CLEMSON - As hopes and expectations from the early part of the season have faded, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden's task now is to salvage what's left of 2004.
Whether that's a near-miraculous run to a bowl bid or simply a solid finish to build on for next season, Bowden and the Tigers (1-4) get back at it today when Utah State (2-4) visits for Homecoming (1 p.m. kickoff) at Death Valley.
It is the first of three consecutive home games for Clemson. It's also a game in which Bowden finds his team a prohibitive favorite, something the Tigers haven't been in recent weeks.
And with three straight losses festering beneath the surface, it's easy to understand how both coach and players are anxious to get back into action following a nine-day layoff.
"I don't want to say we're discouraged, but we're definitely frustrated," Bowden said. "As a head coach I have to understand that we have to pick it up on offense and defense, but I don't want the players to lose their sense of accountability, either.
"There is going to be some frustration by the players, but I don't want them to get discouraged or disappointed; I want them to assume their responsibility and I'll assume mine."
Bowden's responsibility has been trying to analyze why the team has struggled through the first half of the season.
He has spent more practice time on fundamentals, working on blocking and tackling ad nauseum. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and his receivers have thrown and caught ball after ball. They've broken down game film, made depth chart changes and shuffled players from one position to another.
All in the name of finding something - anything - to kick start the team on both sides of the ball.
"I think it's similar to anything else when plans don't work out. My job as a head coach is to look at Plan B and decide where we are going to go from here," said Bowden. "Now, I don't know if that's the right terminology, but some 'parts' may not have worked while other 'parts' have worked. That's the case for both the offense and defense right now."
"I'll be a lot more confident when we can accomplish our goals of getting off the field on third down on defense and getting that production on offense. Some of the productivity on offense will come with more at-bats. Running only 52 plays and 49 plays in a game can hurt your continuity on offense."
Perhaps returning home against a team in which his team is more than a 20-point favorite is the first step toward that production.
It can't hurt, even if the last memory of Death Valley over a month ago was that of a stunning, last-minute loss to Georgia Tech.
"I'm glad its Homecoming and we'll need support from our fans," said Bowden. "Our players are frustrated right now, so it will be good to get that home environment we haven't had in a long time (34 days).
"The atmosphere that Clemson creates is something that is known throughout college football. It can definitely create an advantage for us."