Commentary: Searching For “That” Turnaround

by - Correspondent -
Winston Salem in 2003 marked a turning point for the Clemson football team.
Winston Salem in 2003 marked a turning point for the Clemson football team.

In what seems like decades ago, Clemson found a monumental moment to mark a turnaround.

It was a crystal clear Saturday afternoon, November 1st, 2003. A massive Clemson crowd of close to 8,000 had made the trip to Winston Salem. Those 8,000 Clemson fans were buzzing on this day as they entered Groves Stadium, having just watched on television from the parking lot the South Carolina Gamecocks fall to Mississippi and Eli Manning.

Spirits were high. The Tigers were 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC and hoping for a strong finish to the season. But after 60 minutes of football, the Tiger Nation trudged solemnly out of Winston Salem at a low point not seen since the 1998 season. (2003 CU vs Wake Game Story)

As painful as those memories may be for you (they certainly are for me), the point of bringing it up was to make an observation of what could be.

That painful day in Winston Salem marked a turning point for that Clemson football team. As everybody knows, amid a swirl of turmoil and uncertainty about their head coach, Clemson reeled off four wins to finish the year on as high of a note as any Clemson team has since the mid 1980’s.

It was that turnaround that is the stuff of legends.

And it is a similar turnaround that Clemson searches for this Saturday in Winston Salem, albeit in reverse.

Clemson heads to Winston Salem in a bit of a funk, having lost back to back overtime games to good football teams. These games were heartbreakers; the kind of games that can wear you down mentally as a football team and as a fan base.

This year, the Wake Forest game offers an opportunity in reverse of what that game did two years ago. While the loss propelled Clemson to greater things in 2003, a win this year could work a similar effect.

This team, oozing with confidence before the Miami game, has been ripped of that swagger with the two tough losses in the past two weeks. A win in Winston Salem against the Demon Deacons could right the ship in a positive way.

There is nothing overtly daunting about the next five weeks for Clemson football. Clemson won’t be favored by much, if any, over the ACC teams on the schedule during that stretch. Then again, there is little to think that Clemson is not as good as or better than the next five opponents that line the schedule.

A run is more than possible. A run that is similar to what Clemson did after the Wake loss in 2003. A run that is similar to what Clemson did last year after starting the year 1-4.

But a run needs a starting point, an ignition, and a flash point.

What this team needs is an ounce of confidence and a bit of momentum, both of which could be created by whipping the Demon Deacons on Saturday.

And it could also exorcise the other “demons” that lurk in those eerie shadows from 2003 that we are all ready to put to bed.

Random Musings

So Tom O’Brien wants to review the hit David Dunham had on his quarterback Saturday, saying it was leading with the head. Give me a break. For a coach that always has his team prepared to play, O’Brien comes across as bitter and aloof with that statement. You won the game coach. Go win some more. And let it go. PS-we want a review of that roughing the kicker called on Clemson AND that play from your own end zone when the guard tackled our defensive lineman without a holding call. In case you did not know, that would have resulted in a safety and Clemson would have won 12-10. Geez.

So N.C. State got a little testy with North Carolina prior to their game last Saturday? You mean to tell me that the Wolfpack were trash talking and being disrespectful to their opponents? Chuck Amato went off to the media this week, pleading that he is not going to answer questions about the quality of his program. You mean to tell me Amato is getting defensive if somebody question what the heck he is doing up in Raleigh? State has steadily gone down hill under Amato’s watch is so many ways. A program that oozed class with Dick Sheridan and Mike O’Cain has stumbled and bumbled their way to being the joke of the ACC. Amato and State has had their success against Clemson, not question about that. But the persona of the program in Raleigh is losing value each and every year this con-artist is at the helm. Is it possible that some State fans are beginning to see through Amato’s thin persona and bag of tricks?

For those of you, like me, that think the glass is still half full, here are the remaining games on the schedule for Florida State and Boston College. FSU still has to travel to Virginia and Clemson while hosting N.C. State at home (a team they have struggled with in Tallahassee). Boston College travels to Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Maryland while hosting Virginia and N.C. State. None of those are gimmies for either of those teams. Two losses by FSU and two more losses by Boston College are not completely far fetched.

According to Wake Forest’s official web site, The Dixie Classic Fair is in Winston Salem this week. Lawrence Joel Coliseum's close proximity to the fairgrounds means that Dixie Classic patrons will be competing with football fans for parking. Officials at Wake anticipate ALL General Public, bus, and RV parking will be full before 1:00 p.m. When all lots fill, the next available parking area is the Wake Forest campus.

An interesting tidbit on Jim Grobe and Wake Forest. Wake is 0-5 against Maryland since Grobe has been the coach with several of the games being routs by the Terrapins. Interestingly enough, Grobe is only 1-3 versus Clemson but they all seem to be close games (except for the Wake win). So I really don’t know what to make of Maryland’s 22-12 win in Winston Salem last week and how that translates into what kind of success Clemson will have Saturday. Grobe seems to have the Midas touch against Clemson, but no touch at all against Maryland.

If you are looking for a player to step up their game Saturday, possibly look at Kelvin Grant. Grant had the only touchdown of his career at Wake in 2003 and he had the critical catch on the two point conversion last year in Clemson.

This game Saturday is a game to go to in person. Perfect weather and no television act as a perfect catalyst to go see the Tigers play. Add to that the fact that the drive to Winston Salem is easy from just about anywhere in the state of South Carolina, and you have even more reasons to go. Our team needs you there! If you have not made plans to travel this weekend, do it today.

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

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