Bowden: Special Teams Not So Special

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - One look at the film of Saturday's 31-28 loss to Georgia confirmed
what both Tommy Bowden and a legion of Clemson fans already knew:

The Tigers lost their season opener primarily because of special teams.

Inconsistent punting by Wynn Kopp, poor kickoff and punt return coverage and
a pair of missed field goals combined to rob Clemson of what would have been
an inspiring season-opening upset of a top 10 opponent on the road - the kind
of win Bowden desperately needs as his fourth season as the Tigers' head
coach commences.

Instead, he and his coaching staff were left with that awful sinking feeling
of "what if?"

"Normally when you look at the film you see a lot of things you could have
done better, been more productive," Bowden said Sunday. "Looking at the
kicking, that was the main thing. That was the most discouraging part of the
whole film."

There was plenty of blame to go around:

- An offside penalty on the kickoff following Bernard Rambert's early
game-tying touchdown forced Clemson to re-kick from the 30. On the second
try, Fred Gibson sprinted 91 yards for a touchdown and was barely touched in
the process. Georgia led 14-7.

- Kopp, whose inconsistency prompted Bowden to say his job is "wide open"
Sunday, dropped a snap and hurried a kick when, in fact, there was no rush to
avoid. The 17-yard kick was returned 18 yards by Davis, setting up a
three-play, 15-yard touchdown "drive" that gave Georgia a 21-7 lead.

- After finally gaining a break on special teams - recovering Gibson's
fumbled kickoff after Clemson tied it 21-21 early in the third quarter - the
Tigers couldn't take advantage. Three plays from the Georgia 21 netted just
one yard, and the usually reliable Aaron Hunt clanked a 37-yard field goal
attempt off the right upright. The game remained tied.

- In the fourth quarter, with Clemson ahead 28-21, Kopp got off a nice
42-yard kick only to see Damien Gary return it 40 yards. Kopp himself saved a
touchdown on the play. But the respite was brief. Georgia scored three plays
later on a 24-yard pass from D.J. Shockley to Terrance Edwards, and the
Bulldogs had tied it 28-28.

- Finally, trailing 31-28 with less than two minutes to go, Hunt came on to
attempt a game-tying 46-yard field goal. The snap was high to holder Jeff
Scott, who nevertheless was able to get it down. But Hunt didn't hit the ball
squarely and the kick fell just short. Georgia then took over and ran out the
final 1:43.

Sunday, Bowden refused to use inexperience as an excuse.

"The punter dropping a snap is not inexperience. Aaron Hunt bouncing one off
the (upright) is not inexperience," he said. "We had some new guys in there
(on punt and kick coverage) but we also had some veterans who had been there
before. We had some breakdowns, but I'd rather not get into specifics with


- Cornerback Toure Francis likely is out for the season, pending the results
of an MRI scheduled for Tuesday.

Francis was injured in the first quarter Saturday with what team doctors
believe is a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Bowden said Sunday he
wasn't sure when the injury occurred.

"You hate to see that because this is a kid who has worked awfully hard,"
Bowden said. "He's a walk-on who we've put on scholarship each of the last
two years and he may have been in line for one this year. It's just a shame."

The injury to Francis means true freshman Justin Miller will get more playing
time. Miller was the only true freshman to see action Saturday.

- Bowden said he agreed with Georgia coach Mark Richt's decision to go for it
on fourth-and-inches from his own 38 with just :40 to go. Musa Smith's
two-yard dive allowed Georgia to keep possession and take a knee on the next
play to run out the clock.

"I probably would have done the same thing," Bowden said. "When it works,
it's a good call."

- Cole Chason and Stephen Furr each will battle Kopp for the punter's spot
this week.

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