Tigers Rout La. Tech to Snap Bowl Skid


by - Correspondent -
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BOISE, Idaho - The sight of college football players celebrating a bowl victory with a snowball fight isn't the usual sort of thing you see on New Year's Eve. How fitting, then, that one of the longest and most unusual football seasons in Clemson history - on and off the field - ended just that way: Clemson's players, having routed Louisiana Tech (7-5) 49-24 in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, pelting first one another, then the school's band, with snowballs as they reveled in the team's first bowl win since 1993 - a span of eight years and five consecutive postseason losses. "This staff and this team in the last two years had played in two (bowl) games and lost," Clemson (7-5) head coach Tommy Bowden said. "There's a difference between playing in a bowl game and winning a bowl game. I think they finally decided to play in one and win it." They won it by changing defensive schemes in an attempt to slow the passing of Tech quarterback Luke McCown. They won it by opening up the offense with gadget plays and reverses. And they won it by sticking to a familiar formula: Get the ball to senior quarterback Woody Dantzler and let him work his magic. Dantzler threw for 218 yards (15-of-23) and four touchdowns, and added an additional 57 yards rushing on the wet, sometimes snow-covered blue turf at Broncos Stadium. Most importantly, he got the ball in the hands of his playmakers, most of whom happen to be freshmen: In what could be a preview of things to come, all four highly-touted freshmen receivers scored touchdowns in a variety of ways: - It began with Roscoe Crosby taking a wide receiver screen 53 yards for a score, sprung by a huge block from offensive tackle Derrick Brantley. Crosby streaked down the sideline untouched to give Clemson a 14-10 lead midway through the second quarter; - Tight end Ben Hall perfectly executed a dive, drop and peel play from the five yard line. As Dantzler took the snap and rolled right, Hall intentionally dove at the feet of a La. Tech defensive lineman and fell to the turf. As the flow of the play went past him, Hall calmly got up and floated out to his left, where Dantzler found him alone in the end zone for a 21-10 lead. - In a replica of the trick play Terrance Huey scored on earlier this season against Virginia, Dantzler took the shotgun snap out of the "victory" formation, calmly handed the ball to wide receiver Airese Currie - who was lined up behind offensive tackle - between Currie's legs from behind, then carried out a ball fake to the right. Currie, initially hemmed in by the Tech defense, changed directions and darted his way through traffic for a 19-yard scoring run for a 42-10 lead. - Finally, Derrick Hamilton took a short pass from backup quarterback Willie Simmons and made a brilliant open-field run, twice changing directions before finally scoring from 57 yards away. It was Clemson's final touchdown of the game. "We thought we were going to have to score a whole bunch," Bowden said. "They're really explosive on offense. We didn't hold anything back. And when you have a bowl game on an open date, you usually have more time for preparation when you can work on trick plays today." Clemson put the game away by scoring on its first four possessions in the second half, two of them coming courtesy of Luke McCown interceptions. The onslaught turned a 14-10 lead at the break into a 42-10 laugher heading into the fourth quarter, much to the dismay of Bulldogs' coach Jack Bicknell. "When you play against great football teams like this and great players, you kind of get a landslide like that," he said. "It's a little bit hard to stem the tide sometimes. I really can't explain it. We didn't tackle well. That was the big thing." One of the more difficult players for Tech to tackle proved to be junior tailback Bernard Rambert. Starting in place of the dismissed Travis Zachery, Rambert ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and caught three passes for 77 more yards, including a 62-yard scoring pass from Dantzler in which he pulled a Houdini on the sideline to escape the grasp of Tech defensive back Jason Olford and sprinted the final 50 yards for the score. "I could have kicked myself for not playing him more earlier in the year," Bowden said. "Nothing against Travis. I had two good backs and I probably kept Travis in too much. He'd probably have been more productive later in the game had we played Bernard more earlier. "But Bernard's been patient, and I've done a poor job of getting him playing time earlier. I think he would have done that in the first game as well as the last game." Meanwhile, Clemson's defense also performed well despite what the final statistics may show. Playing a 3-4 scheme which put them in a constant nickel package, the Tigers used a variety of coverages and blitzes to harass McCown. Though he finished with 328 yards passing, McCown had just 188 after three quarters and his team trailing 42-10. He was sacked six times and intercepted three others - one each by Brian Mance, Eric Meekins and Charles Hafley. McCown and backup Maxie Causey combined to throw for 213 yards against Clemson's backups in the fourth quarter. "La. Tech's a very good offensive football team, but they've struggled on defense just like us," Bowden said. "But our defense got turnovers today. I thought that was a key. Then we scored on the first four possessions of the second half and I think that discouraged them." For Clemson's seniors, Monday's victory was the culmination of four, sometimes five, long years of hard work and preparation. For the underclassmen, it was the beginning of what they hope will be Clemson's rise back to power in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But for one day, it was about Boise, Idaho, and having fun in a bowl that usually is much maligned this time of year. None of that mattered to senior center Kyle Young, who surveyed the scene around him and likely summed up the feelings of Clemson's entire entourage. Said Young: "I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be right now.

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