CLEMSON -- Where was C.J. Spiller?
The question rumbled throughout Memorial Stadium as Spiller was missing from action in the second half.
Spiller was held out after sustaining what was described as a minor foot injury on a punt return at the end of the first half. Spiller appeared to be OK, still wearing his full gear in the third quarter while on the sideline.
On a short punt return, Spiller jammed a toe and said he felt a pull in his hamstring.
Head coach Dabo Swinney said Spiller could have returned, but with Georgia Tech looming in five days, Swinney elected to be cautious with his senior running back.
"I'm fine," Spiller said. "(Swinney) held me back, it's such a short turnaround."
However, even before the injury, Jamie Harper had received more touches from scrimmage (10 to 5) than Spiller, whose Heisman candidacy took a hit with 12 yards on four carries against a Sun Belt school.
"I'm not worried about the Heisman," Spiller said.
Former Berkeley High star Andre Ellington added 72 yards on nine carries.
The lack of Spiller usage early was somewhat surprising as Clemson unveiled a Spiller-for-Heisman campaign in July, and Swinney indicated Spiller would be the team's workhorse feature back.
Swinney even laughed off a question earlier in the week when asked if he would give the first carry to Harper, who received the first carry of the season last season against Alabama and fumbled.
Harper again took the first carry Saturday. He performed well Saturday, making sharp cuts and blending his speed and power to lead the Tigers with 76 yards on 15 carries.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said all preseason it was folly to try and attach a label to his defense. It was to be a package defense borrowing from his extensive experience.
Against Middle Tennessee, Steele elected to go with base packages of five and six defensive backs.
Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor started at corner, Rashard Hall and Sadat Chambers lined up at safety and Marcus Gilchrist and DeAndre McDaniel lined up as nickel backs.
McDaniel spent much of the night lining up near linebacker Brandon Maye, as a sort of a hybrid linebacker position.
McDaniel had a banner game, intercepting a Dasher pass and producing several crowd- wooing hits. He finished with 12 tackles.
The Clemson defense will again alter its look Thursday with another extreme shift coming against Georgia Tech's triple-option.
Most disappointing to Swinney were the four drops by receivers, including three from Jacoby Ford.
Ford could have had a monster day had he hauled in an accurate Kyle Parker pass on a deep route in the first quarter, but the ball glanced off his fingertips. Xavier Dye also dropped his first pass of the season.
Ford redeemed himself with a 69-yard punt return touchdown and catching Parker's first touchdown. He said the drops were a product of fundamentals, possibly lacking from missing so much August camp due to a hamstring issue. "I was just lackadaisical," Ford said.
Richard Jackson likely continued to separate himself from Spencer Benton by making 3 of 5 field goals (19, 22, 44). One miss could be attributed to a high snap. ... Spiller went over the 5,000 yards for career total yardage with his opening kick.
Reach Travis Sawchik at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.
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