Tigers Promise to Provide Exciting Season

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Kelvin Grant jumps over the defensive back to make the game-tying conversion catch.
Kelvin Grant jumps over the defensive back to make the game-tying conversion catch.

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

CLEMSON -- Clemson's football players picked the longest game in school history to walk a fine line.

Emotions were charged and nerves were frayed. And that was just the fans.

Lose and you could already hear disgusted fans grousing on sports talk radio shows.

Win? A win was expected.

The Tigers had more talent, they were on their field in front of a large, loud home crowd and were playing their season opener.

Clemson blew a big lead but came back to beat Wake Forest 37-30 in double overtime on Saturday.

It was a game that would cause quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to say he would have been "devastated" had the Tigers lost. Of course, he added the asterisk had the Tigers actually lost, he would have never admitted those same thoughts publicly.

As ugly as it could have been after losing that game, the team showed its fans they should expect an exciting season.

Why be happy with a 37-30 double-overtime home-opener win over Wake Forest, a team projected by most to finish eighth or ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Why be happy with a win that cause Clemson to drop from No. 15 to No. 20 in the Associated Press poll?

Here are a few reasons.

Wake Forest is that mosquito that pays a visit in the night, the one you hear then try to spot when you turn the light on so you can splatter it. No matter what, as long as Jim Grobe coaches these Demon Deacons, Clemson should be resigned to tough games against a tough, annoying team that may not match up in talent but makes up for what it lacks with heart. Wake Forest's offense is difficult to deal with, but the the Tigers may not face another team all season that runs as many misdirection plays as the Demon Deacons.

"They've had our number," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.

No one around here needs reminding, but the same Wake Forest beat Clemson

45-17 last year.

The Tigers were handed some kind of character test on opening day and passed it in flying colors. They built a 19-3 lead on their home field on opening day only to blow it as Wake Forest scored 24 unanswered points to take a

27-19 lead.

Lesser teams have wilted, but the Tigers kept their composure. They played stellar defense down the stretch and kept Whitehurst protected in the fourth quarter so he could make all the throws. The receivers came through with key catches.

When a similar scenario occurs again -- and it will -- the Tigers will be prepared. They have this game to draw on.

Fans caught a few glimpses of his ability last year, but make no mistake, Chansi Stuckey showed Saturday he has all the makings of a primetime player.

Stuckey has made exactly one start in his career, but in the postgame press conference, already Bowden talked about him playing "on Sunday" in the future.

The play where Stuckey nearly blocked a punt in the end zone then raced back to the 40-yard line to throw the key block that sent Justin Miller on his way for a touchdown on a punt return was a jaw-dropper, something Bowden said he had never witnessed a Clemson.

Later on Stuckey did block a punt in the end zone for a safety. And, oh yeah, he caught eight passes for 112 yards. He went backwards and lost some yards on a few plays, but even on those, he was about one missed tackle away from breaking off something big.

"I did not expect," Stuckey said, "things like this to happen today."

His counterpart, wide receiver Airese Currie, caught nine passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. Already it seems as if every time Currie and Stuckey touch the ball, a big play could happen. With Charlie Whitehurst as their quarterback, the Tigers should have the best passing attack in the ACC.

The list of positives could go on.

Still, you wondered, didn't you?

No roller-coaster was present at Death Valley, but the Tigers took their fans on one wild ride.

After the way the Tigers closed out last season, destroying their last four opponents by a combined 156-48 score, you wondered how they would start out this season.

Would they pick up where they left off? Or would they play as they did in the first half of last season, which would cause you to say, "Uh-oh, here we go again."?

You wondered why exactly the Tigers turned a 19-3 lead into a 27-19 deficit on their home field while playing an inferior opponent.

"I wish we could go out there and go up and down the field for four quarters," Bowden said. "I don't think it will always happen."

You heard the positive reports out of practices, but those were practices, and you wondered if Currie and Stuckey would prove ready to fill voids at wide receiver left by third-round draft pick Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Youngblood.

Sure, there are concerns.

Yes, Clemson managed all of 83 rushing yards on 35 carries -- a paltry 2.4 yards per carry -- against Wake Forest's defense.

Asked afterward about where the running game goes from here, Bowden cracked, "The only way it goes is up."

Yes, the Tigers had a whale of a time trying to keep pressure off of Whitehurst and only seemed to solve that problem by keeping running back Yusef Kelly back as a blocker.

Yes, the defense allowed 410 total yards to a Wake Forest offense starting two freshmen and two sophomores on the offensive line. Eighty-five on them came on one comical play that saw Clemson cornerback Justin Miller and safety Travis Pugh get burned when a soft pass from the backup quarterback -- who was hit as he released the ball -- just floated over them and into the hands of wide receiver Jason Anderson, who raced down the field for a score.

Prediction: you won't see that play, which seemed like something right out of your playground days when plays were drawn in the dirt with a stick, happen again all season.

And just how many times did the Tigers try to get into the end zone on that possession inside the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter before they were successful? Six? The flip side, all of those problems are correctible. After all, you don't want your football team peaking in week one, do you?

As far as the running game, injured starting running back Duane Coleman wasn't on the field. He will return soon -- probably not for game two, as he hopes, but most likely for game three. Bowden isn't going to wait in Coleman's return to tweak things, as he said he would "probably give some of [Kelly's] carries to someone else," meaning reserve tailbacks Kyle Browning and Reggie Merriweather.

Clemson's defense allowed all those yards, but when the Tigers needed stops, the defense came through in the clutch and made those stops in the second half.

The offensive line, which has some different players from last year, figures to start pass protecting better with more experience and more time together on the field.

Be happy with the win.

It came against Wake Forest. Expect tough games against Wake Forest.

Currie and Stuckey showed promise and big-play potential.

Whitehurst is the best quarterback in the ACC.

The defense made stops when it had to.

The starting running back returns soon.

The Tigers are still in the running for the national championship.

Clemson's wild ride started Saturday in the first game.

Strap yourselves in and enjoy it.

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