Tigers Hope Road Back Begins vs. Furman

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - Were this most any other week, today's Furman-Clemson matchup at Death Valley would be little more than a sidebar story to several other significant early-season games around the country.

But in the Upstate today the game suddenly has meaning, moreso than anyone - including Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden - ever imagined.

Such is life after a 30-0 defeat suffered by Bowden's Tigers in last week's season-opener vs. Georgia, a margin of victory which shocked even most Bulldog fans.

So upset by the defeat was Bowden that the usually unflappable coach admitted to a sleepless night following the game - but only after being publicly questioned on local sports talk radio and Internet discussion boards about whether or not losses really affected him.

"That’s probably the first time I have not slept at all," he said. "But you know just based on experience with perception you have to be yourself. About the time you come out and looked despaired then (people say) he’s given up. He is cracking. He is melting under pressure. So I have found it’s best to just be yourself.

"I’ve been coaching for 27 years and feel comfortable about preparation and what needs to be done. Whatever the perceptions are, they are going to be. You just got to go to work and do your job best you know how.”

Work this week meant getting his team mentally focused again on the Division I-AA Paladins (1-0), who come into Death Valley with the unenviable record of not having scored a touchdown against Clemson since 1961.

Still, the Georgia loss has so shaken the Clemson faithful that between calls for Bowden's head this week, some expressed concern that not only could Furman score in today's game, it might even have a chance to win. Bowden, meanwhile, has been concentrating on an old football cliche:

Don't let a loss beat you twice.

Finally, around Wednesday, Bowden said he saw a bit of the pep return to his players' step.

"I think that's a natural reaction for somebody that age. It's a big game and a lot of disappointment," he said when asked if worried the loss would stay with his team. "But I think our kids will respond well. We talk a lot about that; don't let a loss beat you twice.
It's the first game of the year and there's 11 left.

"At that age it weighs on them. You can't let it linger too long, or it will affect your performance the next game."

Meanwhile, Furman head coach Bobby Lamb has had no problem getting his team ready to play their Upstate neighbors. In fact Furman has made a habit of playing Division I-AA opponents tough of late and - in one recent instance - defeated North Carolina three years ago.

But Lamb also knows his team faces a severe uphill climb.

"We'll have the same problems every I-AA team faces in a game like this," he said. "They'll have better athletes at every position than we will. They'll have better depth at every position. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around you'll begin to see the difference in scholarship levels (I-AA teams are allowed just 63 scholarships, compared to 85 for I-A teams)."

Kickoff today is 5 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

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