Tiger Defense Roars in Champs Sports Bowl Victory

by - Correspondent -

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Updated with quotes).

ORLANDO - For a long time Tuesday night it looked like the old days at Clemson.

On one hand was a Tigers' offense - conservative almost to a fault, content to grind it out on the ground, doing just enough to get by.

On the other hand was Clemson's defense, a unit which hadn't allowed a touchdown in nearly two months and spent much of the Champs Sports Bowl acting as if it didn't intend to give up another.

It all added up to a 19-10 victory for the No. 23 Tigers, a win which truly harkened back to the Danny Ford-coached teams of the 1980s. Only it wasn't Danny's name the Clemson fans were chanting in unison following the postgame awards ceremony on the field.

It was "TOMMY, TOMMY, TOMMY" they serenaded, as head coach Tommy Bowden held the Champs Sports Bowl trophy high for all to see.

"Our fans are the reason we're here," Bowden told the crowd over the stadium public address system.

Later, after the on-field celebration had died down, Bowden spoke in glowing terms of the team's laterst trip to Orlando.

"I've told (bowl director) Tom Mickle this and some of our media, but I want to publicly say it: Our team, our players, our staff and our administration have great respect for the Champs Sports Bowl," he said. "This bowl game, with the leadership it has, is going to have a long list of guys wanting to come here. I told my team six wins you go to a bowl, seven wins you get a choice. This is the one we wanted to choose (this year)."

Indeed, it was an all orange evening in Orlando. A crowd of 31,470 - predominately Clemson fans - watched the Tigers push their final 2005 season record to 8-4.

And though seniors like quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and cornerback Tye Hill, who have meant so much to the Clemson program, are departing, the future in Tiger country appears brighter than perhaps any other time in Bowden's tenure.

But there will be plenty of time for the future. Tuesday night was about enjoying the present, especially a defense that, as mentioned, conjured up memories of days gone by.

Through three full quarters and nearly six minutes of the fourth, Clemson held Colorado to a grand total of 36 yards of total offense. When third-string quarterback Brian White replaced starter James Cox (who was playing for injured Joel Klatt) and sparked the Buffs to a 69-yard scoring drive, it was the first touchdown Clemson had allowed since the 1:59 mark of the third quarter vs. Duke back on Nov. 5.

"We came into this game without allowing a touchdown on the other team's last 31 possessions," Bowden said. "What did they have tonight, one touchdown? This is the type of defense it takes to win championships. We have won a lot of games, but this is the type of effort that it takes to win championships."

White's two-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Quinn Sypniewski pulled Colorado to within 13-10 with 5:45 remaining in the game, and briefly lifted the spirits of a team desperately in need of some good news.

Instead, the score proved to be nothing more than false hopes.

Helped by a personal foul penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Clemson took over at its own 39 yard line and finally put together the scoring drive that would put the game out of reach. Freshman running back James Davis carried five times for 25 yards on the drive, while Whitehurst completed a key 23-yard pass to Aaron Kelly down to the Colorado 17.

Three plays later it was Davis sweeping left end from the six yard line and just getting to the pylon before being driven out of bounds with 1:38 remaining. His touchdown put Clemson up 19-10, and it stayed that way when Jad Dean's extra point attempt was blocked.

"It was something where you wanted to milk the clock as much as you can," Bowden said. "They were out of timeouts, but we still needed first downs to keep the ball out of their hands. It was a time where you worry about having your team buckle, but giving it to James made it easy."

Davis, voted the game's Most Valuable Player, finished with 150 yards on 28 carries for the Tigers.

"In our league (Big 12) we've had some pretty excellent running backs, but (Davis) did an excellent job tonight and he's got a great future," said interim Colorado head coach Mike Hankwitz. "A young guy like that...he made our guys miss tonight."

Whitehurst, in the final game of his Clemson career, wasn't particularly sharp, but showed no ill effects of his recent arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Whitehurst completed 19-of-27 passes for 196 yards and one interception, and scored the Tigers' first touchdown on a five-yard scramble early in the third quarter to put Clemson on top 13-3.

But again, the true story of the game was the Tigers' defense.

Colorado finished with just 124 yards of total offense, averaging just 2.3 yards per play. The Buffaloes were held to just 17 net yards rushing (on 29 carries) and converted a meager 3-of-14 third down conversions.

Cox, who played most of the game at quarterback for the Buffs, completed just 4-of-12 passes for 26 yards. He was also sacked three times for 28 yards in losses, two of which came courtesy of Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams.

"We knew they had a great defensive line," Cox said. "That's how they got pressure, and then they started bringing a little more pressure with their linebackers. It's nothing we weren't prepared for. There were little things in the first half, and I couldn't hit receivers. In the second half they were getting pressure and it was hard to drop back because of the pressure upfield. It just made it tough on us."

In fact, Colorado's best weapon for much of the evening proved to be punter John Torp, who averaged 49.7 yards per kick - including one cannon shot of 68 yards.

Clemson finished with 365 yards of total offense and outgained Colorado 207-34 in the first half, yet could only muster a pair of short Jad Dean field goals - a 26-yarder in the first quarter and an 18-yarder late in the second.

On the latter kick, Bowden chose the field goal rather than attempt a fourth down from the Colorado one yard line. Both drives were extended - one 10 plays for 77 yards and the other 12 for 64 - but came up short of the end zone.

An illegal receiver down field penalty negated what would have been a 47-yard touchdown pass from Whitehurst to Davis on yet another first half possession.

Colorado finished with a 7-6 record. New coach Dan Hawkins takes over the Colorado program after coaching his former team, Boise State, in the MPC Computers Bowl this week vs. Boston College.

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