November 8, 2005
CLEMSON -- Following Clemson football is not for the faint-hearted. Pepto-Bismol is required. Many times, something much stronger is necessary.
There is a budding quarterback controversy that isn't a quarterback controversy, finger-pointing without pointing fingers, offensive play-calling that ranges from brilliant to downright stupid, and a defense that stopped both N.C. State and Georgia Tech but managed to surrender 300-plus passing yards to both Temple and Duke.
The quarterback controversy that wasn't started after the 10-9 loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 29, when coach Tommy Bowden casually mentioned that starter Charlie Whitehurst was probably rusty because he had missed a couple days of practice during the week before the game. There had been internet rumors for most of the season that Whitehurst had been nursing some sort of injury, but there was no confirmation until Bowden opened his mouth.
That's when the fun began. Bowden started playing the mystery quarterback game and refused to say much about Whitehurst's injury. The coach told reporters to talk to Whitehurst, whose problem reportedly is a sore shoulder.
The state-wide coverage given to the Clemson quarterback situation was worthy of a team in the hunt for a national championship or an ACC title, not a team that was .500 and fighting for a low-rent bowl game.
Whitehurst, who has dreams of playing in the NFL, said he planned to play against Duke. Meanwhile, backup Will Proctor, who said earlier in the season that he should be playing more, began preparing for his first start.
Bowden's comments after the Tech game also exposed a rift between him and first-year offensive coordinator Rob Spence. Reportedly, Spence had been pushing Bowden to play Proctor more. Proctor is a better fit for Spence's attack because he is a running threat. Whitehurst never has been and never will be a running threat. Some sideline personnel said that during the Tech game, the decision had been made to put Proctor into the game, but Bowden vetoed the move.
Bowden was coy for the entire week before the Duke game. He told reporters on Wednesday that he would talk with Spence after practice on Thursday to determine who would start at quarterback against the Blue Devils. The choice was Proctor, who completed 13 of 21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 31 yards and another score. Proctor was effective and looked comfortable, but he was playing against Duke, not Florida State.
"I think it takes a unique guy to be the starter every week but then see another guy roll out there every Saturday," Bowden said. "Will has been very patient, and I think his patience showed today. He looked like a smooth operator out there."
In all likelihood, Bowden will go back to Whitehurst because he's a senior and he's experienced. Proctor isn't going to learn by sitting on the bench, but he's running out of time this season.
Finally, be prepared for this, Clemson fans. When the Tigers struggle early next season, Bowden will blame inexperience. He's had numerous other opportunities to play Proctor this season, but he's failed to pull the trigger.
BOWDEN NOW POINTING FINGERS?
Bowden always worries about his offense and defense pointing fingers at each other, but he did some serious finger-pointing himself after the loss to Georgia Tech.
The coach spent a lot of time in Whitehurst's face during the game, apparently because the senior's decision-making was not good against the Yellow Jackets. When Whitehurst threw a fourth-down pass that came up well short of the first down to end Clemson's last realistic opportunity to win, Bowden let Whitehurst know he wasn't pleased.
Bowden said after the game that he didn't yell at players any more than normal. He also said that Whitehurst should have waited on the play for a deeper receiver -- Aaron Kelly -- to come open.
"They weren't really heated," Bowden said. "I do that every week. If you watch the way our season has gone, I was given more opportunity to show emotion today than I have in the past. I was more emotional in this game because we committed more penalties and turnovers than we have been."
Whitehurst's take was that Bowden had been louder than normal.
"I think he was probably unhappy with something I saw," Whitehurst said. "The fourth down was one of them. I've got to trust my eyes. He thought I could've squeezed the ball and thrown it in there. Aaron adjusted his route around that guy. I thought the guy got under it pretty good."
The Tigers (5-4, 3-4 ACC) made enough mistakes against Tech to generate a lot of finger-pointing. The most unbelievable came after a timeout. The Tigers had a touchdown called back because they had just six men on the line of scrimmage. They had six men on the line of scrimmage because they had only 10 men on the field. They had only 10 men on the field because tight end Cole Downer forgot he was supposed to be out there.
"There are several plays that stand out," Bowden said. "The early fumble on the eight-yard line is points. The missed field goal is points. The holding call on the last drive was points. It was a one-point game. The turnover right before half gave them points."
PASS DEFENSE STILL QUESTIONABLE
The defense turned in a winning effort against Georgia Tech, but there was a serious letdown in the secondary against Duke. The Tigers allowed the Blue Devils, the worst passing team in the ACC, to throw for 328 yards.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning obviously was angry and frustrated after watching an afternoon filled with poor coverage.
"I'm a little jarred up about our pass coverage," Koenning said. "We did not play fundamentally as well as I would have liked in practice this week. We gave up deep balls in practice. We've got some issues. We've just got to keep working. I wish I could sit here and say I get paid to have all the answers. The game got to a point to where probably our guys weren't playing as hard or as sharp as we like them to, but there's no excuse for that many yards."
Cornerback Tye Hill blamed the slack coverage on mental letdowns because the Tigers had the Blue Devils under control.
"When you get up, in the back of your mind you get lackadaisical," Hill said. "I'm surprised we gave up that many yards, but at the same time, I understand why."
Koenning didn't want to hear anything about being lackadaisical.
"Ask Tye how much of his tail end he's got left, because his coach got after him pretty good," Koenning said. "I had a lady hollering at me from the stands because I was hollering at my players on the sideline. I wasn't cussing. I'm sorry. I wasn't pleased with the way they were playing."
The Tigers looked lost for most of the afternoon. If they don't tighten up against Florida State, which has the top passing offense in the ACC, and South Carolina, led by pass-happy Steve Spurrier, they will be home for the holidays.