One Final Look: 2004 Peach Bowl


by - Correspondent -
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Derrick Hamilton  had an electrifying 58-yard return in his last game as a Tiger.
Derrick Hamilton had an electrifying 58-yard return in his last game as a Tiger.

If there is any truth to the old Southern tradition of eating Hoppin’ Johns on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck, Clemson fans who made it to the Peach Bowl must have doubled up on their servings.


The good fortunes experienced by the Tigers during the last month of the season continued to build as they rolled over Tennessee. Not only did Clemson never trail, the outcome was never really in question.

The closest Tennessee came to victory was a computerized contest displayed on the jumbotrons throughout the night. The computer-generated version of the on-the-field match-up was sponsored by a gaming company and won by the Volunteers. Thankfully for Clemson fans, it was a make-believe victory.


In many ways it seemed as if the two teams switched personas for a day.

Tennessee has a reputation for being a run-oriented team full of seasoned veterans that do not make many mistakes. Yet, they struggled to run the ball all night as they relied on the pass to generate nearly all of their offense. They also committed 10 costly penalties that played a huge role in the final outcome. Many of those penalties were the result of foolish mistakes generally made by young, undisciplined players.


Contrarily, the Tigers are noted for their passing game and have been plagued by costly penalties throughout the season. Instead, they made up for a somewhat lackluster passing attack by rushing for 153 yards, which was over 4 times as many as their foe. And even though they had one penalty that negated a touchdown, their six penalties did not have much of an effect on the game.

OFFENSE

Clemson’s offense was very hit or miss. They missed when four of their drives resulted in negative yardage and two others ended in unsuccessful field goal attempts.

When they were hitting on all cylinders, they were practically unstoppable. Each of their 3 touchdown drives covered 80 yards. Their final drive, which resulted in a field goal, covered 70 yards. More importantly, that drive ran 7:04 off the clock as they dashed any hopes Volunteer fans may have had for a comeback.

Charlie Whitehurst admittedly did not have a great game. He missed a few receivers throughout the night and threw some questionable balls. To his credit, he fought through it like a savvy veteran and kept his team on track. Possibly the best sign of the improvement made by the offense throughout the season is the Tigers won a big game without Whitehurst having a big game.


The receivers did a good job of competing with an experienced Tennessee secondary. Kevin Youngblood averaged over 20 yards per catch while Derrick Hamilton and Airese Currie both hauled in 5 balls. Hamilton did have two drops, one of which could have easily led to a touchdown just before the half. Curtis Baham had a very big 16-yard reception on the Tigers final drive that essentially put the team in scoring position and allowed them to run more time off the clock.

The line may have turned in their best performance of the season. The running backs were given huge holes and Charlie Whitehurst was sacked just once as at least eight linemen participated. Tennessee did apply more pressure during the second half and repeatedly hit Whitehurst. However, he was given ample time to make the necessary throws.


The star of the night was senior Chad Jasmin. In a nearly fairy tale performance, he had a career-high 130 yards and averaged nearly 9 yards per carry. And even though his ability to gash the defense was disheartening for the Volunteer defenders, it was the manner in which he ran the ball that seemed to dampen their spirits.


When he was not running through tackles he was putting his shoulder down and running over tacklers. It was as if the person responsible for the previously mentioned video game also had a joystick that controlled the Louisiana native.


DEFENSE



Leroy Hill was all over the field for the Tigers.

The key heading into the game was to make the boys in fake orange one-dimensional by taking away their running attack. Thirty-eight yards on 26 carries is as one-dimensional as it gets.

Statistically, Casey Clausen had a good night. He passed for 384 yards as he went 31-of-56 with no interceptions and 2 touchdowns. Those numbers were overshadowed by Clemson’s constant pressure. He was sacked seven times and hit or hurried on at least a dozen other occasions.


John Lovett had a great game plan that included bringing pressure from many different directions and players. Justin Miller even got in on the action as he tallied his first career sack on a corner blitz. Miller also added seven tackles and three passes broken up.


Leroy Hill earned defensive MVP honors after delivering another dominating performance. The speedy junior was all over the field on his way to 12 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss.


The biggest drive of the game came in the third quarter with Clemson holding a 10-point lead. Tennessee started at their own 20 and marched all the way the to Clemson’s 3 during a 17-play drive. On a third-and-two play, Clemson held. Tennessee’s inability to punch it in caused them to commit an unsportsmanlike penalty that pushed the ball back to the 18. The end result was a missed field goal and, in hindsight, the end of the game.

The Tigers played 19 players on defense. Consider the four secondary players, Leroy Hill, and John Leake were on the field for nearly every snap; it is easy to see that Clemson kept fresh legs on the line all night. That depth was one of the biggest reasons Clemson was able to keep their opponent out of the end zone.

SPECIAL TEAMS


One of the best punters in the nation was on the field for the Peach Bowl. That was Tennessee’s Dustin Colquitt. However, Cole Chason was the best punter on the field, at least for a night.


He averaged 42 yards on his five punts. Two were downed inside the 20 (13 and 16) and another 49-yarder resulted in a touchback. His other kicks of 44 and 45 yards helped Clemson in a battle for field position. It was easily his best game of the season.

Derrick Hamilton also contributed to the battle for field position early in the game with an electrifying 58-yard return that led to the Tigers’ first field goal.

Senior Aaron Hunt only made two of his four attempts but his six points played a big role in the victory. Tennessee’s James Wilhoit missed on his only attempt. His miss was just as big as a Clemson score because it really took the wind out of their sails.

SUMMARY



The Clemson Tigers -- 2004 Peach Bowl Champs!


Clemson used the same game plan they employed against Florida State and it worked to perfection. Both opponents were held to their lowest rushing output of the season as the Tigers ran for 153 yards in each contest. Both teams were ranked in the top 6 when they lost to Clemson, which is the first time in school history the Tigers have pulled off such a feat. It was only the second time in history Clemson has defeated two top 10 opponents in a season.

Fans will argue for years over which victory was the biggest. Honestly, it is hard to argue against either. The fact is that both games played a huge role in the biggest turnaround in recent memory and they paved the way for Clemson’s final ranking in both polls.

The bowl victory and the manner in which it was achieved allowed the Tigers to end the season as one of the hottest teams in the country. More importantly, it has given everyone associated with the program high hopes for what is to come in the future. The momentum generated by the win will help everything from recruiting to season ticket sales.

The 2003 season was a proverbial roller coaster ride that the likes of Walt Disney could envy. Fortunately, those that stuck by the Tigers got more than their moneys worth. Because of the circumstances surrounding the season, this may be the second biggest bowl victory in school history.


Not since 1982 have Clemson fans received a better belated Christmas present. Quite simply, it was a great ending to a great season.

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