CLEMSON - Years of coaching and a lifetime of football have given Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden insight into many things. Understanding the complex psyche of 18-22 year old players isn't one of them.
One week after getting pounded by North Carolina, 38-3, Bowden's Tigers (4-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) set out to reverse form today at Wake Forest. But even a good week of practice, which by all accounts Clemson had this week, doesn't guarantee a solid performance.
So while Bowden may have a feeling, or an educated guess as to his team's level of play today, there's no way to say for certain. After all, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said his defense had its best week of practice all season in the days prior to North Carolina.
"There's a lot of teams having the same type of discussions we were. High school, college and pro teams are having those discussions about reacting after a loss," Bowden said. "Just because you're mad and have pride doesn't mean you're going to win the next game unless you do something productive as far as practice and eliminating mistakes. They're having the same discussion in (Oregon) and (Fresno State). The teams that survive and go on are the teams that respond."
To respond today will require beating a Wake Forest team which is surprisingly optimistic in spite of its record (3-3, 1-3 ACC).
New coach Jim Grobe has attempted to make the Demon Deacons a more physical football team, especially defensively. Wake's first priority is to stop the run, forcing teams to try and move the ball through the air.
And though Grobe and his team have had plenty of time to digest North Carolina's scheme, which completely shut down Woody Dantzler and the Clemson offense, he doesn't plan to change his style of play.
"For us we are a little bit different than North Carolina," Grobe said. "Carolina defensively is one of the better teams in the country right now. We are going to take a little bit different approach...try to find ways to put a little more pressure (up front)."
If the approach works, Clemson again could be relying on Dantzler's passing skills. But he'll need help.
Last Saturday, Dantzler and backup Willie Simmons were victimized by at least 10 dropped passes.
"I think in the time I've been here we've never had that many," Bowden said. "We've also never had three freshmen on the field either. I look at it more as youth and inexperience. Derrick Hamilton hasn't dropped many balls as a freshman and he had a bad game. I think any time you have young guys rather than experienced guys you have to weather the storm.
"We're not going to bench a freshman for dropping a ball. Several performances like that in a row and then you have to do something to get their attention."