The easiest thing in athletics is to say that you have moved on after a tough loss. The most difficult thing is to prove it on the field.
A bit of reconstruction needs to take place among Tommy Bowden’s troops this week as the Tigers try to rebound from a heartbreaking, yet thrilling, loss to Miami in Death Valley a week ago.
If you could reconstruct by saying all the right things, Coach Bowden and this team are well on their way to ridding it from memory. For us fans, it was simply one that will forever stay at the forefront of the great games involving our Tigers.
The game itself had it all, lead changes included, before finally and mercifully ending as many in Death Valley sat spent of all energy and emotion. It is hard for me to remember a game where Clemson played so hard for so long without coming away from the game with anything tangible.
If the game last week proved anything at all, it proved that this program is now to the point where we do not have to play perfect football games to beat great football programs. The game last Saturday was full of missed opportunities for Clemson, yet the Tigers stood toe to toe with one of the best teams in the country.
The problem is, moral victories are not in our vocabulary. Unlike our friends in Columbia, we will not try and map the rest of the season based on what we did or did not do against the Hurricanes. In college football, each week is as unique as a snowflake and trying to take bits and pieces of one game against a particular team and correlate it to another team in another week is simply futile.
As I said in the pre season, the biggest two games in this four game stretch to open the season are Maryland and Boston College. The Miami loss was not unexpected, and the Hurricanes will more than likely beat just about everybody else minus Virginia Tech on their schedule. Furthermore, Miami is not in Clemson’s division in the newly mapped Atlantic Coast Conference.
So the 2-1 Tigers enter this forth game against BC with the opportunity to move past the Eagles in the standings. In essence, the loser of the BC and Clemson game Saturday could be all but eliminated from a chance at playing in Jacksonville for the ACC Title.
While we all left so much on the field and in the stands Saturday, the reality of the situation is that this game with BC ought to be treated with MORE importance than the Miami game did.
Will the fans treat it the same? More than likely not. The game last week was a once in a decade type atmosphere. Adding to the reduced atmosphere is the fact that the kickoff for BC is at 12:00 noon and the weather is expected to be hot, both of which are items that tend to quell the crowd’s enthusiasm a bit.
Will the team treat the BC game with as much fervor as the Miami game? Human nature would tell you that they won’t. Boston College is an excellent program, certainly a program on the brink of the Top 25. But they don’t hold a match to Miami in terms of prestige and talent from a national perspective. Expecting our players to treat this game like they treated the Miami game is probably asking too much, unfortunately.
That being said, it is going to take a similar performance by the Tigers this weekend to leave Death Valley with a win. And hence the reconstruction that Tommy Bowden must embark on as this week goes on. The ACC is too tough a conference, and BC is too tough a football team, for a team to slip a step backwards after a heartbreaking loss and still expect to win.
The good news? The reconstruction takes place on our home turf with our Clemson fans. That makes this different than last year after Georgia Tech when the Tigers traveled out to College Station.
Reconstruction is never easy, but it is much easier when you are on your own soil.
The atmosphere last Saturday in Death Valley was simply amazing. I have always thought the top three loudest crowds ever at Clemson were (in order) the 1981 game versus Georgia, the 1988 game versus Florida State, and the 2003 game versus Florida State. Saturday certainly moves ahead of FSU in 2003 and possibly ahead of FSU in 1988. Placing it ahead of UGA in ’81 might be a stretch…at least this soon after the game. I need more time to digest before I can move it up to the top.
Speaking of great crowds, I witnessed a first in Death Valley on Saturday after the game. For the first time I can remember, Clemson fans gave a standing ovation to the team as they left the field. In 1998, Clemson fans gave outgoing Head Coach Tommy West and his family a standing ovation after the win against South Carolina. But never before have I seen a team given that recognition.
Heartbreak Hotel for Cole Downer. You hate to see injuries to players at anytime, but a guy like Downer is one of the last guys that you want to see go down with a season ending injury. He is a great story for college football and for Clemson, and it is a shame his season is over.
Duane Coleman saw the field last Saturday and by all accounts did a good job. Curious to me was the fact that the Miami coaches never noticed him in the game, or at least they never noticed him to the point where they tried to challenge him. I held my breath the entire time #3 was in the game, but you have to give Duane credit for stepping in there to play one of the most important positions on defense with four days work under his belt.
Seen patrolling the parking lots were members of the Clemson Athletic Department. This was no joy mission. The patrolling was an attempt to identify folks that were extending their tents beyond the specified dimensions that IPTAY has set forth in multiple mailing and promotions. Here is one guy that was glad to see a proactive approach to it by IPTAY.
The special teams at Clemson continue to be anything but special. A big reason Miami was able to win the game last Saturday was that Clemson lost the field position battle by a staggering margin. The short kickoffs did little to slow down Hester, who still got his hands on the ball and ran to near midfield on each pooch kick. And the punting, while better this past Saturday, still a liability as compared to our opponents. It seemed just about every procession Miami had in the first three quarters started near mid field. That’s something that simply can’t happen if you are going to beat great teams.
Bob Bradley, rightfully so, was inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor this past Saturday. It would be difficult, and maybe impossible, to find a man that devoted more of his life to Clemson University than Bob Bradley did. Jim Phillips should not be far behind moving into the Ring of Honor if there is any justice. And yes, I know the reason(s) why Jim is not up there now. There are exceptions to every rule and Jim Phillips is certainly an exception.
The corners of Death Valley’s West Endzone are starting to take shape and could be used for seating fans later in the season. With the looming match up with FSU still over a month away, the likelihood of having a few extra bodies in Death Valley for that game remains a good possibility.
Weather and heat are sometimes overplayed when it comes to teams like Maryland or Virginia playing on a hot day in Death Valley. But Boston is closer to Canada than to Clemson, so this could truly be one of those instances where the heat could play a factor to Clemson’s advantage Saturday.
And finally, come to Clemson early on Saturday to avoid the traffic nightmare that is a sold out noon game in Clemson. Thinking you can roll into the Clemson area at 10:30 and expecting to be in your seat by kickoff is wishful thinking at its best. Get to Clemson no later than 9:00 and you should not have major problems.
Scott Rhymer covers Clemson as the Co-Host of the Tiger Pre Game Show on WCCP 104.9 FM. The show airs live game days on 104.9 FM in the upstate or via the web at www.wccpfm.com
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