyond the fourth quarter and into "Monday and Tuesday mornings."

And such dealings might become more frequent.

Napier said Diehl's role might expand next season, and during bowl practice Diehl has stayed afterward with quarterback Tajh Boyd catching passes.

"I think it's only right to give him an opportunity to impact the game," Napier said.

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