CLEMSON - Maybe it's the jinx of Disney, Inc.
For the third consecutive nationally-televised night game on ESPN, Clemson's
special teams suffered a serious breakdown - one that put the Tigers in a
hole from which they never recovered.
In the first quarter N.C. State's Manny Lawson blew untouched through the
middle of Clemson's protection scheme and blocked Tiger punter Wynn Kopp's
kick. The ball was scooped up on a bounce by Terrence Holt and returned 39
yards for the game's first touchdown with 4:51 left in the period.
The block was Lawson's second of the season and the team's seventh, but very
easily could have been the eighth. The Wolfpack just missed blocking Kopp's
first punt on the previous possession.
The problems weren't limited to just the punting game, either. On the game's
opening kickoff Lamont Reid returned 56 yards to the Clemson 42. State failed
to score on the possession.
And in one final embarrassment, State's Jerricho Cotchery returned an onside kick attempt 42-yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Cotchery's fielded Kopp's kick on the first hop and sprinted untouched to the end zone.
ON A ROLL
As his team's struggles continue, Clemson senior cornerback Brian Mance
appears to be getting better and better.
Mance pulled down his team-leading fifth interception in the second quarter
Thursday night, coming away with a Philip Rivers pass in the end zone to turn
away a Wolfpack scoring opportunity. The interception was the 11th of Mance's
career, which tied him for sixth on Clemson's career list.
It was also his third straight game with an interception.
After Clemson's 22-17 loss to Virginia two weeks ago, in which quarterback
Willie Simmons committed a key fumble late in the fourth quarter, head coach
Tommy Bowden decided he'd had enough.
Simmons, who also fumbled the ball away twice in the previous game at Florida
State, was told that one more drop would result in his being benched.
True to his word, Bowden yanked his junior quarterback in the second quarter
Thursday after Simmons fumbled a shotgun snap that State recovered at the
Clemson 15. The Wolfpack scored moments later to take a 22-0 lead, and when
the Tigers came out for their next offensive possession, redshirt freshman
Charlie Whitehurst was in the lineup.
Whitehurst played the rest of the half with little to show for his efforts,
other than an interception during his second possession.
Simmons returned to the lineup at the beginning of the second half.
- Clemson broke out it's all-orange uniforms for the first time this season;
- Scouts from the Gator, Peach and Tangerine Bowls were in attendance to
watch both teams;
- Prior to a missed field goal attempt on the game's opening drive, N.C.
State had scored on its opening possession in six of its last seven games.
The 32-yard field goal attempt by Adam Kiker, which bounced off the left
upright, was his first attempt this season;
- Clemson wide receiver Kevin Youngblood suffered a sprained shoulder in the
third quarter and did not return.