CLEMSON, S.C. --- They were challenged and switched around the first half of the season. Finally, Clemson's offensive linemen are playing like many expected them to -- and keeping the 20th-ranked Tigers in contention for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
"We as an offensive line never gave in, never quit," center Thomas Austin said.
That's probably the biggest reason Clemson (7-2, 4-2) has a chance at the ACC title game. With victories at home Saturday over Wake Forest (6-3, 4-2) and then a week later over Boston College, the Tigers would represent the Atlantic Division in the championship game.
The thought seemed unlikely a month ago when Clemson followed a 4-0 start with two critical ACC losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
The team's strength, star runners James Davis and C.J. Spiller, was faltering behind an offensive line that couldn't open holes and create the space necessary for the "Thunder and Lightning" backfield to thrive.
Offensive line coach Brad Scott wanted his players to get "meaner."
Head coach Tommy Bowden called it the most reserved line he ever coached. Then Barry Humphries, who started the season at center, was switched to backup guard and Austin slid over to snap the ball.
Things have clicked during the second half of the season.
The Tigers rushed for 42 yards combined in their two losses.
During their subsequent three-game win streak, they have gained 742 yards on the ground. Davis has twice gone over 100 yards during this stretch; Spiller's done it once.
"The chemistry is starting to work well right now," left guard Chris McDuffie said.
Said Spiller: "The last couple of weeks they've taken it up to another level. They know what they want to accomplish and have played very physical."
A season ago, Clemson had the luxury of a deep, talented group of seniors along the offensive line. Players like Dustin Fry, Nathan Bennett, Marion Dukes and Roman Fry made the Tigers one of the country's top rushing teams. They finished fifth nationally at 218 yards a game.
While this year's linemen had experience, they were not the cohesive group that guided the team last fall.
"Them guys left and we had to find our way through this o-line here," McDuffie said. "We had to get to know each other better."