CLEMSON - Tommy Bowden said Sunday what nearly every Clemson fan was feeling Saturday after a stunning 16-13 loss at Duke.
"We had a better football team across the board," he said during his regular Sunday teleconference. "It just goes to show you how important the mental game is. If you're not sharp you'll get beat, regardless of the competition."
That's precisely what happened to the Tigers Saturday. Clemson stumbled its way to a 13-6 lead late in the game at Wallace Wade Stadium, only to see Duke score twice in the closing minutes to steal the victory.
The Tigers got another solid performance by the defense, but the offense and special teams combined for four turnovers. The final giveaway, a Charlie Whitehurst interception thrown with just over 1:00 to go, set up Duke for a game-winning 53-yard field goal attempt at the gun.
"Two thirds of the team wasn't in it mentally," Bowden said. "Defensively we came ready to play and were pretty productive all day. But we're a team. Clemson University lost the game.
"But when you break it down a little more, the defense played really well."
The last time Clemson lost a game in the final moments - week two vs. Georgia Tech - the resulting hangover followed them on the road and contributed to the loss at Texas A&M.
If there's hope the scenario doesn't repeat itself, it lies in the fact that next on the agenda is simply the biggest game of every year - South Carolina. The Gamecocks visit Death Valley this weekend to close out the regular season.
Their presence, combined with the knowledge that his team still needs one more victory to become bowl eligible, leads Bowden to believe there will be no letdown.
"The fact that it's South Carolina will help us," Bowden said. "There will be some emotional baggage after a tough loss. But after the NC state game we had to win two of three to become bowl eligible. That hasn't changed.
And will bowl eligibility be a theme this week?
"We just want to win game. The bowl won't be discussed very much," he said. "Whatever happens (from a bowl standpoint), happens. We'd just like to win the game and have a winning season."
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. 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.