Virginia Tech Will Be a Measuring Stick for Tigers

by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - The last time Clemson and Virginia Tech met on the football field, both programs were in sort of an infancy stage.

The Tigers were just in Game Three of the Tommy Bowden era in 1999, still trying to grasp a different coaching philosophy, as well as an entirely new offensive scheme. Meanwhile, the Hokies and their exciting redshirt freshman quarterback, Michael Vick, were in the beginning stages of what would become a season-long run to the National Championship game.

By the time Jan. 1, 2001 rolls around approximately 16 months will have passed since Tech's 31-11 victory, a game the Tigers trailed just 17-11 with 4:00 remaining before the Hokies scored two late defensive touchdowns. Clemson, 6-6 a year ago, is now 9-2 through Bowden's second regular season. Virginia Tech is 10-1, stinging from its exclusion from the Bowl Championship Series payday at the expense of Notre Dame.

The Hokies still are at the top of their game. Clemson is a program on the rise.

So will their meeting in the upcoming Gator Bowl serve as a measuring stick for just how far the Tigers have come?

You bet, said Clemson offensive lineman Will Merritt.

"I think that's a great example, that's a good question," Merritt said Monday at Clemson's Gator Bowl press conference. "It's going to show how much we've matured in one year, from playing them early last year to playing them kind of late in the season this year. I think it shows exactly how far this program's come.

"I think it will be a good test...It will be a game to determine how much we've improved in this system."

The Tigers have made significant strides in Bowden's second year. Clemson peaked at No. 4 in one of the national polls before losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State brought them back to earth. Quarterback Woody Dantzler was a midseason Heisman Trophy hopeful, before injuries took him out of the running and slowed Clemson's offensive production.

And now, ranked at No. 13 in the Associated Press Bowl, Clemson is virtually assured of finishing in the Top 25 for the first time in seven years, one of Bowden's preseason goals.

Tommy Bowden Gator Bowl Press Conference Robert Carswell on a rematch with Virginia Tech Woody Dantzler on his matchup with Michael Vick Robert Gardner on going home to play in a bowl Terry Jolly on preparing for Hokies

All in all, not a bad second act for Bowden and Co. Still, the Gator Bowl will say a lot about exactly how far the program has come, even if Bowden doesn't put much stock in the importance of a win or loss in this particular bowl game, despite the fact the Tigers have lost four consecutive bowl games dating back to 1994.

"Guys, if they play four years, want to get four bowl rings or watches, or whatever," Bowden said. "You get them if you go, you don't get them if you win...Finishing in the Top 25 is a more logical step, then you take care of the winning part maybe a year or two down the line.

"Now, the seniors here have a chance for the first 10-win season since 1990. I think that will motivate them more than the fact that we've lost four straight bowl games."

The Gator Bowl figures to be hyped as a battle of quarterbacks - Vick vs. Dantzler.

But the game likely will come down to how well Clemson's offense moves the ball against the Hokies' notoriously stingy defense.

"Their defense is very aggressive," Bowden said. "They're going to pressure you and make you execute the forward pass. They're going to take away the running game. They don't have a Corey Moore, but their system is a problem. A guy like him is extra problems.

"They don't have that type of dominating player on the edge...but the system is similar because it's going to make you execute the forward pass and outnumber the run. You're going to have a really hard time running the football."

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