Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden was a recent guest on SportsTalk with Dan Scott to discuss the La Tech game. SportsTalk can be heard from 9 a.m.-12, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9 in upstate South Carolina.
Listen to the full interview here: Windows Media
DAN SCOTT: At this time we are very happy to welcome in the Head Coach of the Clemson Tigers football team, Tommy Bowden whose team is coming off of an impressive victory over North Carolina last week, getting set for a home game this weekend against Louisiana Tech 7:00 kick off in Death Valley. Coach, how's it going?
COACH BOWDEN: It's going good. Doing a little paperwork when you called.
DAN SCOTT: It never ends, does it?
COACH BOWDEN: No, it goes from one thing to the other.
DAN SCOTT: Yesterday for the 1st time since the game started anyway, you came to us after practice and you were not real happy with the way your team performed.
COACH BOWDEN: Well, we knew we didn't practice very good and you have to be realistic if you've ever been in coaching, nobody likes practice and they're all not going to be great and you know, they're gonna be like women, sometimes they're going to have a "bad hair" day. You better look good on the prom and we had a bad hair day and the prom is Saturday. It's time to fix it.
DAN SCOTT: Well, I'm glad you went in that direction, you and I both just about got in trouble. (Laughter)
I get the sense in talking to you, you were talking about how disappointed you were yesterday and then you went into a talk about your special teams, and how yeah, you'd gotten some things fixed, but your still just very very average in other areas. I get the sense that you, like a lot of other people, sense this can be a special season for this team, but in order for that to happen, there's another level your guys have to attain.
COACH BOWDEN: Well, yeah but there are a lot of teams out there that have a tradition of block and punt. I'd like to have that. We've got 2 great returners, punt returners and kick returners. We returned 1 punt for a touchdown last year. We returned 1 this year. That's something you don't do very often, but I'd like to do it more than once a year. I haven't had any long kick-off returns, we had the experienced kick-off coverage problems and the kicking problems, but yeah, we have gotten some of those fixed, but again, that kind of spells average, and to accomplish your goals, you really don't need to be average at all in any area, so we'd like to elevate another notch earlier in the specials teams area.
DAN SCOTT: What was it you said yesterday "average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top"?
COACH BOWDEN: Yeah, somebody just told me that the other day and it's very accurate, you don't hardly think about it that way, but that's about what it is, you're as close to the bottom as you are the top when you're average.
DAN SCOTT: What's been the difference in the special teams problems that you've been able to get corrected, in other words, the punting protection problem lasted all last year, seeming to just linger on and on, and no matter what you tried it seemed you couldn't get it fixed. It seems like this year, you had the earlier problems on the kick return game against Boston College, seemed like you were able to diagnosis it and get it fixed, same thing with the kicking game problem. Jad was very very good last week, it seems like you were able to diagnosis that and get it fixed. What's been the difference, why have you been able to get that quick turnaround this year, where maybe you couldn't last year?
COACH BOWDEN: I was at Tulane at the time my brother changed their punt protection just during ball practice for Clemson, Auburn played them, I believe Clemson blocked 3 punts, you remember that game? (No)
Ok, Clemson blocked 3 or 4 punts and it changed Clemson protection just for the Bowl week and that's something you need to spend a whole spring on, you need to research it, you need to study it, we brought Pro guys in here and lectured on it, and then of course we put Billy Napier in charge of it, that's something that you gotta take time on, but again, that's why I did not do it in the middle of the year, It’s too critical. Of course, the extra point and field goal was strictly timing, speeding him up. I hadn't had one blocked in 7 years, so I knew that from a protection standpoint, we weren't going to do anything different. But once we went back and found that problem, we just sped them up and kick off coverage, I think was more so how we were practicing, and the attitude that we had before, it wasn't very intense, it wasn't "I'm going to make the play" I'm gonna wait for the next guy to stop and make the play, I don't think they thought that what they did was very important. I've practiced it with a little more intensity and they have covered it with a little more intensity.
DAN SCOTT: Last week, in the win over North Carolina, 324 rushing yards, you only threw the ball, I think, a total of 14 times and we talked a little bit about that being a luxury to be able to throw the ball when you want to as opposed to being forced to throw the ball. In the grand scheme of things, is that what this offense would look most of the time?
COACH BOWDEN: I don't know if that's what it would look like, that's what I would prefer. And most quarterbacks would prefer that. We could go out and Furman or Lousiana Tech for example, in their ratings, their pass defense is worse than their run defense, ok we might just go out there and start throwing the ball, if that's their weakest area, ok, if that's their weakest area, let's don't run first. I'm not saying we'll do that, but again, that is the potential situation where you might come out throwing and then maybe wear them down up front a little bit through a pass rush and then run the ball, so I might take a different approach initially in a game by defensive structure, but I would like to be able to do what we did Saturday, establish the run, run, run, action pass, and like you said, throw when you want to, not when you have to.
DAN SCOTT: You've said the magic number you'd like to achieve is a 70/30 run/pass balance:
COACH BOWDEN: I'd love to, actually, that means we'd probably win 90% of our games.
DAN SCOTT: Coach, as you have been preparing for Louisiana Tech coming in, seen this team twice, once in a bowl game out in Boise, Idaho and then a couple of years later, you opened the season here with Jack Bicknell still the Head Coach, are you able to draw on any of that stuff in the past or are you just strictly looking at their game films from this year? How do you go about preparing for this team?
COACH BOWDEN: You know, they lost 9 defensive starters so you really just have to anticipate them maybe doing some different things; you know those 9 guys had some experience, their skills were probably a little bit different, now you take some younger guys, and you probably have to adjust some stunt and some blitzes, all those guys that are going to come in as new starters, some of them have more advanced skills than the others, the guys that don't have advanced skills, you got to have to find ways to cover them up. If it's 4 corner, give them safety help over top, if it's poor tackling; safety, don't put them so much involved with run support, maybe bring more corner pressure and let them maybe overlap over top. There's different ways to cover up a lack of ability defensively, so we're trying to identify those areas where they're changing last year, because there are some changes because there are so many new starters. Offensively, they're a little more similar.
DAN SCOTT: So, like to throw the football and get as many skilled people involved as possible?
COACH BOWDEN: Getting our skilled people involved?
DAN SCOTT: Theirs.
COACH BOWDEN: It could be, I'm just giving some general… I'm not saying that's their weaknesses, but that would be different ways to do it, but that would be one way to do it, by spreading the field and making their guys tackle and stay. That's kind of what we do anyway; regardless of the competition because the hardest tackle to make is an open field tackle. We try to do that every game regardless. I was just giving you some examples of some ways that you could. We try to carry that package every week, because it involves the good guys out in the open.
DAN SCOTT: Their Head Coach, Jack Bicknell, was on with Will this morning, and he was very very complimentary of the way you guys are playing right now and said he this morning thinks you're playing as well as any of the top 5 teams in the country right now. Do you feel like you're playing that well?
COACH BOWDEN: No. There's a lot of things we can do better. He's probably saying that obviously to motivate his players and give them confidence before the game. I'm watching video of them, I think that's "coach speak" more than anything. I'd love for them to make that comment at the end of the year. After 4 games, there's not a lot of merit to it. We are playing good, but we've only played 4 games so probably a lot of that is going to be more to motivate his players, to say hey, we've got a chance to establish some credibility, we've got a couple of chances to knock them off, or back them up in the conference. I would think a lot of that is "coach speak".
DAN SCOTT: After the Boston College and Florida State games, you had talked about not getting the opportunity to get your backup linemen, for instance, as many snaps as you would like and some of the other backup guys, you got a chance to do that a little more against North Carolina, how would you grade the way your backups at some of those positions have played so far this year, and how important was it to get them some playing time against the Tarheels?
COACH BOWDEN: If you can get you 10 or 12 plays, by the end of the season that's 100 or so plays that a young guy can have and Cory Lambert and Barry Humphries, Thomas Austin, and of course, Jamarcus Grant who hadn't even been in a pass up until about 10 days ago, came out and actually got some plays, so it was good to get those guys some work, because those are the guys next year. We still have Christian Capote, who's an older guy, we still have Chris McDuffie and Brandon Pilgrim, I'm not excluding those guys, I think Bobby Hutchinson is a little older, though he's probably a red shirt freshman or sophomore, so even though we have a thin layer in there between our freshmen and our seniors, it's good to get those young guys work, because we do have a lot of talent there and you just can't hardly replace the game type experience, just the atmosphere, the excitement, and the enthusiasm generated in a game, you can't duplicate it in spring ball, in the scrimmages that we have.
DAN SCOTT: Speaking of your offensive line, going back to when you signed this class that are seniors right now who are anchoring you, the 5th year guys, Roman and Nathan and Dustin, you told us at the time that you were kind of making a change in philosophy of how you were recruiting offensive lineman and this is the group you signed right after that. Have they fulfilled what you thought they would do as a group and have gotten your recruiting philosophy headed in that right direction as far as offensive linemen?
COACH BOWDEN: I would say, Dan, if we could stop the season now, I would say yeah, unfortunately, there is a lot of football to be played, and as seniors, it's their job and responsibility to kind of carry at least the offensive performance on their shoulders for the next 8 games. They've kind of done it before, so I think in order to fully answer your question, ask me after the season. I'd say yeah, you know, those guys had high expectations, had a bulls eye on their chest every week, they went out there and met the challenge, played with great intensity, and after 4 games, I don’t' know if I can fully make it. They've done it for 4 games; it's just longer than a 4 game schedule.
DAN SCOTT: By the way, speaking of Roman Fry, I spoke with his dad yesterday, and I know that Roman had a death in his family that happened yesterday, his grandfather. Is that going to affect him as far as playing the game this weekend or do you know?
COACH BOWDEN: I talked to him last night and I believe their preliminary plans, they had not talked to his mother, and Mr. Fry's wife, they wanted to talk to her about that, but what they were going to try to do was drive up last night, spend some time with family Thursday and Friday and then drive back Friday evening and be at the hotel Friday night for our Saturday game day preparation with meetings. With a night game we have some pretty important meetings Saturday morning, so if their family agrees on that, that's the way they were leaning. Of course, something could change between now and then, but as far as giving the family their respects for a day and ½ or 2 and coming back down here Friday night and being ready to play on Saturday.
DAN SCOTT: And I guess, it's unfortunate to be able to say this, but you guys are getting used to learning how to deal with this type of thing?
COACH BOWDEN: Yeah, like you said, it is an unfortunate circumstance and you know, young people have to experience that at some point in time, it just seems like we've had a heavy dose with death and season ending injuries that really check your team's maturity level and makes them grow up a little bit and we've had to adjust to some adverse conditions, and we're very fortunate here to have a chaplain, Tony Eubanks, and for the family that wants it, we attack it from a spiritual concept, which a lot of people feel is very important, so if they want that option, we sure have that available and that kind of help.
DAN SCOTT: I know you mentioned Tony, and I got a chance to meet him shortly after he arrived here last year, and he seems to be just a wonderful fit into this football program, seems like he has just seamlessly moved right in and been able to provide you with exactly what you've needed.
COACH BOWDEN: Well, I think God blesses everybody with certain talents and he has surely been blessed with the talent of presentation of Christianity. I know there are other denominations and religions that we have and honor on this team, but it happens to be the predominate one and God has blessed it with Tony and his special talents. I hate that there have been so many distractions and so many opportunities to make poor decisions but that has seemed to really help us and been a big factor I think in our kids staying out of trouble and making good decisions over the last couple of years.
DAN SCOTT: I know he spoke at Six Mile Baptist Church where we went last year, and it was not all that long after he'd come on board and it was easy to see how he, in talking to the youth how he could just captivate a young audience like that and if he can do that with the older guys then you've got a special find there.
This is a game on paper, again, if you pay attention to that stuff, you guys are heavily favored going in, I know we talked about it a little last week, that the trick for the good teams is being able to put the same kind of effort you put in against North Carolina again this week and then the next week and then the next week and the next week, and you guys are trying to reach that level right?
COACH BOWDEN: Yeah, and we've done it for 4 weeks, and like we said, we don't want a bad hair day, and we're working hard to prevent it. We talk about it all the time Dan, but eventually, the seniors and the upperclassmen are the leaders who have to accept ownership and then put the practical use of what we're saying as coaches and I think that's the key. We've had great leadership so far and hopefully that will continue up until Saturday at 7:00.