Spot the Ball

by - Senior Writer -
Clemson will be looking to their freshman quarterback Kyle Parker to make plays against a suspect FSU defense.

November 17, 2007. That was the date of the last Clemson football game that brought with it the excitement and fervor that we are beginning to see with this Saturday’s contest against Florida St.

That was the night that No. 18 Boston College invaded Death Valley to take on the 15th-ranked Tigers. Both teams were 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the conference, and it was a winner-take-all affair: the winner advanced to the ACC Championship game two weeks later.

I can remember watching the message boards and reading emails in the six days preceding the game. This was the game that would put the program back on the map. This was the game that would put Tommy Bowden over the hump. Clemson football, at least from a national perspective, would matter again.

There was talk everywhere. On message boards. In chat rooms. On emails.

By Monday of that week, you could see “Spot the Ball” everywhere. When we walked into Lot 5 to meet with friends, and the excitement in the air was almost palpable. It was like there was an electric undercurrent in everything that was happening.

The game was slated for a 7:45 start, it was on ESPN, and everyone knew that Death Valley was going to be rocking.

And it was. Who can forget the noise, with scoreboard over The Hill lighting up, urging the fans to get louder and louder, until a record of 132.8 decibels was set? I can remember standing on the field just before kickoff, seeing all of the orange, and thinking there was no way Clemson could lose. That Clemson was indeed back, and the ACC Championship game waited.

Fast forward to late in the game. Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper had just given Clemson a 17-13 lead with his dive into the end zone, and Clemson fans knew that if the Clemson defense could hold Matt Ryan just one more time, the Promised Land awaited. Instead, Ryan did what he had done all night – dumped passes off in the flat to his backs and tight ends, and started that inexorable march to the end zone.

I had moved to the sidelines for the last six minutes of the game, and I saw Rich Gunnell sneak out into the open and prayed that Ryan wouldn’t see him. But he did, and it seemed to take forever for the ball to come down, Gunnell to make the catch, and stride in for the touchdown.

The Clemson fans rallied yet again, but when Aaron Kelly couldn’t hold on to the Harper throw, the ending seemed to be already written, even though there was still time on the clock.

I moved down into the end zone towards where the Tigers were driving, and was once again amazed as the Clemson fans did their part. Then the late field goal, and the try was no good, and all the air and electricity was sucked right out of the stadium.

And with it, a lot of the air went out of the Clemson football program. Yes, they were ranked early last season and there were high expectations, but Clemson fans have gotten really good at waiting for the other shoe to drop – and it did, convincingly against Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
Now the Clemson program has a chance to make a nation sit up and take notice, despite the fact that neither team is ranked, and Saturday’s atmosphere should be, and needs to be, off the charts.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who has asked that Saturday be an All-Orange day, said he sees the similarities in the two games, but obviously hopes for a different outcome this time around.

“This is obviously the biggest game of the year,” Swinney said. “It is a conference game, a division game, a big game for both teams. Like Boston College, it’s two teams from within the same division, a big night game, and there is a lot on the line. Everyone remembers Matt Ryan and his great play, but we had opportunities to win didn’t win.

“This is a night game against a division opponent, and they [FSU] have a great quarterback in Ponder. This will be big for both teams. Now we just have to win the biggest game of the season.”

Swinney said that despite the record of the Noles, they are still a dangerous opponent.

“Offensively, this team is extremely dangerous,” Swinney said. “The whole team as of late has really gotten together and has played some good football. They'll gain a lot of confidence from that. They're the No. 1 offense in the league. The team that executes the best will win. Obviously it's a big game for everybody. I tell our guys to not get caught up in the hype of the ballgame. We have a job to do. This is just the next game for us. Everybody understands the importance of it. It's more about what it takes to win the ballgame, as opposed to the hype of a game.

“We're a 5-3 football team that needs to get better. And this is an opportunity for us to keep getting better. But I do think it's an opportunity for us to have some fun. I hope it's a sellout. I'll be very disappointed if there's an empty seat in Death Valley at 7:45 p.m. Even if there are 10 tickets left, that's a shame. There ought to be a rear in every seat in Death Valley when we kick it off, and a bunch of people standing outside the gate looking in."

Dabo is correct. For a game of this magnitude, Death Valley should be full and it should be loud and it should be rocking. Statement game. To show the national media, the rest of college football, and potential recruits, what Clemson is all about.

Spot the ball.

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