David Whitehurst knows the scrutiny that comes with playing quarterback. Whitehurst spent seven seasons under center for the Green Bay Packers, and led them to their first winning record in six seasons as a second-year pro in 1978. But a year later, Whitehurst threw 18 interceptions and only 10 touchdown passes for the 5-11 Packers, and lost his starting job to Lynn Dickey, whom Whitehurst played behind sparingly during his final four NFL seasons.
While Whitehurst dealt with criticism from fans and media as a pro, he seems unwilling to do it as a father. Whitehurst's son, Charlie, has been a popular target for frustrated Clemson football fans, who have watched the Tigers, ranked No. 15 in the preseason Associated Press poll, lose their last three games going into tomorrow night's nationally televised game at No. 10 Virginia.
Charlie Whitehurst, who during the preseason was mentioned among hopefuls to win the Heisman Trophy, has struggled mightily since the Tigers beat Wake Forest, 37-30, in double overtime on Sept. 4. Whitehurst has accounted for 13 of Clemson's 14 turnovers -- 10 interceptions and three fumbles. He has committed nine of those turnovers in the past two games, four in Clemson's 27-6 loss at Texas A&M on Sept. 18 and five in a 41-22 loss at Florida State the following week.
"He's got five interceptions, and I'd say five of them weren't his fault," David Whitehurst said. "You'd have to see all four games. The statistics don't speak to how he's playing. He's probably had three touchdowns dropped. We haven't run the football when we needed to, and the offensive line hasn't protected as well as it should. You roll all those things together, and it's still Charlie's fault" in critics' eyes.
Whitehurst, from Alpharetta, Ga., came into this season with enormous expectations. His play in the Tigers' final five regular season games of 2003 helped Coach Tommy Bowden save his job. During that stretch, Whitehurst completed 63 percent of his passes for nearly 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns, leading the Tigers to four victories. Bowden was named ACC coach of the year and was given a three-year contract extension through 2010, after Clemson finished 9-4, including a 27-14 upset of Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.
But Bowden finds himself on the hot seat again, after the Tigers lost to Georgia Tech, 28-24, on Sept. 11, and then suffered blowout losses at Texas A&M and Florida State. The Yellow Jackets scored three times in the final 41/2 minutes, including the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining, after Clemson botched the snap on a punt.
Whitehurst has caught the brunt of fans' criticism. He ranks last among ACC starting quarterbacks in pass efficiency (his quarterback rating of 96.02 is ahead of only Florida State's Chris Rix, now a reserve), and his 13 turnovers are more than the totals of all but 16 of 117 Division I-A teams (Miami [Ohio] has the most with 19).
"His problem is just relaxing and playing," Bowden said. "Unfortunately with his position, when you break down protection or drop a ball, a lot of times, it's reflected unjustly on his performance."
Whitehurst's play may be the least of Clemson's offensive problems. The Tigers rank 97th in the nation in rushing with 103 yards per game, and they've allowed 11 sacks, fourth-most in the ACC. Defenses are dropping into two-deep coverage, with two cornerbacks playing close to the line to take away short routes. Also, defenses are dropping the middle linebacker into the middle of the field to take away the intermediate routes, because defensive coordinators know the Tigers can't run the ball effectively. "You drop back and everybody is covered," David Whitehurst said. "He's having to make the throw of his career."
Charlie Whitehurst isn't making excuses for his poor play.
"I think the biggest thing for me is my accuracy has not been where it was," he said. "Half the time you throw an interception, you know it's probably going to be intercepted. There's been some stuff I shouldn't do as a fourth-year guy, but you just learn from it."