October 28, 2002 CLEMSON The promise of a surprising season has evaporated into a battle for survival at Clemson. The Tigers embarrassed themselves yet again on national TV when they committed just about every mistake in the book against N.C. State. The Wolfpack took advantage of most of those mistakes and drilled the hapless Tigers, 38-6.
I didn't have my team ready to play. It was obvious, they had their team ready and I didn't, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. I apologize to the crowd. They came out and did what we asked them to do, and we didn't respond to them. We need to find a solution.
Bowden's offensive computer has blown several fuses. In his first year at Clemson, he created excitement with a fast-paced, in-your-face passing attack. Now, Bowden and his staff are shying away from the fast-paced offense, even though the talent at wide receiver and tight end has been drastically upgraded since 1999. Bowden said the offense has been slowed down because defenses caught up to the fastbreak and the running game has become a larger part of the offense.
The Tigers rushed for 66 yards against N.C. State. If the running game has become a larger part of the offense, where is it? How bad is the running game? Clemson had a second-and-two deep in State territory early in the second half and got just one yard on three straight running plays.
Bowden's immediate fix was to simplify the offense, which caused many to ponder this philosophical question: How can you simplify an offense that consists mainly of running plays up the middle and dinky passes?
While the offense tried to find an identity, the Clemson defense continued to hang on. Nobody in the nation has faced more short-field situations this season than the Tigers.
Theories Abound On Recent Woes
- The Brad Scott theory: When he was the head coach at South Carolina, Scott took the Gamecocks to their first bowl victory. Then reality set in. After Scott got fired at USC, Bowden threw him a lifeline. Scott has been a disaster as the offensive coordinator at Clemson. The offense has no continuity, no approach, no concept, no execution. The thin line has been exposed. The quarterback situation is in shambles. Running back Bernard Rambert, who has been injured for most of the season, has complained about the playing rotation. The wide receivers are fast but soft. There are too many drops, too few tough catches in traffic. Ben Hall was one of the most highly recruited tight ends in the country, but he rarely touches the ball. At 4-4 entering November, Clemson had nothing to lose. The offense plays better at a faster pace. Bowden isn't in trouble this season, but word is starting to circulate that Scott probably will be doing something else next year. Late in the N.C. State game, several Clemson fans seated below the coaches box didn't hide their feelings about Scott.
- The multi-headed offensive coordinator theory: Bowden has the final say on all play calls. Scott and Mike O'Cain both sit in the box. Wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill signals the plays. All four coaches have ideas, but their ideas aren't meshing. It's time for Bowden to show some leadership, pick a direction, and go with it. He apparently did that with the announcement that the offense will be simplified. Bowden is supposed to be an offensive guy. It's time for him to show some of his knowledge.
- The too many friends/family members theory: Much like Tommy West, Bowden has too many friends/family on his coaching staff and not enough good coaches. Scott, Jack Hines (brother-in-law), Rodney Allison and Burton Burns all have long-time relationships with Bowden. They do not represent the strength of the staff. Clemson has received coaching lessons in all four losses this season. Georgia exposed the Tigers' special teams. Virginia, banking on a soft, bending defense that would give up big yards but few points, let the Tigers hang on to the ball long enough to make mistakes. Wake Forest outplayed Clemson, but the Deacons could not overcome five turnovers in the second half. N.C. State filleted and fried Clemson. Every facet of a mediocre team was exposed by the Wolfpack for the rest of the country to see. Fans are talking a lot about a lack of motivation, but preparation and fundamentals are bigger problems. For example, before the State game, someone on the State staff timed the delivery of Clemson punter Wynn Kopp. The Wolfpack blocked one punt for a touchdown and almost blocked two more. On the blocked punt, tailback Yusef Kelly failed to throw a block that would have slowed the push up the middle.
- The ego theory: Bowden has rubbed a lot of Clemson fans the wrong way with his arrogance and aloofness. But the team's recent poor performances left the coach no choice but to finally accept the blame for losing. He had run out of excuses. Bowden's coaching and leadership abilities now are being questioned on a daily basis. This is the most serious test of his career as a head coach, and he seems to be doing a lot of soul searching. Does he know what button to push to pull the Tigers out of this nosedive? Can he survive long enough to see his football-only building built? The anticipated start date on the building is late next year.
- The no senior leaders theory: The players talk a lot about not letting the season go into the tank, but none of them seem to be doing anything about it. There's no one to rally around, no one to drive this team when things go wrong. To date, the Tigers have shown little ability to handle adversity. With the offense struggling, the ability to come back from a deficit of 10 points or more is highly questionable. Most teams look to their quarterbacks and linebackers for leadership. But Simmons is struggling, and Clemson's linebackers looked lost against Wake. Some insiders said the players are losing confidence in themselves and the coaching staff. Kyle Young, Will Merritt and Woody Dantzler are gone, one insider said. There's no one on this team who will get in a teammate's face and say let's go.
- The special teams theory: In all four losses this season, the special teams have destroyed any chance the Tigers had at winning. Why Bowden has not replaced Kopp is anybody's guess. The coach has threatened to replace his frustrated punter more than once, but he has yet to pull the trigger. Kopp has two styles of punts fluttering 30-yarders, and 47-yarders that sail through the end zone and bounce into the stands. Even though Bowden keeps saying the special teams have improved, both coverage units continue to spring leaks at inopportune times. How many other teams have attempted an onside kick and had the opponent return it for a touchdown?
- The turnovers theory: Bowden emphasized turnovers in the preseason. It didn't work. Turnovers in their own territory have killed the Tigers all season.