A very familiar theme emerged once again in Atlanta last Saturday afternoon. Standing square on the precipice of taking an average season and making it good, the Clemson football team did its familiar back step to take away any gains earned the previous two weeks.
Heading into Saturday, there was plenty to still play for in this season. During the Georgia Tech game, Florida State was stumbling their way through an eventual win against Maryland. Even with FSU’s win over Maryland, a win Saturday by Clemson would have kept an outside shot of a share of the Atlantic Division title within grasp for the Tigers.
But you can’t, and won’t, challenge for titles by taking one step back for every two steps forward.
The loss itself was not shocking and certainly should not, by itself, be terribly disappointing. Georgia Tech is a decent team with decent players and good coaching. Losing to Tech is not as embarrassing as losing to Temple or Duke. What is disappointing from a Clemson perspective is the way the game was lost.
How you can only manage 9 points with a team that has a senior quarterback, a veteran offensive line, and a running back that chewed up over 100 yards is almost beyond belief.
For the first time all season, it was mistakes and turnovers that haunted the Tigers. Having played nearly turnover free with only a minimal amount of penalties through seven games, the wheels came off in both regards Saturday in Atlanta.
All of which is almost comical in its irony. There is a saying that you can’t seem to win for losing and Clemson certainly relates to that statement.
Clemson, for reasons beyond what I can understand, can’t move forward for stepping back. It is almost like trying to walk the opposite way on those moving sidewalks in airports. If you really push it, you can make progress and move forward towards the end. But if you slow down, even for a quick moment, your progress quickly erodes and you are left having to run to catch up.
Clemson continues to play catch up, and no amount of new facilities or improved statistics on offense and defense is going to erode that feeling in 2005. There is still plenty that can be accomplished this year, and there is no doubt in my mind that it can happen. A bowl game is important. It would be nice to knock off Florida State again. And, of course, beating South Carolina is an absolute must.
But even winning out will not erase the nasty taste of a year where things were so close to being really good. Is the program moving in the right direction? All systems point to positive movement forward. All systems, that is, except the win/loss column.
In regards to wins and losses, we are simply steady at stationary.
The ever-optimist in me cannot fathom how close this team has been to winning all four games that we have lost. The COMBINED total of points from the losses has been 14. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall any season on record where Clemson has lost four games by so few points.
Charlie Whitehurst is our quarterback and he has earned the right to be our quarterback by weathering many storms and producing massive statistics and big wins. But if you are hurt and you can’t practice, you probably should not play. And you certainly should not play an entire game if you are struggling with your injury. There is no quarterback battle or controversy based on a healthy Whitehurst. But a banged up Whitehurst that has to miss practices during the week is another situation altogether.
It is almost bizarre that Clemson has improved offensively and defensively in almost every statistical category from 2004 to 2005 without a noticeable change in wins and losses.
Regardless of record, Clemson fans travel to road games better than any ACC team with the exception of Virginia Tech. Bobby Dodd Stadium was full of Clemson orange on Saturday in yet another display of tremendous loyalty to our football team when they travel on the road.
While Clemson is in a similar situation as they were in 2003 and 2004 record-wise, this year has a completely different feel of frustration. Maybe it is because of the close losses, which is a stark contrast to 2002, 2003, and 2004 when Clemson was blown out on several occasions. Or maybe there is a sense of frustration because people know this team is pretty good and, for a variety of reasons, cannot translate that to wins on the field.
Talk about rubbing salt into wounds. Sulking in the aftermath of the loss in Atlanta, having to drive home and listen to Todd Ellis call the Gamecocks first ever victory in Knoxville was almost too much to take. I can understand Ellis’ excitement in calling that win, but it was painful to hear regardless.
I think there is a divide among Clemson fans, but not what some Clemson fans think the divide is. There is a sense of urgency with every single Clemson fan that I know. We all want to win, and we all want to win yesterday. The divide resides in what people think you should do when that success does not happen as soon as you want it to. But make no mistake, we all (Coach Bowden and Terry Don Phillips included) want to win and will not accept losing or mediocrity.
It feels really weird reading, “Clemson will try to avenge the loss to Duke from 2004”. That statement just has a wacko feel to it.
Coach Bowden needs to win more football games, make no mistake in that. And Bowden would be the first to tell you such if you could get him in an honest moment away from the shifty media geeks.
Let us not forget that this is Homecoming week and a Clemson Homecoming is truly unique. Make sure to take part in Tigerrama and all the floats on Bowman Field Friday night and Saturday. That means an early start to your Saturday since kickoff is at the traditional 1:00 p.m.