Commentary: How Fast Things Change

by - Correspondent -

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

CLEMSON -- As big as it was beating Miami in the Orange Bowl, it was just as devastating a loss to lonely ole' Duke in what was once the site of a Rose Bowl.

In a matter of one week, the 2004 Clemson Tigers went from garnishing the football programs biggest road victory in 25 years with one of the program's worst losses ever.

It was ugly from the start. Clemson's mind was never in the game.

Duke, winless against the eight previous Division 1-A teams it had faced, was simply better prepared and mentally ready to play against a Clemson team that appeared lethargic and confused.

Example or should I say examples:

On third-and-goal from the 1 on Clemson's second possession, running back Reggie Merriweather is stuffed for a 1-yard loss and the Tigers settle for a 20-yard Jad Dean field goal.

After Duke ties it up, Ben Hall drops a routine fair catch on the ensuing kick and Duke recovers at the Tiger 19, leading to a 21-yard Matt Brooks field goal.

With the score tied 6-6, long snapper Geoff Rigsby hits up man Steven Jackson on the shoulder pad while in punt formation and Duke recovers inside the Clemson 10.

Even though the Tiger defense stiffened, a third turnover ­ this time a Charlie Whitehurst interception ­ just before the half gives the Blue Devils the momentum heading into the locker room.

When the Tigers did show some signs of life, it quickly died.

After Merriweather scored on a 3-yard run to complete an 11-play, 76-yard drive with 12:57 left, the Tiger offense packed it up for the afternoon. The Tigers didn't pick up another first down the rest of the game, and watched as Duke finally took advantage of a defense that had been on the field for more than 35 of the 65 minutes.

When Duke tied the game up at 13-13 with 1:21 left, calling out the Tigers' manhood, Clemson responded with a thrown interception on its next offensive play.

Brooks thanked the Tigers for the opportunity by drilling a well-kicked 53-yard game-winning field goal as time-expired.

"I don't know what the numbers were, but I know we didn't score many points," said Whitehurst, who was 12 of 26 for 117 yards and two interceptions. Things just aren't clicking. The guys we're counting on to make plays aren't making them, and I'm included in that." Now the Tigers must suck it up and get ready for a South Carolina team that would love nothing more than to end the Tigers' season. In each of the last two years, a bowl-bound Clemson team has knocked the Gamecocks out of bowl contention, including last year's 63-17 thrashing in Columbia.

"It's one that has been on our minds," said South Carolina center John Strickland, whose team wrapped up a bowl berth over a week ago. "We've been in that situation the last two years." But as much as the Gamecocks want to beat Clemson, that alone will not decide the outcome of this week's game. The game is Clemson's to lose, just like the Duke game.

All the cards are laid out on the table. A possible bowl game, a chance to be the first team in Atlantic Coast Conference history to qualify for a bowl after a 1-4 start, a sixth straight winning season, and sending the seniors out with a victory on "Senior Day" against their most hated rival.

But then again, they had a chance to secure most of the accomplishments at Duke, before they decided to take a Saturday afternoon off.

"We just want to win the game," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden in reference to all that is on the line this week. "Nothing has come easy for us this year. It has been a year we have had to fight for everything we have gotten.

"With (the loss to Duke) it has been magnified." And if the Tigers lose this week, the Duke loss will be magnified three times greater than it is now, and it will make life on the IPTAY circuit a lot more difficult to face in the off-season.

By the way, that win at Miami doesn't mean anything if the Tigers lose to South Carolina.

Isn't it weird how life in college football can change it just seven days?

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

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