CLEMSON - After making it through fall camp and four full games, the injury gods finally caught up with Clemson.
Defensive end Khaleed Vaughn (knee), whip linebacker Eric Sampson (ankle) and wide receiver Airese Currie (ankle) all were injured in last week's 21-7 loss at Maryland. None are expected to play today when Virginia (4-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) visits Clemson in Death Valley (Noon, Jefferson Pilot).
Throw in the fact that quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's status will be a game-time decision, and today's Homecoming festivities may be less festive than usual.
Still, head coach Tommy Bowden tried to remain optimistic Friday afternoon.
"The open date came the wrong week. We really needed it this week but that’s how the cards were dealt so you go with it," he said. "But I’m really excited about Tramaine Billie (whip), seeing him play; Gaines Adams (defensive end), seeing him play. We will see more of (wide receiver) Curtis Baham. Of course Tony Elliott is initially going to kind of take Airese’s, but we've seen so much of him I hate to mention him as not being a regular."
Those replacements no doubt will be marked men, and each loss effects Clemson in a different way.
Currie, for instance, has the speed to run past most any coverage, even the shoft-shell, two deep look Virginia uses to thwart the long ball. Neither Elliott or Baham has that kind of speed, but Bowden said "We're going to have to challenge them deep anyway."
Moving the ball vs. the Cavaliers hasn't been a problem for the Tigers.
A year ago Clemson (3-2, 1-1) gained over 400 yards of total offense against Virginia but scored just 17 point - seven coming in a last-minute drive. The Cavs' bend-but-don't-break mentality has served them well since Groh took over two years ago.
One reason, perhaps, is because of a defensive alignment which is something of a throwback.
"It’s the darndest thing when you look at it on tape. It reminds you a lot of a defense from twenty tears ago as far as their technique," Bowden said. "You just don’t see anybody doing that anymore. If you take your Oklahoma's, your Miami's, and Nebraska the defensive linemen are in the gaps and on the edges. Their tails are high in the air. They are in three point stances with one foot dropped back in a sprinter stance. Their heads are low and their tails are high, and they are coming up the field knocking off pulling guards and tackles, penetrating and trying to create havoc.
"(Virginia's guys) are sitting there in parallel feet, kind of straight head up stance where they engage an offensive lineman then kind of locate the ball with their head and play east – west a little bit. There are fronts were they give you good pass rush and there are fronts where they play heavy, heavy run with their technique. As our fans look at their technique they will see something a little different than about all college football teams play.
"It's tough to expect your scout team to duplicate that in just 2-3 days of practice."
But for all the injury problems and strange techniques, the thing that appears to worry Bowden most for this game is seeing Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub performing at a high level.
Injured in the opener and out for the next two weeks, Schaub has returned with a vengeance. Coupled with talented young running back Wally Lundi, Schaub has a tendency to leave opposing defenses scratching their heads.
"Matt (Shaub) was ACC player of the year. He is a seasoned veteran," said Bowden. "He is a big physical guy. You got to hit him flush up. You can’t be hitting him on the edges. I’m sure from a leadership point he brings a lot to the table. Other than being a very talented player, a big physical player, the leadership qualities he brings to the table make him a complete package."