Tigers Looking for Two in Row Against the Seminoles

by - Correspondent -
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - If there's one constant in football, or any sport for that matter, it's the unknown.

Take Clemson's football team, for example.

The Tigers were embarrassed by Texas A&M last week, 27-6, which came seven days after one of the most unbelievable - and devastating - defeats in recent memory - blowing a 10-point lead to Georgia Tech in the final 3:18 and losing 28-24.

A year ago, under similar dire circumstances, Clemson rebounded with an inspired win over then No. 3 Florida State in Death Valley. The 26-10 victory sparked an impressive finish for Tommy Bowden's team, which culminated with a Peach Bowl victory over No. 6 Tennessee.

Now, three games into 2004, here are the Seminoles (1-1) again - this time in Tallahassee. And everyone has the same question for Bowden:

Can the team pull off another huge upset, this time in a stadium it hasn't won in since 1989?

Bowden wishes he was a fortune teller.

"I don't know how this year's team is going to respond yet," he said. "Last year's team lost some early and bounced back and had success. Right now I think most teams in college football are going to respond that way. Florida State lost their first game and responded well and came back and won.

"We're trying to come back after two tough losses, one where we lost in the last seconds and one where we weren't as competitive as we had hoped we would be. This team has been on each end of the spectrum so far, emotionally."

Even a good series of practices this week, full of life and emotion, do little to answer Bowden's questions.

In over 30 years of coaching, he said, he's seen it all. Some teams show great emotion and enthusiasm, seem locked in at the right times and then hit the field and get slaughtered. Others give the impression they've never even seen a football during the week, then go out and destroy an opponent.

"I've given up trying to figure them out," Bowden said.

Yet some things are as plain as the stripes on an official's jersey. For instance, Clemson's chances of knocking off Papa Bowden's team for a second straight season hinge mostly on one major item:

Stopping the run.

Of course, the problem lies in the fact that the Tigers (1-2) are giving up nearly 240 yards per game on the ground. Expecting to cut that total by more than two-thirds would seem to be unrealistic.

Perhaps, but not impossible. If you consider that the Seminoles will be the first team Clemson has faced this year without a running quarterback to disrupt things, that removes one major element which has befuddled the Tigers so far this season.

So with FSU's basic I-formation, off-tackle running scheme, the Clemson defensive front seven should only have to worry about beating blocks, not chasing fleet-footed quarterbacks on the rollout or the option.

"That should help, but the other thing we need to do is create turnovers," Bowden said. "We've gotten one turnover in three games, and if you can't stop the run you'd better cut off a drive or two by taking the ball away from them."

Other items Bowden spoke of are just as straightforward - perform better on the offensive line, cut out the dropped passes, take advantage of opportunities.

And most of all, don't let adversity get the best of you.

"We have to address some issues, because some of our responsibility is to prepare these guys for some of life's lessons," Bowden said. "Sports, and football in particular, can often teach you that. It teaches you to be unselfish, to overcome adversity, and to get back up when you get knocked down.

"I think we experienced that last year. It was a different team with different chemistry but we still have a lot of the same players."

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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