September 8, 2003 CLEMSON All you need to know about Clemson's opening game against Georgia is this: Center Tommy Sharpe threw up on the ball and caused a turnover. It was that kind of day for the Tigers. In one of the most embarrassing displays in the proud history of the Clemson program, the Tigers were totally inept offensively in a 30-0 opening loss against No. 9 Georgia. Head coach Tommy Bowden might want to try some asbestos underwear, because his seat is now officially flaming. The death watch is officially on. Fans started calling for Bowden's job shortly after the final horn, and they sounded more serious this time. Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips wisely put an end to any week-to-week speculation about Bowden's job status, stating in absolute terms that he won't even consider the possibility of making a midseason coaching change. That means Bowden has some time to recover, but the odds appear stacked against him. All of the offseason talk centered around improving the running game, especially in short-yardage situations. If the Tigers worked on their running game in the offseason and insiders said there was no single area the team worked on more often it certainly didn't show against Georgia. There's no kind way to put it. Clemson's game plan against Georgia was an absolutely pitiful effort. It made no sense. It miscalculated the Tigers' abilities, and it underestimated those of the Bulldogs. In making one of his biggest blunders as a head coach, Bowden decided to run instead of pass against Georgia's depleted secondary. Clemson threw just one pass down the field in the entire game. Was it a lack of guts, a lack of vision or the fact that the coach's offensive line couldn't block anybody for two seconds? Some of it had to be stupidity. Georgia coach Mark Richt admitted the week before the game that his secondary was depleted and that if he were Clemson he would throw on every down. There were no surprises. The players Richt said were hurt were hurt and did not dress. But Bowden apparently thought he was being sucked in, so he tried to run. It was a big mistake to challenge the strength of Georgia's defense: the front seven. For the first time in his seven years as a head coach, Bowden called all of his team's offensive plays. For the first time in 72 games as a head coach, Bowden was on the wrong end of a shutout. Perhaps he should give the play-calling duties back to offensive coordinator Brad Scott or quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. At least they always have figured out how to get some points on the board. In two key short-yardage situations, Bowden lost his nerve. On fourth-and-goal at the Georgia two-yard line, he tried a goofy throwback pass that was knocked down. On fourth-and-one from the Georgia 46, Bowden elected to try to draw Georgia offsides instead of pounding the ball for one yard. Georgia defensive lineman David Pollock was quoted after the game as saying he could see in quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's eyes that Clemson wasn't going to snap the ball.
Plenty Of Early Mistakes, Gaffes The Tigers committed an unbelievable number of errors in their first two games:
- Clemson had two plays with just 10 men on the field. One of those plays came with Georgia deep in Clemson territory. With the Bulldogs set at the line of scrimmage, a Clemson player came onto the field late, running right past the linesman. No penalty was called. One guess was that the referee was so shocked he didn't know what to do.
- There were two fumbled snaps, including Sharpe's vomit ball, and Whitehurst tripped once while backing out from center on a key third-down play.
- Cornerback Justin Miller made some big mistakes. After getting burnt on Georgia's first touchdown early in the first quarter, he was not a factor for the rest of the game. Look for other teams on Clemson's schedule, if they have the guts, to attack Miller early. The scouting report is out: He is overly aggressive against the run and can be beat deep. Bowden mentioned Miller and linebacker John Leake as two players who had to play better for the Tigers to be successful this season.
- The new and improved running game generated 35 yards on 24 carries against Georgia. Bowden didn't play Yusef Kelly, Clemson's biggest and toughest tailback, because Kelly was overweight and missed practice time in mid- August to be with his very-pregnant girlfriend. Kelly was dressed and on the sideline against the Bulldogs. After Kelly, Clemson has Chad Jasmin, who looked solid carrying the ball, and then nothing else.
- Whitehurst threw a screen pass directly to Pollock with 8:53 remaining in the game. While Pollock was rumbling down the field, the Clemson fans started streaming to the exits.
- Making Whitehurst run the option is a bad idea. He is a dropback passer. He will never be a runner.
- The defense, strained and stretched the entire game, finally caved in and gave up in the fourth quarter, allowing two easy touchdowns after a pretty decent effort to that point. The final score looked horrible, but the defense turned in what would have been a winning performance on many days.
- The Tigers didn't even come down their famous Death Valley hill in the correct manner. They exited the bus and danced their way down the hill before the cannon was fired. It looked sloppy and undisciplined, much like their play on the field.
- Clemson committed several stupid penalties against Furman, including an unsportsmanlike conduct foul that kept a Paladin touchdown drive alive. There is way too much talking and not enough playing on the field for Clemson.
Top Concerns: Offense, Attitude After a sleepless night, Bowden said there would be personnel changes. But there's no quick fix, because there aren't enough quality players. Bowden admitted before the Georgia game that Clemson was playing with recruits the Bulldogs didn't want. In addition to a lack of players, there is a lack of concept. As mentioned in this space in the past, the offense lacks direction. Clemson does no single thing particularly well. When asked to describe what the Tigers do on offense, nobody can give a straight answer. This is an offense most opponents will be able to slow with little trouble, as long as they can defend the screen and the off-tackle run. So, the question that begs to be asked is this: Where did Bowden lose his offensive genius? He worked under some great offensive minds as an assistant, but as a head coach he doesn't seem to have a clue about offensive game plans. Somewhere long the way, he lost his nerve. He came to Clemson with a wide-open, exciting attack that put a lot of pressure on the opposition. That approach is now nothing but a distant memory. Why are Clemson people unhappy? Because the program is in a downward spiral. Since starting the 2000 season 8-0, the Tigers are 16-15. In their last four games against ranked teams and their last bowl game, the Tigers have been outscored 201-64. And there are still people out there who wonder why Bowden is on the hot seat. Departed coach Tommy West could have been .500 or better at one-third the price. Now Bowden must worry about losing this team early. Leake was quoted after the game as saying the loss to Georgia is something this team may never get over. Let them take another couple of beatings and fall out of the ACC race, and it could get really ugly. Barring a major disaster against Middle Tennessee State, the Tigers will be 2-1 going to Atlanta. Clemson needs to beat Georgia Tech, which looked surprisingly impressive in beating Auburn, to take some heat off Bowden. A loss to Tech, on the other hand, would set Bowden up for what could be a very ugly October.