CLEMSON - The day after his team's 37-30 double overtime win over Wake Forest, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden had one emotion.
"They're the one team I dread every year. They're gone, and we won," Bowden said during his regular Sunday teleconference. "We had three turnovers and won. They had 16 starters back, nine on defense, and we won. We learned a lot about our team.
"We faced them, now everybody else has to."
Not only was the win satisfying ("It's a lot more fun to correct mistakes Monday after a win than it is a loss," Bowden said), but the way the Tigers won Saturday at Death Valley could have long-term ramifications for this team.
After blowing a 16-point lead and eventually falling behind 27-19, Clemson rallied to tie the game in regulation and ultimately won it in the second extra period. To pull that rabbit out of a hat several things had to happen.
They did, including:
- An offensive line which was relentlessly attacked by the Wake Forest blitz in the second half, finally found a way to protect quarterback Charlie Whitehurst on the game-tying final drive of regulation and in both overtime periods;
- Wideout Kelvin Grant coming through in his first-ever live-or-die situation, jumping over smallish Wake Forest cornerback Marcus McGruder to catch the two-point conversion pass which tied the game at 27-27;
- Walk-on kicker Stephen Furr, who had never attempted a field goal in a game before Saturday, overcoming an early miss and a second kick that banked in off the left upright to tie the game and force a second overtime with his 23-yarder from the right hash;
- Kyle Browning, filling a role usually reserved for Duane Coleman, turning a slip screen into a game-winning 11-yard touchdown catch.
It all added up not only to a win, but more importantly became teaching tools previously unavailable during practice.
"When you scrimmage spring or preseason, coaches are there correcting mistakes on field and in huddle, coaching hard, maybe making a player get up and run sprints or whatever," Bowden said. "Plus if you're not playing real game, you're not behind. (Anthony) Waters breaks his hand and you probably hold him out the rest of practice. Leroy Hill injures his shoulder, same thing.
"They're learning to push their body to the limit. And then you come from behind to win. All those are things you normally experience during a season. We experienced them during the first game and (still) won the game."
As a further example, Bowden pointed to Grant's two-point conversion catch.
While his talent has never been in question, Grant's desire and work ethic - both in class and on the field - have come under fire from time to time. Bowden's hope is that as Grant continues to mature, having on-field success such as he did Saturday will help speed the process.
"To work hard and never have opportunity to get results in public area, that's hard," Bowden said. "To get results will do a lot for his confidence. Now maybe he says, 'If I work harder, what could possibly happen? I'd better go to class. I'd better go to study hall. This is fun.'
"There are a couple of ways (success) helps."
- Bowden called the performance of his offensive line "good," citing the fact that Whitehurst was sacked just once. As for the pressure the junior quarterback was under for much of the second half, Bowden attributed to Wake Forest's decision to blitz on almost every play.
Asked about Jesse Pickens' play at right tackle, Bowden said the fifth-year senior "did well. He may have had one bad series all game."
- The running game continues to be a sore spot. Clemson averaged just 2.4 yards per carry Saturday, and the longest run by a back was 12 yards.
"We'll continue to work on it, but we've got to find somebody who can move the pile, make someone miss and make longer runs," he said.
- Waters, who continued to play despite a broken hand Saturday, is expected to be available this week vs. Georgia Tech.
Defensive tackle Eric Coleman sprained a knee, but he too is expected to play this week.
- Sports Information Director Tim Bourret announced that this Saturday's game with Georgia Tech is a sellout.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.