Saturday’s loss was so quick, so unimaginable, and so heartbreaking that it seemed surreal. Many fans left the stadium completely emotionless because they didn’t have time to react. Others simply didn’t know how to react.
Naturally, the loss brings about a lot of finger pointing. Finding a scapegoat is the only way many people can cope. A few points need to be addressed.
Geoff Rigsby does not deserve to be blamed for the loss. He has done a wonderful job of long snapping for three years. It is extremely rare to have someone man that position for four years without having a blunder in a crucial situation.
Rigsby is not the only one wearing a bull’s eye after the bad snap. Many have questioned why Cole Chason didn’t kick the ball out of the end zone for a safety. It’s a valid point, but he made the right decision.
After doing some research Sunday night, I realized the college rule is different from that of the professional game. Had Chason booted it out of the back of the end zone, Tech would have had the option of taking the safety OR the ball five yards from the spot of the infraction.
Even if that were not the case, securing the ball was the best thing he could have done. It’s tough to kick a ball when it’s bouncing like that one was. Had he tried and missed Tech would have almost certainly scooped it up for a TD. Falling on it at least gave the defense a fighting chance to decide the game.
Rigsby and Chason are not stars. They’re grunts who go relatively unnoticed until they make a mistake. In the grand scheme of things they probably had less to do with the outcome of the game than some of the stars we’re often afraid to blame.
Charlie Whitehurst is the most highly regarded Clemson player. He’s a superstar that did not have his best game. Some of his decisions were poor at best and he wasn’t as sharp as he has been in the past.
There were at least a couple of throws he didn’t make that could have changed the outcome of a drive. His third quarter interception came after the Tigers had gained a ton of momentum by stopping GT at the goal line on fourth down, thus taking some of the wind out of the orange sails.
His slide on first down was something he hasn’t done since the FSU game last year. There have been numerous times during that span that he’s lowered his shoulder and fought for the extra yards. Why, when there was so much on the line, didn’t he do it then?
He had to do the safe thing. The last thing you want in that situation is to take a gamble that could cost you the lead.
Many folks will give Charlie a reprieve because of his status. Yet, he and many others had numerous chances to change the course of the game. Had they done their part, Rigsby would have never been a position to lose it.
Consider some of the other miscues: Miller dropped two would-be interceptions and muffed two punts; Airese Currie dropped a very catchable ball on third down that would have kept a drive going that resulted in a FG; the offensive line couldn’t create enough room for Charlie to get a first down on second and a foot; a celebration penalty ruined an otherwise awesome day for the kickoff team.
Those are just some specifics. They don’t cover general observations like the defense still missed too many tackles and the offensive line is continuing to struggle with maintaining blocks and getting to the second level.
The point is that no one person deserves to be blamed. Clemson had to have a number of things go wrong in order to lose that game. Not only did nearly each of those things happen, the Yellow Jackets had nearly everything go their way in the last few minutes.
As for the coaching, it’s my opinion the staff did a good job with the game plan. They could have done some things differently, but that’s always the case when you’re looking back on things.
The most common remark I’ve heard concerning the coaching is why Clemson didn’t double cover Calvin Johnson on the final play. After all, it sounds like the right thing to have done considering he’d already caught two touchdowns.
The problem with that is GT was operating on a short field. A fade route near the goal line works because safeties don’t have time to rotate and provide help. That’s the biggest reason why you see fades thrown almost exclusively in goal line situations.
In order to double cover Johnson Clemson would have literally had to walk another defender out there. Because the Jackets routinely use their backs as receivers and Ball is always a threat to run, taking away a defender could’ve opened up other possibilities.
Justin Miller, perhaps one of the best corners in the ACC and Clemson’s marquee defensive back, provided the coverage on that play. Had you asked any fan in orange before the game if they’d take the match up of Miller on a true freshman WR to decide the game, nearly every one of them would’ve said yes.
Take away the three spectacular touchdowns to Johnson and Clemson had a really good game defensively. Even on the scoring passes the Tiger defensive backs were in good position and had a chance to make a play. Lovette and his staff did a good job.
Offensively, Clemson struggled at times because Whitehurst wasn’t zeroed in and the line was still trying to find its way. Again, some calls can be questioned but the overall plan was good.
The Tigers had their two longest scoring runs in five years on their way to nearly 500 yards of total offense. The two calls for Charlie to keep it after the faking the inside zone late in the game were great adjustments by O’Cain.
One potential scoring drive ended when Curtis Baham couldn’t pull in a tough ball in the back of the end zone. Stephen Furr subsequently missed a field goal. As mentioned earlier, another potential touchdown drive stalled when Currie missed an easy ball on third down. Six-pointers in those situations would have put the game out of reach.
The painful truth is the Clemson staff put the team in a position to win the game. It’s not like they needed to make eight or ten more plays to win it. All they had to have was one out of eight or ten different plays. When it was all said and done the Tech players made the plays. They came through when it counted the most.
The football gods seemingly conspired against Clemson on Saturday night. It was an extremely devastating defeat. There were many lessons to be learned and mistakes were uncovered that can be fixed.
Hidden by a cloud of despair was a pretty solid performance by a team that looked confident. It took only twenty or so seconds to ruing what had been a fun day for most. But despite the outcome, there was much more good than bad. The ball just didn’t bounce their way.
It’s time to put that game in the books and move on. No one benefits from reliving what took place Saturday night. The coaches and players surely don’t improve because they are being bashed on talk shows, in the papers, or in friendly discussions between fans. Sometimes things are meant to be. Considering the amazing turn of events that took place Saturday night, the Tech game just wasn’t meant to be.
That’s part of the game of football. More importantly, it’s part of life. No one knows that better than Tommy Bowden. He’s seen both the good and bad sides of fate in the last year. He’s handled all of those situations with class and dignity. There’s no reason to think that will change now.
This team will learn from this. They will become a better team because of this. The leadership, both at the coaching level and playing level, will see to it. In the long run, this game may be the best thing that could have happened.