CLEMSON -- Perhaps the most glaring change between the Clemson team that defeated Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech in succession earlier this year, and the team that limped through November, was the length of the team's injury report.
Clemson was remarkably healthy in the season's first half when the Tigers produced record offensive performance after record offensive performance. But in the season's second half, star freshman Sammy Watkins sprained his shoulder, tight end Dwayne Allen played through turf toe, left tackle Phillip Price twisted his knee, running back Andre Ellington twisted his ankle and younger players Charone Peake (shoulder) and Martavis Bryant (neck) were also limited.
In short, Clemson -- especially at the offensive skill positions-- was not as physically capable, not as explosive in November as it was in September.
After a nine-day layoff following its ACC title game win in Charlotte, Clemson returns to practice today to begin preparation for the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl. The Tigers expect to return to the practice fields healthier and will have a full month between the ACC championship game and their matchup with West Virginia in Miami.
So the next time the 14th-ranked Tigers play, what will be different?
"Explosion," quarterback Tajh Boyd answered. "You can't give 100 percent if you're not 100 percent. … Guys are banged up this season, even the young guys like Charone and Martavis and my linemen. (This break) is just giving us time to heal."
Boyd himself missed the second half of the Boston College game with a hip injury. Allen, Price, Ellington and Watkins combined to miss four games in the second half and were limited in a number of others.
While Allen did not a miss a game, he has clearly been influenced by the turf toe injury.
Allen had at least one reception of 20 yards or more in five of the first six games this season before injuring his toe against Boston College. Allen has had just one reception of 20 yards or more in the season's final seven games, his 24-yard touchdown catch against Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.
Allen demonstrated improved health in the ACC title game, as did Ellington, who rushed for his first 100-yard game since his 212-yard effort at Maryland in October. Clemson scored 38 points versus Virginia Tech, just the second time Clemson scored 20 points or more since Oct. 22.
Allen said his toe condition, which affects a ligament in the big toe in his right foot, is improving, but he is still not 100 percent.
"It's almost there," Allen said. "It's still weak, but it doesn't hurt as much now. (The break) was much needed. We need it just to refresh and to put our best foot forward in the Orange Bowl."
When Allen has a healthy right foot to put forward, he's a player whom Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster called the best player in the ACC earlier this year, a player ESPN has ranked 31st overall on its prospect rankings for the 2012 NFL draft. Watkins and Allen are players, who when healthy, can mean the difference between the Clemson of November and the Clemson of September.