CLEMSON -- Clemson will be hard-pressed to produce another football season with such contrast between high points and low points. From a No. 5 BCS ranking in October after an 8-0 start, to a third straight loss against South Carolina and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, this past season was unlike any other for the Tigers.
Here's a look at the entire body of work from the 2011 season:
Berkeley High product Andre Ellington broke away for a 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Atlantic Coast Conference title game to give Clemson a 31-10 lead Dec. 3 in Charlotte, essentially sealing the contest. Clemson hadn't won an ACC title since 1991. The Tigers also became the first ACC team to defeat the Hokies twice in a season.
The loss at South Carolina (34-13) looked like a lock for the lowest point until Clemson allowed a bowl-record 70 points to West Virginia last week. Clemson accomplished many good things this season -- most notably its first ACC title in 20 years -- but some of that will be overshadowed by the 70-33 loss in the Orange Bowl.
After unimpressive victories over Troy and Wofford to start the season, Clemson's offense came alive against defending national champion Auburn. Sammy Watkins caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two TDs to help Clemson snap Auburn's 17-game winning streak. It was the first of three straight wins against ranked opponents for the Tigers.
Phillip Price rose from walk-on tight end to become an able starter at left tackle this season. Price became the first non-kicker walk-on to earn All-ACC honors at Clemson since Rob Bodine in 1991, the last time Clemson won the ACC title before this season. Price was a player development success story, a story Clemson needs more often.
What went right
Clemson found an offensive identity in 2011, thanks to Watkins and Chad Morris. In his first year as Clemson's offensive coordinator, Morris led a dramatic offensive turnaround. Clemson improved from 88th (334 yards per game) in total offense in 2010 to 29th (440 ypg) in 2011. Morris agreed to a six-year, $7.8 million deal to remain at Clemson.
What went wrong
What had been a very good defense in 2009 and 2010 became a liability this season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was never able to get six new starters up to speed as Clemson fell from 13th in the nation in scoring defense in 2010 (18.7 points per game) to 81st (29.3 points per game) in the nation.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Clemson fans this offseason is that freshman wide receiver Watkins will not turn 19 until June. Watkins broke ACC freshman records with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 13 TDS. When Watkins was at his best (vs. Auburn, Florida State and at Maryland), so was the Clemson offense.
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