Emily Price: 2009 Clemson Campus Correspondent 12 Days of ACC Football: Boston College August 3, 2009 This season won’t be a repeat of last for Boston College. I can see no way they could possibly end up on top of their division. They have a new coaching staff; they have no standouts in the slot for QB since the sudden exit of Dominique Davis. Also, BC’s best defensive player, Mark Herzlich, is out for the year due to a recent cancer diagnosis, and their star defensive tackles, Raji and Brace, are gone as well. Their schedule isn’t easy, either, but it isn’t all bad news for the Eagles. Their offensive line should still be strong and last season’s leader in rushing yards, Montel Harris, is back along with 14 other starters. I predict they will start off the season 2-0, but end up 7-5–3-5 in the ACC with losses to Clemson in Death Valley, Wake, Florida State, at Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. I think they’ll finish 5th in the Atlantic division. A game-by-game look at BC: Sept. 5 Northeastern W Sept. 12 Kent State W Sept. 19 @ Clemson L Sept. 26 Wake Forest L Oct. 3 Florida State L Oct. 10 @ Virginia Tech L Oct. 17 N.C. State W Oct. 24 @ Notre Dame L Oct. 31 Central Michigan W Nov. 7 bye Nov. 14 @ Virginia W Nov. 21 UNC L Nov. 28 @ Maryland W Check back daily for the next 11 days for more predictions. But this isn’t like the 12 days of Christmas–you don’t have to wait until the end for the real excitement. Clemson’s breakdown comes tomorrow. It will also be available on here.
12 Days of ACC Football: Clemson August 4, 2009 Hooray for the most interesting of the 12 Days of ACC Football! Happy Tuesday, y’all. Just remember that it’s 33 days ’til the Tigers run down that hill and stomp all over Death Valley’s glorious turf! That should get you through the rest of the week. Why don’t you adequately prepare yourself for the season, or at least the first game, by enjoying the details and predictions I’ve supplied below. After all, you’d never show up Sept. 5 without appropriate orange attire, a stocked cooler and some sandwiches or deviled eggs, would you? So you better bring a head full of the facts too, because preparedness is just plain necessary.
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New blood, new ideas Last year Clemson was seated on the preseason polls at 10th in the country, poised to make a grand debut victory over Alabama in an exciting evening match up in Atlanta and skate through the season triumphantly, immensely favored to win the ACC Championship. In fact, some dubbed it “the year of the Tiger.” Well, they choked. After being trounced by Alabama and then having head coach Tommy Bowden “resign” midseason after an aching loss to Wake Forest, it seemed Clemson’s program was doomed for the season. Then with the entrance of interim head coach Dabo Swinney, offensive coordinator Rob Spence was promptly fired. Even with a staff implosion of sorts, Clemson proceeded to finish 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the ACC and fifth in the Atlantic division, finishing up the season with a five-point loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. But it should not be overlooked that the interim head coach did succeed in leading Clemson to a bowl game after winning four of the last five games–a bowl appearance being what he very verbally stated his season goal would be for the year. Fast forward to this season: now Clemson is faced with more “open-ended questions,” as Coach Swinney put it, than grand expectations on the national stage. And this shouldn’t be seen as a problem. Entering the season with a bit of trepidation could keep the Tigers in check and puts them in the position to surprise rather than disappoint. After all, aren’t surprises what makes the ACC the ACC? With a new head coach in Swinney, new offensive coordinator Billy Napier, and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Clemson will enter the scene with new blood as well as new ideas. Swinney rallied supporters last year. “I knew when I heard everyone in Death Valley chanting, Dabo, Dabo, that I probably had a chance,” he says. But while he has re-energized a program that badly needed it, and gained the adoration of his players (Spiller said last year he would only return to Clemson for his senior year if Swinney was instated as head coach), Swinney has a lot to prove. Many doubt the ability to move from wide receivers coach to successful head coach virtually overnight, and many consider 39-year old Swinney a spring chicken. After he was officially named head coach, defensive coordinator Vic Koening resigned the next day. But Swinney’s a guy who is greeted by his players with so much enthusiasm it’s nothing but endearing; a guy who walked on to his college football team at Alabama and then earned a scholarship spot on the 1992 National Championship team; a guy who made an uneasy transition in the middle of an already painful season exciting and revitalizing for Clemson fans as well as Clemson players. And let’s not forget Danny Ford, a coach who was only 30 when he took the position as head coach at Clemson; who also went to Alabama; who began coaching at Clemson after a head coach (Charley Pell) surprisingly resigned. He led Clemson to win the National Title in 1981, as well as five ACC titles. Plenty of talent left While Clemson graduated some key offensive leaders, including WR Aaron Kelley, RB James Davis, QB Cullen Harper and WR Tyler Grisham, there’s plenty of talent left on the roster. One question that will be answered with the looming season: will Clemson actually take advantage of such talent and win more games? Even with two star-studded backs, Clemson only averaged 3.4 yards per carry last year. Only Wake and Duke averaged less. Senior Jacoby Ford returns as a super fast wide receiver who, last season, totaled only 12
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receiving yards less than the ACC’s career leader in receptions and Clemson’s all-time leading receiver, Kelly (Kelly had 722 and Ford had 710). Running back CJ Spiller returns without James Davis, and while the loss of Davis–who ended his college career as the second leading rusher in Clemson’s history–is a big one, Spiller will no longer have to share carries or worry about not getting his hands on the ball. Spiller will have plenty of opportunity to show off this season and lead the ACC in rushing yards and all-purpose yards as long as he doesn’t get injured. There’s even a Spiller for Heisman campaign underway, and while he’s matched up to some immense talent in Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, Spiller truly believes he’s got a shot. “I think I have my chances,” he says confidently, at least proving that he’s ready to shine whether the “thunder and lightning” duo is present or not. Both Spiller and Ford have great breakaway speed and the ability to take it to the house any time they touch the ball, but there are other skill players returning as well. Jamie Harper, who notoriously fumbled as a true freshman on the first carry of the season last year (Bowden had a controversial penchant for promising big recruits the first carry of the season) is back, several pounds lighter and much more experienced. As far as backs go, Andre Ellington, Chad Diehl, and Rendrick Taylor, who Swinney says we’ll see as a “big back” this year, are all returning. Returning receivers include Xavier Dye, Jaron Brown, Marquan Jones and Brandon Ford. QB yet to be determined Most of the open-ended questions concerning offense, Swinney says, have to do with the people throwing the ball, not the ones catching it. Since Cullen Harper graduated, a starting quarterback has yet to emerge, though Swinney says he’s really hoping one does. And perhaps one will soon with two-a-days starting today. The race is a close one between red-shirt sophomore and five-star recruit Willy Korn and red-shirt freshman and Clemson outfielder Kyle Parker. “There’s really more similarities between them than there are differences,” Swinney says, including two rocket arms, mobility and precision. However, they obviously lack real-game experience. Now to the offensive line, Clemson’s notorious problem last season that almost every sports strategist has come forward to say he overlooked in last year’s preseason predictions. There are four returning starters this year, but how much better will it really make them as a unit? There are still two sophomores starting. They were awful last year, allowing 34 sacks—the second most allowed in the ACC (behind Virginia Tech). But it is the most experienced O line Clemson’s had in three years with a combined 79 starts. Senior LG Thomas Austin returns as well, so if he can lead the youngsters through the trenches Clemson should be alright. Seven returning starters + Kevin Steele Clemson’s defense could be great, and everyone knows that defenses win championships. Seven starters are returning: bandit end Ricky Sapp, who has returned with a “95 percent” healed knee after suffering a torn ACL toward the end of last season; DT Jarvis Jenkins; MLB Brandon May and WLB Kavell Conner; arguably the best pair of CBs in the conference, seniors Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler; and SS DeAndre McDaniel, of whom apparently Steele is a big fan. Strong side end Da’Quan Bowers is also returning, as is Kevin Alexander, who played DE last year but is rumored to be used in more of a stand-up role this season. But even though seven starters are returning, Clemson finished dead last in sacks last year. Sapp
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says he and Da’Quan have a goal of 10 sacks each this season, and hopefully Steele and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison (who happens to be a member of Ford’s 1981 National Championship team) are busy devising a master plan to generate more pressure on the quarterback. The depth chart for linebackers is a little thin this year and cause for some concern, particularly after LB Stanley Hunter was forced to quit the team last week due to health concerns related to epilepsy. Experience is somewhat lacking there as well, yet there’s plenty of trust to be given to new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Fresh from time spent as DC at Alabama, Steele also has experience as a linebackers coach for Florida State from 2003-2006. Steele ran a 3-4 for Nick Saban’s Alabama team, but it will be interesting to see what he decides to do at Clemson. Certainly he won’t be lacking some new and creative ideas to apply to the talent he’s already got. Questions with special teams Coach Swinney said at the ACC Media Conference that there were a lot of “open-ended questions” concerning special teams, as kicker Mark Buchholz graduated and it’s yet to be seen if Richard Jackson will pull it together and step up to take the starting roll. Gray-shirt freshman Spencer Benton could win the position over Jackson, a senior who was a much-talked about recruit but has been inconsistent in practice. Dawson Zimmerman will be punting. He had 12 punts last year after winning the start in the earlier part of the season but was later pushed out by Jimmy Maners, who has since graduated. And, of course, the All ACC KR, CJ Spiller, will be returning along with Jacoby Ford. Clemson’s special teams have really improved over the past two years under Andre Powell, who has returned as Special Teams Coordinator. Predictions: Clemson 9-3 The first two games will be an interesting test for Clemson as a team and especially for Clemson’s defense. Clemson opens against Middle Tennessee State, who runs the spread, and then turn around and play Georgia Tech’s tricky triple-option (complete with the preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer) on a short week at Georgia Tech. That makes only four days between the opener and their first conference game on the road. It wouldn’t be easy for Clemson to then come off of a loss and play Boston College, who is often just barely out of Clemson’s grasp even when Clemson is favored, and then TCU the next week, who finished seventh overall last year. Clemson needs some wins under their belts right away, and Swinney’s explicitly stated his focus is initially on winning the first game and secondly winning the first conference game. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Clemson will lose to Boston College. In fact, I predict (even if it’s a bit optimistically on my behalf) that they finish the season 9-3, with losses to Georgia Tech in Bobby Dodd Stadium, TCU and a loss to Miami on the road. I don’t doubt that there could be a hugely disappointing loss in there to Maryland at Maryland, Wake, Florida State or NC State, but it’s so hard to foresee who it might be. No one thought Clemson was going to lose to Maryland last year, when the Tigers had a huge lead at the half until Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland’s first round draft pick) took a reverse for 75 yards down to the four yard line, setting up a touchdown that motivated the Terps to score 14 points toward the end of the game—in Death Valley, at that. Just goes to show you never know what might happen. And that’s why we love to watch football. Overall, I predict Clemson will win the Atlantic division and face Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. So, I’ll see y’all there, and GO TIGERS!
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12 Days of ACC Football: Florida State August 5, 2009 Florida State is well on their way to continuing their legacy, as they landed second last year in the Atlantic division and won nine games last season. Their offense is looking very strong; they have an amazing offensive line with five returning starters (including two All-Americans and one pre-season All-American) that will aptly protect a steady and experienced quarterback in Ponder, who started every game last year. Their defense is sound, too. But as Bobby Bowden said himself at the Media Conference, it isn’t that FSU has necessarily been a weaker team in years as of late, but the rest of the league has just gotten stronger. Therefore, I predict FSU will come up just short as winner of the Atlantic Division behind Clemson, with a record of 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the ACC with losses to Georgia Tech, at UNC and at Clemson. The games versus UNC and Clemson are very tough to play on others’ turf. The ‘Noles have a fair non-conference schedule except for rival Florida. Good thing that game is last because they could likely take a beating, but I would personally be ecstatic if they shocked everyone and beat up on the Gators instead. A game-by-game breakdown: Sept. 7 Miami W Sept. 12 Jacksonville State W Sept. 19 @ BYU W Sept. 26 South Florida W Sept. 3 @ Boston College W Sept. 10 Georgia Tech L Sept. 17 BYE Sept. 22 @ North Carolina L Sept. 31 NC State W Sept. 7 @ Clemson L Sept. 14: @ Wake Forest W Sept. 21 Maryland W Sept. 28 @ Florida L
12 Days of ACC Football: Maryland August 6, 2009 This season will not be fun filled with excitement for the Terps. While their quarterback has three seasons of experience, their offensive line lost three 2008 starters, including a great center. They also lost electrifying WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. However, IF their offensive line can do their job, the Terps do have great RBs (led by Da’Rel Scott, 1st Team All-ACC last year) and other quick and athletic WRs that can make big plays in Heyward-Bey’s absence. Their defense has a lot to prove in a league where offenses are only improving. While they have a good new DC in Don Brown, there are major concerns with an unknown defensive line and not much depth at linebacker. Their ACC schedule is pretty tough, with their first conference game being against Clemson, which will start conference play with a loss, and then a three-
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game stretch of playing at NC State, Virginia Tech and then in Tallahassee. Hopefully they can stay healthy. Looks to me like it will be a repeat of last year when they lost three of their last four conference games. I predict they will trail as sixth in the Atlantic division with a 2-6 record in the conference. Maybe next year, guys. A game-by-game breakdown: Sept. 5 @ California L Sept. 12 James Madison W Sept. 19 Middle Tennessee W Sept. 26 Rutgers L Oct. 3 Clemson L Oct. 10 @ Wake Forest L Oct. 17 Virginia W Oct. 24 at Duke W Nov. 7 at NC State L Nov. 14 Virginia Tech L Nov. 21 at Florida State L Nov. 28 Boston College L
12 Days of ACC Football: NC State August 7, 2009 NC State is moving up in the ACC ranks quite nicely, but the Atlantic division is going to be a tough fight. I think they’ll finish 7-5; 4-4 in the conference like last year. Everyone wants to talk about All-ACC QB Russell Wilson, who threw for an impression 17 touchdowns and only one interception last year. They’ve got one of the best QBs in the ACC, but he’s had one good season. What if he has a sophmore slump? Let’s see if proves himself further this go-round. The Pack is also returning 14 starters, but let’s not forget that the Pack has not had a winning record in the league since 2002 and hasn’t had an overall winning record in three years. Their past is haunted by injuries, and with a thin depth chart (except being stacked at WR) they need to hope they aren’t plagued by the same problems. Also, people probably think I’m crazy for picking BC over NC State, but I predict they’ll come off of a five-win run to lose a game in Boston. I think they’ll redeem any surprise loss like that with a nice win against talented UNC. After all, they pretty much trounced the Tarheels on Tarheel turf last year, and NC State is a team that historically gets better toward the end of the season. A game-by-game look at the Wolfpack: Sept. 3 South Carolina L Sept. 12 Murray State W Sept. 19 Gardner-Webb W Sept. 26 Pittsburgh W Oct. 3 @ Wake Forest W
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Oct. 10 Duke W Oct. 17 @ Boston College L Oct. 31 @ Florida State L Nov. 7 Maryland W Nov. 14 Clemson L Nov. 21 @ Va. Tech L Nov. 28 North Carolina W
12 Days of ACC Football: Wake Forest August 8, 2009 If there’s one thing to say about Wake, it’s that they are well coached. Jim Grobe has really come into his own over there, seeming to have an ability to bring the best out of his players and make magic happen when it needs to happen. Over the last three years, Wake’s program has gained a lot of respect. I doubt they are going to lose any this year, but I also don’t think they are going to win eight games this season. I predict they’ll finish fourth in the Atlantic division. Here’s why: they are generally inexperienced, but expect Grobe and company to utilize the young talent they have. On offense, Riley Skinner is a proven and steady quarterback who, as a senior, I predict will have his best season yet. He’ll be protected by an offensive line that suffered some issues last season, but returns this time around all the wiser. There’s also depth and talent at RB and WR, though no point man has clearly emerged for either. On defense there should be a strong DL, but there are only four returning defensive starters. The secondary is pretty much a big question mark. In a league where nine of 12 starting QBs are returning, you can’t question the defense. Only the season will tell the story. Wake also has a way of surprising, so I wouldn’t rule out an unexpected big win for them. Their non-conference schedule is not challenging, so I also wouldn’t rule out a surprise loss once they enter conference play. Overall I see them 4-4 in the ACC. A game-by-game look at the Demon Deacons: Sept. 5 Baylor W Sept. 12 Stanford W Sept. 19 Elon W Sept. 26 @ Boston College W Oct. 3 NC State L Oct. 10 Maryland W Oct. 17 @ Clemson L Oct. 24 @ Navy W Oct. 31 Miami W Nov. 7 @ Ga. Tech L Nov. 14 Florida State L Nov. 28 @ Duke W
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Spiller named to Walter Camp Foundation POY watch list August 8, 2009 CJ Spiller could well be named the Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year on Dec. 10. He is among 30 players named to the watch list and one of just two ACC players named; the other being Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer. Both ACC RBs were also named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list earlier this week. The Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year award is the fourth-oldest individual prize in college football. Spiller needs just 921 all-purpose yards to be the ACC’s all-time leader. Last season he achieved 1770 all-purpose yards. He is already Clemson’s career record holder in all-purpose yards as well as 11 other school records. Ten Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year semifinalists will be announced in November, and the winner will be announced on ESPN Dec. 10. Way to go, #28! We applaud you. Stay tuned!
12 Days of ACC Football: Duke August 9, 2009 I wish that I expected more from Duke. I feel bad listing a predicted three-win season. But considering they only won four games last year and prior to that had four one-win seasons, it’s just an unfortunate situation. Not to mention they start their challenging conference schedule head-to-head with Virginia Tech and then play at NC State the next week. Hopefully they can bounce back after two losses and beat Maryland at home for a conference win. While senior Thaddeus Lewis has three starting seasons on his resume, he’s not an incredible quarterback. Duke also lost their most valuable offensive player, WR Eron Wiley. Luckily RB Re’Quan Boyette returns after being injured for the entirety of 2008. There’s also only 11 starters returning, which does not include Duke’s defensive stud and leading tackler, All ACC LB Mike Tauiliili. It’s a rebuilding year for Duke. Hey, there’s always basketball… A game-by game look at the Blue Devils: Sept. 5 Richmond W Sept. 12 @ Army L Sept 19 @ Kansas L Sept. 26 North Carolina Central W Oct. 3 Virginia Tech L Oct. 10 @ NC State L Oct. 24 Maryland W Oct. 31 @ Virginia L Nov. 7 @ North Carolina L
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Nov. 14 Georgia Tech L Nov. 21 @ Miami L Nov. 28 Wake Forest L
12 Days of ACC Football: Georgia Tech August 10, 2009 It’s going to be a very tight race between Virginia Tech, UNC and Georgia Tech to the Coastal division title; one in which every play counts and something small could translate to a third place finish instead of an invitation to Tampa Bay. I ultimately think Georgia Tech will finish second, right behind Virginia Tech. Here’s why. Last season, teams had a lot of trouble with the ACC debut of Paul Johnson’s spread tripleoption offense. Maybe the problem was a lot of people didn’t take it seriously at first and weren’t prepared for having such difficulty defending it. It was called gimmicky; no one thought it would transfer well from Navy to a competitive ACC team that was built around running a prostyle attack. Well obviously it worked last season. Georgia Tech won nine games, and while they lost in a bowl game to LSU they still proved themselves in many other ways, like beating rival Georgia for the first time in eight years. And while opponents will take Johnson’s offensive scheme seriously this time around, and will likely be much more prepared for it since they’ve been matched up to it up close and personally at this point, its still going to work. With a deep backfield led by All ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer, Tech is returning 95.3 % of last season’s rushing production. QB Josh Nesbitt is returning as well, and while his passing has been less than consistent (44%), he’s good in other ways that work well for Johnson’s offense. He will be asked to pass the ball more this season, and if he can do that there will be a whole new threat entered into the scheme. The only real question for Tech this year is its defensive line, rebuilt from a veteran DL last year. The only returner on the line is DE Derrick Morgan. The line has experienced backers behind them, but we’ll see how solid the defense will be this season. However, it can’t be overlooked that the Jackets are returning 16 starters. Sixteen starters that helped to win nine games last year. They will be better everywhere but the DL, so I think Ga. Tech is to be taken quite seriously. A game-by-game look at the Yellow Jackets: Sept. 5 Jacksonville St. Sept. 10 Clemson Sept 17 @ Miami
Sept. 26 North Carolina
Oct. 3 @ Mississippi State Oct. 10 @ Florida State Oct. 17 Virginia Tech
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Oct. 24 @ Virginia
Oct. 31 @ Vanderbilt Nov. 7 Wake Forest
Nov. 14 @ Duke
Nov. 28 Georgia
The 12 Days of ACC Football: Miami August 11, 2009 The Miami Hurricanes take after their namesake quite accordingly. Like all hurricanes, Miami is a little mysterious in regards to the damage that might ensue when they arrive. It’s hard to measure because they have the talent to be forceful, yet because they are so young they are unpredictable in performance. Randy Shannon has said repeatedly that he is building a program, and it can’t be done overnight. It appears he has the tools to build a good program, but probably not this season. They will most likely be better than last, particularly since they have a decided starting QB in Jacory Harris who does not have to worry about sharing his role this go-round, and because some of the youngsters have seen the field in real collegiate play at this point. I am just not convinced they are going to be great, particularly since 52 of their 89 players are freshman or sophmores. Adding to the greenness of the team are a new offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. Will they be improved? Yes. But so will everyone else for the most part, so I predict they’ll finish fourth in the Coastal division behind Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The Hurricanes also have an insane schedule. They play at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech and then match up to 2008’s second best team in the country, Oklahoma. That kind of early play could be disheartening for any team. And hopefully they don’t get beat up, because the depth behind QB and the offensive line doesn’t look too good. At least their receiving and running back corps have promise, and the defense is talented even if many of the starting jobs haven’t yet been decided. A game-by-game look at the ‘Canes: Sept. 7 @ Florida State
Sept. 17 Georgia Tech
Sept 26 @ Virginia Tech Oct. 3 Oklahoma
Oct. 10 Florida A & M Oct. 17 @ UCF
Oct. 24 Clemson
Oct. 31 @ Wake Forest Nov. 7 Virginia
Nov. 14 @ North Carolina Nov. 21 Duke
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Nov. 28 @ South Florida
12 Days of ACC Football: North Carolina August 12, 2009 Butch Davis needs to continue to sprinkle fairy dust over the Tarheels’ field. Or whatever it is that he is doing to transform that program into a football force. Last year they had their first winning record in seven years and went 8-4 as opposed to 2007’s 4-8. If he keeps that up, this year–his 3rd year–they could be 12-0! I doubt it, but I do think they could easily be a contender for the ACC title game if stud QB TJ Yates stays healthy. Their respectable back-up QB, Cameron Sexton, who saw the field at times last year, transferred to a Divison II school in order to not be overshadowed by Yates. Well, they can’t EASILY be a contender. It won’t be easy to knock Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech out of the way to take the Coastal division title (though yesterday’s ACL injury of Va. Tech RB Darren Evans has thrown me for a loop in these pre-season predictions, I will continue onward as planned). I foresee the Tarheels finishing third in their division. Under Butch Davis’s leadership, the Tarheels are only 5-10 in games decided in seven points or less, so they will need to learn to seal the deal in close games more often before they can be an ACC Champion. Other offensive losses include the absence of five of UNC’s top six WRs. There are no standout RBs either. There’s still talent and depth; it’s just–for the most part–unproven. The OL also will need to shift around to replace the past three seasons’ starting RT and RG, but they have some capable juniors to fill in the slots. Defense should be a strength for the Tarheels, particularly since all of the DL is returning. This is a defense that managed to intercept 20 passes last season. Had they intercepted one more, they would have claimed the school record set in 1972. However, they must replace DB Trimane Goddard who contributed seven of those interceptions. A game-by-game look at the Tarheels: Sept. 5 The Citadel
Sept. 12 @ Connecticut
Sept. 19 East Carolina
Sept. 26 @ Georgia Tech Oct. 3 Virginia
Oct. 10 Georgia Southern Oct. 22 Florida State
Oct. 29 @ Virginia Tech Nov. 7 Duke Nov. 14 Miami
Nov. 21 @ Boston College Nov. 28 @ NC State
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12 Days of ACC Football: Virginia August 13, 2009 Al Groh is on the hot seat this year, so we’ll see if the new life breathed into his coaching staff by two new coordinators can help buffer the criticism he’s been receiving during his tenure at Virginia. After all, Groh has only had a winning record in the league three of his eight seasons at UVA, so there is no mystique about why fans might be getting antsy. Unfortunately, I doubt this year will do much to make Cav fans cheer. I predict Virginia will finish fifth in the Coastal division, only ahead of Duke. Even with new OC Gregg Brandon’s incorporation of the spread attack into a once tired and bland offensive scheme, it most likely won’t be enough to put points on the board. Virginia simply lacks talent and experience on both sides of the ball. The quarterback job is still unsettled; the remaining receivers are young and unproven; and its yet to be seen what RBs might make a seamless shift to the spread offense. There are only five offensive starters returning. On defense, there are only six starters returning. Groh runs a 3-4 defense, and as far as linebackers go three of the four starters from last season are gone. Simply put, Virginia has some work to do this season. A game-by-game look at the Cavaliers: Sept. 5 William & Mary Sept. 12 TCU
Sept. 19 @ Southern Miss Oct. 3 @ North Carolina Oct. 10 Indiana
Oct. 17 @ Maryland
Oct. 24 Georgia Tech Oct. 31 Duke
Nov. 7 @ Miami
Nov. 14 Boston College Nov. 21 @ Clemson Nov. 28 Virginia Tech
12 Days of ACC Football: Virginia Tech August 14, 2009 Everyone knows if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. So with Frank Beamer entering his 22nd year supervising the Hokies and 15 starters returning, including QB Tyrod Taylor–who no longer has to share his position and who fixed a wonky throwing motion in the Spring–everything appears to be going as planned. Just plain spectacularly. All except the shocking loss of VT’s backfield weapon, RB Darren Evans, who tore his ACL in
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practice earlier this week. Evans ran the ball 1,265 yards last year. It is an unfortunate and damaging loss to the team, certainly, but VT has other options. Tyrod Taylor has proved he can run the ball quite adequately himself. And since Sean Glennon is gone, he can put more yards in the books than ever before. Luckily, the backfield is deep, housing players such as Ryan Williams, a freshman last year who was redshirted at the last minute and was a noisy recruit in 2008. He was considered to be one of top five RB recruits in country. Senior Kenny Lewis Jr. will be back after a torn Achilles that occurred halfway through last season. There’s also Josh Oglesby, who carried 38 times last year and is hungry for playing time. The offense gets even better; all of last year’s receivers are back and will be better than we’ve seen them because they’ve each had a year of real play experience under their belts. And then there’s TE Greg Boone, one of the most versatile TEs in the conference. As far as defense goes, there are some shifts on the DL; the Hokies’ leader in tackles in 2008, LB Purnell Sturdivant, is gone; and the LBs are rather young. But Virginia Tech’s defense and special teams will both be great, as usual. Their defense ranked seventh last year nationally, and even better than that the previous four seasons. VT’s got a tough non-conference schedule. Their opener against Alabama in Atlanta will surely go better for them than it did Clemson, though I’m not sure that it will transfer to a win. Don’t get me wrong; I hope it does. I would love for them to win. There is nothing I enjoy more than watching ACC teams beat SEC teams. But regardless of the non-conference games, I predict the Hokies will be the ACC Champions for the third consecutive season. A game-by game look: Sept. 5 vs. Alabama in ATL Sept. 12 Marshall
Sept. 19 Nebraska Sept. 26 Miami Oct. 3 @ Duke
Oct. 10 Boston College Oct. 17 @ Georgia Tech
Oct. 29 North Carolina
Nov. 5 @ East Carolina
Nov. 14 @ Maryland Nov. 21 NC State Nov. 28 @ Virginia
W W W
Starting QB named this morning August 17, 2009 Several questions that have been looming in the minds of Clemson players, coaches and fans alike have finally been answered. Kyle Parker, a redshirt freshman, will be the starting QB in the opening game against Middle
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Tennessee State on Sept. 5, Coach Swinney announced this morning after practice. He also announced that Tajh Boyd will indeed be redshirted this year. Parker has not played a single football game with the Tigers, though he will be considered a junior on the Clemson baseball team this year. An outfielder, Parker hit 14 home runs to be an All-ACC DH in 2008 and helped lead the Tigers offensively last year with 12 home runs. “Kyle has separated himself from the other quarterbacks. I have been pleased with his progress and he gives us the best chance to be an explosive offense,” Coach Swinney said this morning. “Willy Korn has shown great improvement since the spring and deserves to play. He will play against Middle Tennessee and it is my intent to get him into every game this year. I have the utmost confidence that both quarterbacks can lead us to victory.” Korn, a four-star recruit out of Spartanburg County, has played in eight games for the Tigers, including one start last year against Georgia Tech. In the past he has had problems with a broken collarbone and also had surgery on his shoulder last year. In the games he has played, Korn was 34 of 49 passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Coach Swinney said at the ACC Media Conference that he greatly desired the emergence of a starting QB, and this annoucement may ease the minds of Clemson followers who view the upcoming season with uncertainty. “We have three weeks to prepare for an excellent Middle Tennessee team,” Coach Swinney said. “The team knows who the first-team quarterback will be and it will allow us to become more of a cohesive offense.”
Our Clemson football love affair August 25, 2009 I started my first week of graduate school last week, so please excuse the brief lapse in blogging. When it comes to talking about football, I know where my priorities lie. I had to get back to it. But coincidentally enough, in my Organization Communication class last night, I got to thinking about Clemson football. We were talking about branding, and in what ways organizations relay their key messages to everyone else in order to create an identity. Of course, Clemson classifies as an organization, and brands itself in many ways. Clemson has a very unique identity–part of why those of us who have any affiliation hold Clemson, and Clemson football, particularly near and dear to our hearts. Take the tiger paws painted on the roads here, for example, or the Athletic Department issuing an unofficial mandate for everyone to wear orange on Fridays. Which, I am proud to say, I have seen demonstrated at both in the workplace in Greenville (a city 40 minutes north of Clemson for those who are unfamiliar) as well as Clemson itself. My professor told us that when we walk across the stage in Littlejohn Coliseum for graduation, shaking President Barker’s hand along the way, that at the time we are unaware of what results from that handshake. The handshake, my professor claims jokingly yet brilliantly metaphorically in the same instance, transmits an orange chip that resides in the back of our necks and at the stem of our brains,
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that makes our blood run orange from that moment forward and causes us to be completely dedicated to all things Clemson. This may be true (metaphorically of course), but what about those who are obsessed with Clemson football and never attended the school? There are plenty of fans like that out there, and they are just as important to the fan base and just as involved with the Clemson brand. People say all the time that their blood runs orange. With 15 Clemson degrees in my family, including five in my immediate family with two more underway (my younger sister’s undergraduate and my graduate degrees), my blood truly does run orange. It’s a matter of genetics. But what’s mostly interesting is why did we all decide to go to Clemson? What Clemson experiences were we involved in, mostly likely with another Clemson family member, that convinced us Clemson was the best place on earth, with Clemson football being the crowning glory? I think it’s partly because of the tradition of Clemson and Clemson football. My older brother loves to brag how he was born the year we won the National Championship. He loves to one-up my younger sister and me, telling us he witnessed it. And even if he doesn’t remember it the first go-round, all of us life-long fans have watched that game more than once in our lives. Some people think it’s silly–dwelling on a victory over the Cornhuskers in 1981–but that’s just the Clemson way. We’ll never get over it, and why should we? It’s a happy memory for Clemson itself, so therefore it’s a happy memory for all of us who convey Clemson’s message. My favorite family heirloom is a white t-shirt with orange sleeves that has been worn so thin its almost transparent, a token from the 1981 ACC Championship my mother bestowed to me (not willingly–I took it on my own accord) with the Clemson tiger lounging and smoking a victory cigar; smoke rings circling his head with copy underneath him bearing the words “1981 ACC Champions.” Both my father and my brother have giant posters framed and hanging above their mantles of nothing other than Woody Dantzler, standing on the Hill prior to a game, smiling wide with his helmet off and posing like a superhero with his hands on his hips amongst a sea of orange, helmet-clad team members. Well of course, in my family Woody Dantzler WAS considered a superhero. It’s too bad that race to the Heisman didn’t turn out as Clemson fans had planned in the earlier half of that season. (I remember that year when we played Virginia Tech and people waved signs with the words, “Who wants a little Vick when you could have a Woody?”) Oh well–perhaps Clemson fans will avenge themselves this year if CJ Spiller, another superhero, could pull of the seemingly impossible. As a girl, I had a poster of the greatest Clemson football players taped to the back of my bedroom door. It included the likes of Banks McFadden, Jeff Davis and Perry Tuttle. I can’t recall a Clemson home game I have missed in the entirety of my 24 years on this planet, and not many bowl games, either. Clemson football is not just a passion for most of us. It is a lifestyle. Many of us fans are raised on Clemson football like Mid-Westerners are raised on corn. In fact, it has been made clear to me many times–and other Clemson fanatics’ daughters as well–that when we marry, our weddings must entirely be planned around football season, just as my sister-in-law was instructed to do by my brother. He said it as if in jest, but I know he was dead serious. Now, not all of my passion for Clemson and Clemson football itself was transmitted to me through DNA, as it isn’t for many of you fans. Tons of fans spend four (or more!) blissful years of undergraduate study at Clemson. Well, four years of study and play, and LOTS of football celebrations. I lived in an antique white house with a giant front porch that overlooked the
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Esso Club and Death Valley. My roommates and I felt like the center of the universe on game days–partly because we were. Our house was the spot on those days. We debuted our 20-foot slip-and-slide the opening game of the 2005 season against Texas A&M, welcoming random Clemson fans from the grassy lot across the street to come slip and slide with us, many of whom were fully clothed and fully enjoying themselves. We paid our rent by charging for parking spots. Speaking of the Esso Club, here is another perfect example of both the tradition of Clemson and the Clemson experience. Memories of Clemson transcend those from my childhood, when I was decked out in a little cheerleading uniform and literally tossed five feet in the air by my father every time we scored a touchdown. Clemson is woven into every thread of my past. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say the fondest memories of my life are from Clemson, particularly those utterly sweltering game days when I sweated through my orange sundresses but never complained once because I was high off the fact that it was football season once again. Once one football season ends, all we fans can talk about is the next. The feeling I get prior to every single game–when the band is blasting the Tiger Rag, orange and white balloons are released into the atmosphere and the team is bouncing on the Hill preparing to run down and spill onto the field before us–is nothing short of electric. I get goosebumps every single time. I look around at all of these orange-clad people I have never met and never will, and know that we are connected by one of the strongest bonds that exists between strangers: our love for the game and our love for the Tigers. We overcome disappointments together; we experience triumph and loss; we express hope in the future and brief regret in the past. It’s not just a game–it’s a connection, and it’s a passion. The fact that this site and subsequently this blog is focused on the journey to the ACC Championship might hit particularly close to home for Clemson fans. Almost every single year, Clemson underperforms in the ACC, particularly given pre-season rankings. (Last season is a perfect example). Every year, we Clemson fans roll up to the expanse of shady parking lots surrounding Death Valley with our coolers, ready to see our team hustle its way into the ACC Championship. And almost every year, the season takes a weird dive and Tigernet, Tiger Illustrated and other blogs are filled with remarks of disappointment and even resentment. Last season encouraged a lot of disappointment and resentment, with the resignation of Tommy Bowden and the implementation of Dabo Swinney, which got extremely mixed reviews of absolute praise and bitterness. I also recall more than one disappointing loss. But at least the criticism is usually saved for the blogs–I rarely ever witness Clemson fans acting out in public or in games. Biased as I may be–though if I am accused of such in more gamedriven blogs I want it noted I did not predict Clemson to be 12-0 this season–I think we Clemson fans are as classy as they come. Blogs are a safe haven for fans to verbalize their feelings–it’s like therapy for the down-and-out fan. And admittedly, sometimes Clemson fans need a little therapy, and no better place to do it than in the digital company of each other. The fact of the matter is, Clemson should always be a contender for the ACC Championship. The talent speaks for itself. Hopefully, this season won’t take the weird dive many of us fans have become accustomed to but ignore in pre-season excitement because we are all so forgiving in our unconditional love for Clemson. I definitely think this season has great things in store, and I will be addressing all of them. Dabo Swinney has come in and done nothing short of recharging and revitalizing the spirit of the program, and I know I am more excited than ever to see where his leadership takes Clemson this
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season. Could he be the next Danny Ford, minus the controversy, of course? Some of you may think this comparison is overplayed, but admit you cannot wait to find out. I honor the connection Clemson fans experience so much that I would do anything to perpetuate it, which I am proud to do with the opportunity to write this blog. I love to connect to other fans and to share with whoever will listen the greatness that is Clemson football. And those who won’t listen, we should encourage them to do so, because they are simply missing out. What cold, dark worlds in which they must exist! I want to hear from other fans. I want to know why you think Clemson, and particularly the Clemson football experience, is so unique and so valued. What is your history with Clemson? What induces your personal Clemson football mania that we each undergo, mostly as two-adays begin? Let’s talk.
Tomorrow is the DAY. September 4, 2009 Well, it’s finally here. In 30 hours, many of us will be enthusiastically within the wonderful confinements of Memorial Stadium’s walls. I am literally trembling with excitement! Or, perhaps, the trembling is a result of the grad school sleep schedule mixed with the grad school dose of a.m. caffeine. Anyway, allow me to briefly lament the occurences of last night before we cover what we need to know for tomorrow. Was anyone bothered when NC State took the field and the ESPN announcer said, “And here’s Russell Wilson, the best quarterback in the ACC!” I mean, don’t get me wrong. I found myself sitting on my couch, coincidentally in red and white yelling “Go Pack!” by 7 p.m. But I was perturbed by that statement. Here we are, the first game of the entire season, and Russell Wilson has been dubbed the best quarterback in the ACC. I mean, I get it. He was the first freshman ever to make first-team All ACC for quarterback last season. But like I said in my NC State predictions, I think he’s overhyped. Let’s see if the guy can avoid a sophmore slump and prove himself for more than one season before we go making assumptions like that on national television to preface an ACC vs. SEC game. And honestly, if Carolina can hold the team to a measley field goal for the entirety of four quarters of play, then I certainly tend to disagree. Carolina’s defense looked pretty good, but I couldn’t decipher if it was really just that NC State’s offense was that disappointing. You can’t be a good quarterback unless you got good people to block for you and good people to handle the ball. A final score of 7-3? Really? This wasn’t battle of the all-star defenses. It was just an error-laden few hours of college football, complete with fumbles, sacks, an interception and LOTS of poor decision-making. It was downright ugly, and I don’t think either party should be proud of that display, win or not. Luckily for me, I am neither a State or Carolina fan, and I got a little more comfortable after watching the C-teams battling it out last night. I won’t mind watching the boys in orange, particularly our stellar defense, work those guys when the time comes.
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Another thing I would like to share with you; a Facebook status update I saw from a Carolina fan on Wednesday: “Every single thing about clemson drives me insane. the ridiculous colors. the ridiculous name of the head coach. the ridiculous mascot. the ridiculous fans. the ridiculously unwarranted hype that ALWAYS surrounds certain players, that absolutely freaking ridiculous song. the most ridiculous 25 seconds in college football. i sat here for 10 minutes trying to summarize my hatred, but it’s not possible. go cocks.” Uhm, does someone need to go to therapy? Carolina was playing the first game OF THE SEASON on ESPN in less than 24 hours, and all this Carolina fan could think of was his hatred for Clemson. At the time of this post, there were 11 games to be played before facing Clemson and our “ridiculous fans.” Shouldn’t this person have been concerned with the game vs. NC State? Or maybe he then considered it an easy win. Sure didn’t look like it was easy to me. In fact, the only reason Carolina scored a touchdown is because they were lucky enough to recover a fumble on the 14 yard line. So, I simply wanted to point out the ridiculousness of that. I won’t go into railing their colors and mascot like I might have in oh, say, fourth grade. Which, actually, was the year of Carolina’s first bowl win. Instead of addressing this further, even though as I write this a Carolina fan just informed me that Stephen Garcia had a “Heisman performance” last night (he threw for 148 yards and an interception), I will choose to focus onward to Clemson’s first game against Middle Tennessee. Even though they are generally seen to be the underdog (Vegas has Clemson favored by 18.5) Middle Tennessee is not going to be afraid to play in Death Valley. Their coaching staff has numerous ties to Clemson; head coach Rick Stockstill coached at Clemson 1989-2002 under Danny Ford, Ken Hatfield, Tommy West and Tommy Bowden. Stockstill was the guy who recruited Brian Dawkins, who will be inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame tomorrow. (For those of you who don’t know, he’s a 7-time Pro Bowl safety and now plays for the Denver Broncos.) Stockstill has also hired nine assistant coaches and staff members with Clemson connections. The four assistant coaches include former Clemson QB Willie Simmons (who happened to live in Dabo’s basement for a period of time), Justin Watts, David Bibee and Les Herrin. Also, let’s remember that Middle Tennessee beat Maryland last year–a team that beat Clemson. A lot of people may think we are going to go in there and beat them by 40, but let’s give these guys some respect. It’s going to be a lot closer than that. I predict Clemson will win 31-17. Clemson’s players are simply more athletic. Stockstill basically said it himself: “It is hard to simulate Clemson’s speed in our practice. We are no different from any other team in the country. Jacoby Ford is the fastest guy in America and Heisman Trophy candidate CJ Spiller is fast and as elusive as there is in college football. We do not have a bunch of those guys running around here, but that is ok. We practice hard.” Now why we are on the topic of Jacoby Ford, let me go ahead and say “Hallelujiah!” for his seeming recovery from the hamstring injury that kept him out of almost all of August camp. Coach Swinney kept reassuring the media he wasn’t worried about Ford, but I sure was. Glad to see him back, but it’s a shame that another hamstring injury has now cursed Xavier Dye. The injury report Tim Bourret sent me yesterday said it was “probable” Dye will play tomorrow, so let’s hope he is indeed feeling up to it. Last time we played MTSU was in 2003, when the Tigers won 37-14 and Charlie Whitehurst led
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an offense that accomplished 481 yards. Whitehurst was 23-28 that day, passing for 298 yards. While Kyle Parker might not have a game like that tomorrow, I am probably most excited about finally getting to see him in a game situation. Kyle Parker will be the first freshman to start the season opener for Clemson at the QB position since 1945. In addition, it was 35 years ago since a Clemson QB started without previously taking a snap in a game. But Parker didn’t get the job because there were no other options. He’s a great athlete. And if by chance he chokes, which I highly doubt, Willy Korn can get that playing time that Dabo promised he will get every game. (That’s a whole other blog topic right there). I do have a feeling we are going to do a lot more running of the ball tomorrow than passing, though. Clemson has won 19 of the last 25 season openers, so let’s get ready to continue a great tradition that has only been interrupted in more recent years by top 25 teams (ahem, ‘Bama and Georgia). One more thing: remember that MLB Brandon May, normally #20, will be in #17 tomorrow honoring Stanley Hunter. GO TIGERS!
5 things we learned Saturday September 6, 2009 Finally, the 2009 football season has officially begun and we have one week of games we can use to discuss real analytics about what teams have to offer this season. No more of this tepic reflection on practices or useless predictions that only occasionally come to fruition. It’s the real deal now, y’all. It was much hotter in Death Valley yesterday than everyone had anticipated, but that’s always how it goes, right? If you aren’t sweating in September in Clemson on a Saturday, then you aren’t at the game. No one expected it to rain, either, but it did in more than one sense. Things we learned about the Tigers yesterday: 1. It rained on us fans, and it definitely rained on Willy Korn’s parade. On his second snap, the ball slipped out of his hand to be recovered by Middle Tennesee, who then promptly ran for a 70-yard touchdown. It looked like some kind of blooper that’s blasted across Sports Center’s “Not Top 10 Plays.” Keep in mind, it was NOT raining when this happened. The ball couldn’t possibly have been wet; if there was even an ounce of explanation for the occurrence, I would feel a little better about it. It was so bad, really, that I think Willy Korn is downright cursed. I heard someone on 104.9 after the game talking about how someone out there has a Willy Korn voo doo doll and said person was sticking pins in it during the game. That would be the only explanation for his performance, because he also threw an interception after a couple snaps when he was so charitably put back into the game. I feel very sorry for the kid. I really do. His story at Clemson has not been one to tell the grandkids, and I feel like no one can offer any real explanation as to why things with him have panned out the way they have. Now I am really curious–what will become of this unofficial pact Dabo made with Korn when Dabo announced that Parker would be the starter? At the time, it was presented in interviews with both Coach Swinney and Korn that because Willy had earned the right to play in pre-season camp, he would get to see the field in every game. That is what
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was said. Now, that got me a little cranky because you shouldn’t make deals with players. That’s what Bowden used to do, and no one liked it then either. So I guess this deal with Korn will have to be broken, because I foresee some sort of Clemson boycott if Korn sees the field in the Georgia Tech game Thursday. 2. Kyle Parker’s gonna be alright. Everyone already knew he was a great athlete and had a freakin’ cannon of an arm, but it was yet to be seen if he could perform in a real game situation. I’m not saying we can kick back and rest easy all season. Nor am I saying that he will be the next Tim Tebow. But he did pretty well, and I was pleased/relieved. He got rid of the ball quickly; he showed he can use his legs; and most importantly, he threw for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was only 9 for 20, which is not something to brag about, but to his credit there were several dropped passes and such that were not his fault. The only pass I recall whose incompletion should be accredited to Parker was his throw to Terrance Ashe along the sidelines in the first quarter, when Parker overthrew Ashe by a few feet. Jacoby Ford dropped two or three passes that hit him in the chest, which was very disappointing but I think that’s a just reflection of his missing out on drills in camp. He’ll hopefully either a) get back in the swing of things immediately or b) put some glue on his gloves for the Georgia Tech game. 3. CJ Spiller would like to have your attention, please. Will the real Heisman candidate, please stand up? With Spiller running that absolutely glorious 96-yard run for a touch down on the very first play of the season, I felt like it never could have been more appropriate for someone to spike the ball, pound his chest and yell out, I’m back and you all better pay very close attention. (It wouldn’t have even been obnoxious!) Well, he definitely got my attention in more ways than one. If that play was an omen for what the season holds for Spiller, I am even more excited than ever to see it unfold. Now, if his sitting out the second half due to a tweaked hamstring is an omen for what the season holds for Spiller, we are in big trouble and I might watch the season between my fingers with my hand over my face. While we saw promising things from Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington in the backfield, Clemson needs Spiller to have a big, big season in order to be a contender for the ACC Championship. I think we all knew he wouldn’t play the entire game, but did we expect him to limp to the locker room before halftime? I thought my boyfriend was legitimately going to have a panic attack. I find it more problematic that Spiller said it was a hamstring issue while Dabo assured everyone it was a sprained toe. Discrepancies always make me suspicious, but whatever it is, please get healed, and fast. Because GT’s tailback Jonathan Dwyer also ran for a 74-yard touchdown for the first play from scrimmage of Georgia Tech’s season, and you can’t go to war when one party has it’s secret weapon and the other doesn’t. I have been looking forward to the battle of the running backs for a long time now, so get well soon CJ! 4. Those Tigers are fast. The field looked like an orange blur much of the time. Of course, for some people it might have no matter if they were witnessing Clemson’s immense speed on both sides of the ball or grandma’s aerobics class at the Y. The defense looked great, especially in the secondary. The defense had three interceptions thanks to Chris Chancellor, DeAndre McDaniel and Brandon Maye (whose was actually on a tipped ball); there were three sacks for -18 yards accomplished by Jeremy Campbell, Jamie Cumbie and Kevin Alexander. Kevin Steele’s scheme definitely puts more pressure on the QB than we saw last year, with eight QB pressures. We also saw a lot more blitzing LBs and defensive backs, too. Got to love an aggressive defense that runs the gamut of the field. Concerning offense, we already know the exceptional speed of Spiller and Ford, demonstrated
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this time by their spectacular returns for TDs on special teams. But we also saw the power Rendrick Taylor brings to the line-up when he gets behind Chad Diehl; we saw Marquan Jones finish with 71 receiving yards (one yard less than Ford) and a touchdown; and we saw Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington run the heck out of the ball as well. Then again, we were playing Middle Tennessee, and everything is always relative. But it’s nice to see we have talented options. 5. As long as Richard Jackson performs as he did yesterday, special teams will not be a concern. While he missed two 45- and 48-yard field goals, he made 22-, 19- and 44-yard kicks. That’s pretty much all you can ask for from a first-year kicker–to make the kicks within the 40. If he remains consistent in that regard, we won’t need to sweat over Jackson. Also, Dawson Zimmerman appears to be a real weapon. If our defense performs like they did yesterday and Zimmerman kicks like he did, then that will take some pressure off of Kyle Parker and the rest of the offense. With a final score of 37-14, my initial prediction for Clemson vs. Middle Tennessee was exceeded. I was a little timid guessing 31-17, but as a Clemson fan it’s unfortunately best to be that way. Then you can be delightfully surprised instead of kicking yourself like how I spent my evening after last year’s nightmarish season opener. There are still lots of questions to be answered by the looming season, particularly when we get involved with conference play, so I can hardly stand the three day wait for Thursday night’s contest in Atlanta. Facing the Yellow Jackets will be a true test of the defense, Clemson’s depth and endurance, and again, Kyle Parker. Look out for a pre-game write-up from me in the next couple of days. GO TIGERS!
On the eve of Clemson vs. Georgia Tech September 9, 2009 It’s time to add a tombstone to the graveyard outside of the football practice fields in Clemson. A tombstone bearing Georgia Tech’s name, in a graveyard full of other tombstones engraved with names of Top 25 teams Clemson has beaten on the road. Tomorrow, Clemson plays a Georgia Tech team currently seated at 17th in the polls. Who cares! We see how much a ranking means. Notre Dame moved up what, five places with their snooze-inducing win over a less-than-mediocre Nevada? Miami wasn’t ranked in the preseason; in fact, everyone thought of them as the dark horse of the ACC. But boy, did they put up a fine showing against Florida State Monday night. Who knew the first week of college football could be so exciting? There are lots of numbers involving tomorrow’s game that strike a chord of irony, or at least head-scratching interest. For example, the last time Clemson beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta was in 2003, when Charlie Whitehurst led the Tigers to a sound 39-3 victory. What’s so ironic, though, is that the game one week before the 39-3 win was the last time Clemson played Middle Tennessee until this year. The score of that game was 37-14—exactly like the game vs. MTSU last week. Spooky! In a good, fun way, of course. I will go ahead and admit: I am superstitious to a fault. I called my mother the other day very concerned about the fact a black cat ran across the path
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of my vehicle on a six-lane highway. That was spooky in a whole other sense. So this, to me, is a sign that just cannot be ignored! But back to a more grounded examination of numbers: Georgia Tech has defeated Clemson four of the last five times the teams have met. But 10 of last 13 games between the two teams have been decided by only five points or less. This is why GT/Clemson, for me at least, is always one of the most exciting contests of each season, regardless of the fact they are in different divisions—it’s so fiercely competitive. Let’s recall how close the game was last year; which, by the way, was Dabo’s first game as interim head coach. With 5:22 left in the game, GT QB Josh Nesbitt threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, allowing the Jackets to take the lead of 21-17, and ultimately allowing them to win by four. Clemson’s offense only accomplished 249 offensive yards that game. Georgia Tech’s defense played pretty solidly, but CJ Spiller didn’t touch the field because of an injury suffered the week prior in the game vs. Wake. Jamie Harper played in place of Spiller, with two catches and 10 rushes for 28 yards. Well, we got Spiller this time around (as well as a much improved Jamie Harper), and Spiller’s ready to translate every electric current of athleticism and skill he’s got in his body to a lightning strike on GT’s field. I can smell the burning grass now. After all, Spiller is constantly compared with GT tailback Jonathan Dwyer. Spiller won’t only want to compete in this game as a team, but he’s probably also feeling a more personal level of competition as well. Everyone’s been talking about how this is the battle of the running backs; and I bet Spiller is ready to show up the sophomore All ACC POY preseason pick on Dwyer’s own turf. Like I said last week, nothing could preface this Spiller/Dwyer showdown like both players scoring on their first runs of season, running for 96 and 74 yards, respectively. By the way, that was Spiller’s fourth kickoff return for a touchdown in his career, setting a new ACC record. What records could Spiller set in this game? He only needs 750 more all-purpose yards to hold the ACC record…but back to reality. Georgia Tech had over 400 yards total offense last week against Jacksonville State—327 in the first half alone. I can go ahead and say with certainty, which I really try to avoid doing because I hate eating my words later (did you read that, GT blogger? Maybe some advice for you). But there is no way in hell that Clemson’s defense will allow this parading down the field to occur tomorrow. In last season’s match-up, Clemson’s defense allowed just over 200 rushing yards, faring much better than GT’s other opponents including Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia (who allowed 409!) Clemson’s defense is even better this year, with an even better defensive coordinator who has seemed to prepare them well for the option. It’s also important to note that this will be the second year these returning defensive starters will be seeing the option; it won’t be a shock. They know what to look out for this time around. “There’s a comfort zone because we have been there before. We’ve seen the thing…These guys have seen it. When you talk about a dive, quarterback pitch, they saw it closer than me and you,” DC Kevin Steele told the media about his players on Tuesday. Though Clemson has had to prepare for the option on a short week, they have spent plenty of time watching film and practicing for this game. “We spent a lot of time, a lot of time on them, both in the spring and summer putting in the game plan, so the game plan was done. It’s been done. It’s been on a shelf. We had video of
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some periods in the spring and fall camp, things that had the basics, so it was just a matter of us tweaking it early Sunday morning and going in and watching the Jacksonville State game,” Steele said. In sum, this is what needs to happen: –The offensive line has got to shape up. They have to look better than they did last week to win any games against tough teams, regardless of whether the other team’s defense may be a shiny spot for said team or not. Georgia Tech’s defense hasn’t gotten rave reviews save DE Derrick Morgan, who happened to have two sacks last week. But interestingly enough, I’ve heard a theory that it doesn’t matter how mediocre GT’s defense may be. They won’t be on the field much because the offense will spend so much time slowly hammering away for two yards at a time. (True or not, I don’t know, but interesting either way.) –The defense has got to be focused and extremely disciplined. They have to stay on their assigned guys, not getting distracted and not getting bored with the numerous and relentless small drives. That’s when Dwyer makes a surprise 75-yard run—when the defense gets sleepy. –CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford need to have good games, as usual. They both need to stay healthy and put major points on the board. –The secondary has their work cut out for them, and they have to be ready to make tackles. The linebackers, the safeties and corners—they have to have major field vision and endurance. In particular is Brandon Maye, because he will be responsible for playing both sides. LET’S GO TIGERS. I will be there, Erin Andrews will be there. Impress us! Make me proud.
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Thursday night September 11, 2009 It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Thursday night. And not just because of the loss. Although that heartbreaker certainly didn’t lift my spirits. Neither did the “Florida State fan” who tried unsuccessfully to console me outside of the hotel by informing me that everything was ok, because Clemson lost to a ranked team. What does he know? After all, he also said, “Who’s Christian Ponder?” Some fan. Well, it all began when my Clemson posse and I rolled up to the outskirts of Bobby Dodd Stadium. I had just received a voicemail informing me that my dog had been seen wandering around the neighborhood and had followed a woman home while she was walking her own dogs. He had somehow successfully avoided playing in the busy four-lane road nearby. The situation was quickly resolved, but I I think all my luck was used up for the evening in that my sweet pup was safe and sound playing with new canine friends in a kind neighbor’s backyard, instead of attempting to dodge city traffic. Anyway, the night I had been waiting for was off to a rocky start. We entered the stadium, and I miss kickoff because these two Georgia Tech fans thought it appropriate to have a conversation with a passerby while the concessions worker waited patiently for no less than 5 minutes, arm extended and a palmful of change, wondering when they would quit gossiping and finish their transaction. I guess these ladies didn’t care about the game, but I did, and I was none too pleased in missing kickoff because a Diet Coke cost me $4 and 15 precious minutes. Let me tell you about Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field–I hate it. Period. I hate it’s
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pretentious name; it’s rickety and steep; there was garbage on the field at some point; and you can hardly get in and out of the aisles because they are so narrow that you literally have to have full body contact with strangers to get to your seat. I’m not into full body contact at football games. I don’t wear pads and a jersey. So I struggled through the throngs of Ga. Tech fans to place my orange-clad self admist my amped-up opposition. Then the first quarter occurs, as if I need to explain why this put me in a state of depression. It was so bad I could hardly believe that I was seeing. I never, ever expected Clemson to get off on the wrong foot like that. I knew it was going to be a fiercely competitive game because I believe that Georgia Tech is by far one of the strongest teams in the ACC. It’s always competitive when the Tigers and the Jackets go head-to-head. But while this murderous half hour or so of play was unfolding below me, I was taking notes for this blog. An incredibly obnoxious GT fan sitting two rows back was erupting with such profound statements such as, “Better luck next time, Barney!” (the Tigers were dressed in all purple, which happens to be Spiller’s favorite) and “Dabo SWEEEEEEENEY! ON THE HOT SEAT BESIDE AL GROH!” Said fan then found it appropriate to lean down over the row that divided us, grab my shoulders and yell, “NUMBER 42! DID YOU GET THAT? 42!” Note to all fans: do not touch strangers at the game, PARTICULARLY unhappy strangers who are pulling for the other team. I don’t care how impassioned you are. It’s simply not polite. And let’s face it, we were in the state of Georgia. In the south particurlarly, there are codes by which you must abide when you are watching football. This should probably be number one. Another code by which you must abide, even on game days: do not wear white after Labor Day, y’all. Only a predominantly male school would call for a “white out” after Labor Day. There was a breeze kickin’ in ATL last night, and all the GT girls were decked out in white sundresses. I am all for wearing your best on game day; witnessing football deserves a level of reverence. I may be old fashioned, but come on. About the nightmare that was the first quarter: let’s never, ever see anything like that again. Richard Jackson’s botched kick; Corey Lambert versus Derrick Morgan (this match-up resulted in Morgan having two sacks in the first quarter alone–the number he had in an entire game against Jacksonville State). Thank God Chris Hairston was eventually moved over to the right side. Someone needs to step up and take over the RT position. PLEASE. Kyle Parker had some beautiful moments during the game, but he’s a freshman. There were several instances, particularly in the first quarter, when he just wouldn’t get rid of the ball. GT intercepted off of a fake by Parker and subsequent terrible pass, which prompted the actually hilarious statement by an opposing fan, “Martha Stewart couldn’t invent a better recipe for an interception!” (Another hilarious GT tidbit; a shirt a fan was wearing in front of me said, “Georgia Tech’s Johnson is hard to beat!” Hey man, it’s true.) But I have to say, I am very proud of the way the Tigers came back from a 24-0 deficit to take the lead. Over the past few years, the Tigers have found it impossible to come from behind like they did last night. It showed amazing character. In the first quarter, I will be the first to admit that all optimism from my end had vanished. But that won’t happen again, because this team has proven that they will stand up with confidence when down and seize opportunities to put points on the board, no matter how they may be feeling. One particularly beautiful play: when Jacoby Ford snagged the ball with 4:57 left in third quarter, resulting in a 77-yard touchdown reception. But there were other standout plays that punctuated my emotional rollercoaster.
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I was so angry when Jackson went to fake a field goal on the 55 and instead had a botched punt. It would have been much better had he kicked it through the goal posts. Jackson’s capable of making a 55-yard field goal. He made good on his 21- and 53-yard kicks, the latter of which put the Tigers in the lead. I forgive the line drive straight into GT’s arms, giving them a handdelivered invitation to make that 85-yard run for a touchdown. I forgive that mistake, and I think Jackson will serve Clemson well over the season. The battle of the running backs was very tame. Jonathan Dwyer was far from the star of the offense last night, and CJ Spiller has certainly had bigger games. But Spiller played consistently, as usual, and led the team like he does so well. His 63-yard touchdown reception rallied the Tigers, enabling them to close the scoreboard gap in the astounding manner that they did. Another running back that’s going to be great: Andre Ellington. He’s got big things in store for us. He looked good again this week, and I can’t wait to see what he will contribute over the next four seasons. While Dwyer bored me, Demaryius Thomas and Anthony Allen owned the field. Demaryius Thomas has the Tigers’ number. He scored the winning touchdown last year. He’s the guy who had a key block when Anthony Allen scored one of the TDs in the first quarter. Thomas is also the guy who had a 38-yard reception to put the Jackets in range to kick the field goal that enabled them to win in the last 56 seconds of the game. He definitely has Chris Chancellor’s number. Just like last year in the play that allowed the Jackets to win, Thomas beat Chancellor once again to catch that 38-yard pass. Darn you, Demaryius Thomas! Get to the NFL already. And as for Allen, in addition to the TD just mentioned, he scored an 82-yard touchdown on the Jackets’ second play from scrimmage. Another shocking similarity to last year’s game is the pivotal holding call that was, once again, called on Thomas Austin. This time, it negated the 38-yard completion to Jacoby Ford in Clemson’s second to last drive that probably would have resulted in a touchdown. It’s a series of events such as these that allows a team with a QB that throws 3-14 and two interceptions, and an All- ACC Player of the Year RB who doesn’t create any highlights, to beat Clemson. Paul Johnson’s a good coach. He outcoached Clemson. I respect that. I’d like Swinney and Johnson to meet again… in Tampa Bay.
A brief news recap of the week + a BC discussion September 18, 2009 It’s been an interesting week in Clemson news. A brief recap: –As you all know, unless you have been living under a rock (which given the way grad school is going, sounds mighty appealing) the umpire, referee and two line judges who officiated the Clemson vs. GT game have been suspended. You would think that might make us all feel better about the last-minute defeat. But to me, it just makes it that much more unsettling. Moving on… –One of the second-string WRs, junior Xavier Dye, suprisingly announced yesterday he was quitting the team due to lack of playing time. In the same several-hour span, it was then reported Dye decided to remain at Clemson, but would be sitting out the Boston College game due to this strange mind game. Apparently, he’s not allowed to stay with the team tonight in the
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hotel and has been placed on the scout team for an unspecified amount of time. Flip-floppers are not cool. They aren’t popular in politics, and they especially aren’t popular in sports. I hate those fans who pledge allegiance to whatever teams are having phenomenal seasons, and I am particularly unimpressed with players who quit and change their minds in mere hours. But he is on the Clemson roster, so I will continue to be an Xavier Dye fan. After all, in CJ Spiller’s younger years he often considered leaving Clemson to return home to Florida. Look at what kind of Tiger he turned out to be! –The Clemson vs. TCU game has been picked up by none other than ESPN 360! Nothing makes you feel better than when your team is playing the 15th team in the country and apparently no one cares. Very graciously, however, Clemson Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips has allowed us to have a non-televised game past our bedtimes–kick-off has been moved to 3:30 p.m. instead of 1 p.m. “After further review, we have decided to make this time change,” Phillips says. “This decision to play at 3:30 p.m. is made to provide balance between our fans that prefer an earlier kickoff time and our fans that prefer a later kickoff time. We look forward to playing an excellent TCU team that is currently ranked in the top 15 in the nation.” Agreed, TDP. I am certainly looking forward to it. Particularly now that I know I don’t have to awaken at 7 a.m. –Swine flu is circulating Clemson’s campus like mad. I am now teetering along the fine line of washing my hands/using hand sanitizer in a responsibly preventative manner or doing this in an obsessive compulsive manner. I hope that the football playes are following my lead. Do you hear, that, guys? It’s okay if you cross into OCD territory, as long as you avoid catching H1N1 and avoid missing games. Stay away from the flu! This leads us to a discussion of serious business–the third game. Every year we play Boston College, it’s very emotional for fans and players alike. While Clemson and BC are tied in the series with an 8-8-2 record, BC hasn’t lost in Death Valley since 1958. They beat the Tigers in Clemson in both 2005 and 2007 since joining the ACC’s Atlantic Division just four years ago. All four meetings with the Tigers since BC’s ACC debut have been decided by a touchdown or less, including overtime in 2005, double-overtime in 2006, and a 20-17 loss for Clemson in the 2007 Atlantic Divison title game played in Death Valley. If anyone thought I was being sappy when I described the Clemson vs. Boston College series as emotional, maybe you can understand a bit better with this frustrating reminder of the past. That game in 2007 was miserable. There’s no other way to describe it. I clearly recall the throngs of orange-clothed fans dragging their feet to their respective vehicles after that game, heads hung low against a gloomy backdrop of gray sky. It was quiet on Centennial Boulevard. No one could seem to believe that again, the game went into overtime and again, the War Eagles bested the Tigers. But then came last year’s victory; Coach Swinney’s first win as head coach. I was there at Chestnut Hill, sitting amongst a fairly large group of Clemson fans, and I remember feeling so much pride and relief that a) we managed to beat our slippery foes and b) that the interim head coach everyone had wondered about proved he wouldn’t be a total disaster. I was on Team Dabo from the get-go, but that win at least proved to everyone who wasn’t on Team Dabo that Clemson wouldn’t be the laughing stock of the country for the rest of the season. At that time
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there were plenty of people scratching their heads due to the fact that a football-centric school like Clemson had a “no name” coach heading the program after Tommy B. exited mid-season. I’m sure plenty of folks assumed we wouldn’t win a game for the remainder of the year, and let’s be honest–morale wasn’t sky-high. So after the pivotal and exciting 27-21 victory, all us Clemson fans rose to our feet and gave Dabo and the team a standing ovation. We stayed in that stadium and cheered and cheered, until Dabo ran over with his fist held high in the air and the whole team trotting behind him, all of whom stopped to celebrate with us for several minutes. They did the same with the Clemson section in the opposite end zone as well. You could tell they were feeling the exact same way we were. We really were one big Clemson unit up there in Boston. We went up there together, not quite sure what that trip north had to offer us besides some historic city views, and left with all of our dignities not only intact but much improved. Cheering with Dabo and the team that day is probably one of my favorite memories as a fan. Spiller had 242 all-purpose yards in last year’s match-up, and was subsequently named ACC Offensive Back of the Week. Thomas Austin was named Offensive Lineman of the Week then, too. I bet they are both ready to have all-star performances tomorrow, geared up and ready to play hard ball after the injustice and sheer disappointment that is more specifically known as the Georgia Tech game. But that determination and extra-sharp competitive edge that I’m predicting will show itself on the football field tomorrow includes the entire team. They’ve had time to let last week’s failure go, and had plenty of time to get ready for Boston College, who won’t be an easy opponent. After all, their defense seems to be pretty solid, even without Mark Herzlich. They’ve only allowed seven points to be scored in the first two games, which they both marked down in the books as W’s. In fairness, they were playing Kent State and Northeastern. I originally predicted BC would win those two games to preface a depressing string of losses kicked off by the Tigers. “This will be a physical game. It always is when we play Boston College,” Coach Swinney said after practice this week. “They are an excellent team and an excellent program. They have gotten to the championship game each of the last two years and that is a spot we want this year, so obviously this is a very big game this coming Saturday.” Indeed, it is. It’s Clemson’s first Atlantic division match-up, so we’ll start to get a real taste of where we might stand in our division tomorrow afternoon, just as Georgia Tech did on Thursday night in their decisive loss in Miami. (P.S., though I am very excited about playing Miami this year, I am even more excited the baseball diamond will be covered by then so our guys won’t get all skinned up in Landshark Stadium. I won’t have to cringe every time I see one of ‘em drop in the infield). Although, I’ll be the first to admit that anything can happen in regards to the evolution of the ACC season. This game tomorrow, however, is the first Atlantic hurdle. A few things that we have going for us: the only injury to report is Michael Palmer’s hip, who more likely than not will be ready play. Landon Walker is now starting at RT instead of Cory Lambert. Hopefully he can make a statement and keep his newly appointed #1 spot on the depth chart. He’s started plenty of games for Clemson in the past. Let’s hope he can go to work once again. As far as I know, BC doesn’t even know what QB might be starting tomorrow. They have two very inexperienced freshmen to choose from–Justin Tuggle or Dave Shinskie. I think their offensive line is decent, but our defense is going to eat these young QBs alive and spit out their
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bones. Not everyone can be a freshman prodigy like Kyle Parker. Ha ha! By the way, I see KP on the bus at least once a week at school. Maybe I should get him to autograph my bookbag… Kidding. But speaking of defense, ours primarily has to look out for Montel Harris, Boston College’s leading rusher from last season. All in all, I bet on Clemson minus 7. Sorry War Eagles, but your era is over.
First 2009 ACC win in the books September 21, 2009 The recent victory over Boston College was yet again interesting, to say the least. It was much more decisive than years past, and I am very grateful for that. It’s certainly a positive thing to win your first division game by a healthy margin such as 25-7. I was a bit conservative in my prediction, but as a Clemson fan I have learned it’s best to tread carefully in your expectations. Before we move to the lessons we as Clemson football fans have learned from Saturday’s showing, everyone must direct their attention to this YouTube video featuring a couple of young Clemson fans at the closing of the Clemson vs. GT game. Love hurts, guys. Love hurts. On Saturday, I ran into the legendary Danny Ford, whom I have referenced several times in this blog when referencing Clemson culture and history.
This is similar to a family photo from 1983 that resurfaced in my brother’s wedding slide show I put together:
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Ah, nothing like family traditions. Five things we learned after Clemson’s first (and which should be the second) ACC victory: 1. Kevin Steele has some major tricks up his sleeve, and the Tigers’ defense is the real deal. I said in my early Clemson prediction in late July that I couldn’t wait to see what Kevin Steele had in store for us. So far, he has proven himself to be quite the asset to the program. I mentioned Steele’s past running of a 3-4 scheme at Alabama (after all, he has a long history of being a LBs coach at places such as FSU and the Carolina Panthers) and wondered how it might play out in his schemes here at Clemson. Well, we got a small taste of it on Saturday. There were a few instances where Steele implemented the 3-4, moving either Ricky Sapp or Da’ Quan Bowers back to a stand-up position. I for one would like to see this a little bit more, and apparently we are going to. The formation has been named “Bamberg” in honor of the DE duo, who are both graduates from the same highschool in Bamberg and distant cousins. Speaking of Kevin Steele being a former LB coach, the LBs were supposedly going to be the weakest aspect of the defense, but they haven’t looked very weak in play at all. In fact, the entire defense looked nothing less than outstanding on Saturday, giving up only 55 offensive yards, 25 passing and just four first downs to the Eagles. The only other game in which a Clemson defense allowed less offensive yards by the opposing team was in Charlottesville, Va. in 1963 vs. UVA, when they allowed just 41. One thing I’ve noticed is Steele’s interactions with the players during the game. From where I sit, I have a very good and close-up view of the team and the coaches. I like to examine how they operate both on and off the field. Steele is about as enthusiastic and in his players’ faces as Coach Swinney; full of utter emotion, yelling in players’ faces and doling out high-fives, and in return you can tell his players really both admire and respond to him. Seeing this sort of behavior is such a refreshing change from the stoicism of the Tommy Bowden era. 2. Richard Jackson has 100% earned his spot as starting PK and has proven why he was such a highly regarded recruit and Parade All-American. He was 6-6 in field goals, including a 52-yard kick. That makes for two kicks for 50 or more yards in the past two games. Incredible! Saturday’s victory allowed him to tie for an ACC single-game record for number of field goals, and he has been named as one of three Lou Groza National Collegiate Place Kicker Award “Stars of the Week” as well as an ACC Football Player of the Week. This leads us to our next discovery… 3. Even though the offensive line will mostly likely continue to be lackluster all season, the Tigers can over-compensate poor offensive line play with great performances by the backs, strong defense and special teams. The conservative play calling and the total lack of red-zone offense was a product of both a once again poor showing by the offensive line and Kyle Parker looking like the freshman that he is. Luckily, the team can overcome absolutely zero offensive TDs scored in an entire game by holding the opposing team to just one TD themselves and shining in special teams. All of Clemson’s 25 points consisted of Spiller’s punt return for a TD and Jackson’s six FGs. Unfortunately, LT Chris Hairston allegedly sprained his left MCL in the fourth quarter. His back-up is now Cory Lambert, who got moved from RT after the Ga. Tech game because he has failed to perform. It’s been speculated that Hairston will be ready to play by the TCU game, but we will see as the week progresses. I will be sure to let everyone know as soon as I receive an injury report prior to the game.
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4. It’s become customary for Spiller to have outstanding punt returns for TDs, and particularly in difficult games like the upcoming TCU match-up, it will be utter necessity for the Tigers to capitalize on both his special teams and RB achievements. Surely everyone recalls his beautiful 77-yard kick return for a TD only mere moments into the game, for the second home game in a row. Hopefully Spiller can manage to work TCU in this very manner, particularly if the offense plays in a similar fashion to the way they did Saturday. If the OL can’t block for Spiller to streak down the field on a normal basis, at least the rest of the kicki return team can. But the first step to Spiller scoring TDs in any regard is for him to stay healthy. He once again hurt his “toes,” limping off of the field but assuring everyone he would be ready to play Saturday. If this injury recurs all season toward the end of every game, we’re going to be in big trouble. 5. We have apparently not yet seen the last of Willy Korn, but I think most of the fans would prefer if we had. Is it just me, or is putting Willy Korn in to play QB when the score has a single digit gap in an Atlantic Division game, and we are actively trying to score a touchdown within the 20-yard line, a good way for Dabo to lose supporters? Admittedly, Kyle Parker looked like the freshman that he is on Saturday. But I don’t think he looked worse than Willy Korn does on a regular basis. Yeah, yeah, I have a lot of sympathy for Willy Korn’s situation. But not enough to take those kind of risks. I heard a huge, collective sigh in the stands when we witnessed him trotting onto the field–a general loss for words. That agitated silence is, well, enough said. But let’s take a look at his stats from the game anyway: he was 1-1 for -1 passing yards and rushed twice for -6 yards, one of which I know was a sack when he could’ve easily thrown the ball away. So now, looking forward to TCU. It will no doubt be a great game. All sorts of old college buddies are coming out of the woodworks to attend, and I expect Death Valley will be louder than ever. Hopefully the Tigers can accomplish a win for themselves, for you and me, and for the ACC. We would like for all of the listed parties to be delighted by days’ end, right? My delight would be even more resonant if the rain manages to hold off for the first time in Death Valley this season. This past Saturday was down right messy. It’s days like that I should actually go sit in the press box, but it’s so hard for me to tear myself away from the actual fan experience existing within the stands. And once you see my pictures from the day, you will know how hardcore I really am. Check back later for new pictures and a Clemson vs. TCU prediction.
Clemson vs. TCU: the battle of the defenses September 25, 2009 I have a piece of advice for everyone. Don’t watch South Carolina games with South Carolina fans. I went to a great viewing party and fish fry last night in honor of the Carolina/Ole Miss game, with all proceeds going toward the Greenville Humane Society. If you have to witness your rival win, there’s no better way to do it than by watching a giant outdoor television, eating unlimited amounts of fresh trout caught in the waters of Jocassee, and letting your dog run around. But when a team has it’s second victory EVER against a top 5 team, and the fans subsequently start cheering for Clemson’s looming opposition, it’s time to just shake your head in disbelief and
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make a graceful exit. Clemson fans were severely outnumbered at this particular event, and about 40 people proceeded to chant at the top of their lungs, “TCU! TCU! TCU!” and “Let’s go Horned Frogs!” when Carolina sealed their (deserved) victory. It was downright silly. If Clemson beat a top 5 team, even if they were as laughably overrated as Ole Miss, I would be cheering for CLEMSON. Here’s a new reason to cheer for Clemson this week: the letter [http://clemsontigers.cstv.com/ sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092209aah.html] written to Clemson fans from Boston College LB Mark Herzlich’s dad, Sandon Herzlich, that has been circulating the Web. If you aren’t familiar with Mark Herzlich’s story, he’s presently battling cancer and stood on the sidelines last week showing obvious signs of chemotherapy treatment. Many of you have probably read the letter, but if you haven’t, please do. It makes me very proud to be a part of the Clemson community, and ironically enough someone told me last night that Clemson fans had a “bad rap.” I beg to differ, sir. Here’s further evidence [http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/blog/dr_saturday/post/AllTomorrow-s-Parties-Clemson-where-it-s-oran?urn=ncaaf,191916] of our fabulousness, complete with a delightful dash of humor. As I write this, I just received an e-mail from SID Tim Bourret with an interesting tidbit pertaining to everyone who’s anyone’s favorite Heisman candidate, CJ Spiller. It reads: “Clemson all-purpose player C.J. Spiller needs just two kickoff return yards to reach 1500 for his career and 12 receiving yards to reach 1000 receiving yards for his career. When he reaches those two levels he will join former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush of Southern California as the only players in college football history to accumulate at least 2500 yards rushing, 1000 yards receiving, 1500 yards in kickoff returns and 500 yards in punt returns.” Kudos, C.J. He truly is a great guy and I relish in his success. Speaking of success, Clemson needs to have a successful day at the ballfield tomorrow. This is a MUST WIN game, in my opinion. I’ve heard rumors that some fans say this game isn’t very important. Well, no, it isn’t a conference game. But I think Dabo needs to prove something tomorrow if he has plans of putting any legitimate stamp on the program. There isn’t anyone in the world who would have cut Tommy Bowden this sort of lackadaisical slack, saying “Eh, well, we don’t really need to win. It isn’t a big deal.” People would call for his head if he was to lose a game to the 15th ranked team at home. Is this a football game? Yes. Is Clemson involved? Yes. Enough said–it’s a big deal. It isn’t like Dabo inherited garbage. He inherited the most raw talent in the ACC. Given my logical proof represented above, I clearly have a penchant for logically thinking about sports, and I completely agree that given last week’s happenings, we have our work cut out for us with TCU. TCU has a 41-10 record under Gary Patterson, who has been in charge since 2005. They only lost two games last year to Oklahoma, the National Champ runner-up and Utah, the only undefeated team in the country. I certainly don’t think they are going to have a repeat season, but their defense is still very tough and very physical. TCU is currently leading the nation in sacks, with 11 in just two games. However, everything is relative, and this could be a case of a strong defense matched up with weak teams that’s giving
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TCU sack inflation. And according to the official injury report, it’s “questionable” that Chris Hairston will play tomorrow. I think it’s going to be decided in warm-ups tomorrow. Say a prayer; keep your fingers crossed; wear your lucky underwear–whatever it takes, guys. Hairston needs to be on the field tomorrow, IF he’s capable without worsening his injury. We witnessed what happens when Cory Lambert is matched up to a talented DE when Derrick Morgan worked Lambert in the Georgia Tech game. TCU’s star DE is even more of a threat. Jerry Hughes had 15 sacks last year and 11 tackles for a loss, and is currently on the road to once again being named an All-American. The Tigers aren’t going to be able to run the ball much against TCU’s defense, particularly given the way the offensive line is playing. I highly doubt they’ll be able to pass much, either, but that would be our greatest chance at significant yardage and offensive touchdowns, which are apparently going to be a challenge this season. Kyle Parker has good pocket presence when there’s a pocket. The Tigers really need to move the pocket around and get Parker to roll out to take some pressure off of the O-line. As far as our defense goes, I expect another fine showing. This will truly be battle of the defenses. Remember, defenses and special teams win games. We saw that last week. TCU needs to get ready to face the “Bamberg Bookends” and DeAndre McDaniel, in particular. I am, however, in disagreement with all these people who are claiming that the score is going to be in single digits for both teams due to defenses disallowing offensive redzone activity. I don’t foresee a 7-3 final score. It clearly isn’t far-fetched to say Spiller could work his magic on special teams, and Richard Jackson will be there once again with his golden leg. Also, my crystal ball is telling me there’s going to be a defensive TD and several turnovers, too. For who, you ask? We’ll have to wait and see. That being said, I predict a final score of 20-13, Clemson. It’s funny that I get a sick feeling everytime I make a prediction. I guess because it’s finalizing my hopes and writing something that could possibly be used as ammo against me later. It leads to vulnerability as a fan. But since in my early, early prediction of Clemson’s entire season I predicted we’d lose to both Georgia Tech and TCU, I guess I could be right in one way or another! Yeah, I admit, I’m a flip-flopper. But I truly believe we are going to win tomorrow, and it’s not only fair but necessary for people’s opinions to change as they become more informed. Our last non-conference Top 25 win in Death Valley was a 25-24 victory over Texas A&M in 2005. That was the day my roommates and I debuted the giant slip-and-slide in our yard behind the Esso Club. I woke up that morning, put on my orange and purple bathing suit, and blasted the Tiger Rag at top volume from the porch as I took my first trip down that long, slippery piece of plastic. I knew it was going to be a good day that day, and I know it’s gonna be a good day tomorrow. Even if it rains.
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One play away, AS USUAL September 27, 2009 Before yesterday, the term “it rained on our parade” has never been given so much meaning. Numerous Clemson fans trailed out of the stadium, waterlogged and depressed, ruminating on exactly what went wrong. Water pooled in the elbows of my rain jacket and in my boots, and I had never in my life witnessed Clemson fans packing up their tailgates so quickly. When I awoke this morning, it took a minute for the reality to set in that maybe Clemson just isn’t that good, and won’t be this season. There’s a pivotal moment of acceptance that follows a heartbreaking loss, and I experienced it this morning as I perused the Clemson blogs to see fans fighting amongst eachother, each of whom were trying to pinpoint a specific play that blew the game. Many of them also made outlandish statements such as that Kyle Parker is horrible and Willy Korn or Michael Wade should take the reigns at QB, and that Da’ Quan Bowers shouldn’t start. Now, those claims just made me laugh. And when I saw the turmoil going on in the blogs, I realized that all the fans were having a bit of a difficult time with the loss just like I was, and that considering no one could decipher exactly what blew it, the Tigers are probably going to fare just fine over the course of the season. One thing that went wrong, I know, is that the stadium was not full. The corners of the upperdecks were stark, and there were even stretches of bleachers around me, directly behind the home team in the first few rows, that were empty. I overheard plenty of chatter concerning the disbelief people couldn’t man up and come to see the Tigers play the 15th team in the nation–in Death Valley–when the game wouldn’t even be televised. Yesterday, Death Valley seemed to lack the home field advantage. A little water never hurt anybody. I even made the predetermined decision to sit it out in the rain with the rest of the fans and not in the shelter of the pressbox. Clemson played a good, solid team yesterday, and unfortunately didn’t come out on top. It was a neck-and-neck battle throughout the duration of the game. It was nothing to encourage humiliation, even though there were several areas of the game that were troublesome. Those distressing incidences include the following: 1. There were too many dropped passes. Several people, including Terrance Ashe and Michael Palmer, were guilty of this yesterday. I know it was raining, but TCU didn’t appear to drop as many passes as Clemson did. And it wasn’t raining in the Clemson vs. Georgia Tech game, when dropped passes also cost the team dearly. In games involving two evenly matched teams, mistakes like this just CANNOT HAPPEN. Kyle Parker didn’t look half bad yesterday, being a freshman quarterback in the rain. In fact, I think he redeemed himself from the debauchery of his performance the week prior. He did overthrow several times in crucial plays, but the fact that many of his perfect passes slipped out of hands and bounced off of chests by more veteran players is inexcusable. 2. C.J. Spiller carries too heavy of a load for the offense. Yes, he’s a star. But the guy is human, and he must be tired. Clemson’s only touchdown was due to Spiller’s 60-yard reception and subsequent one-yard touchdown run that allowed the Tigers to enter half-time leading 10-7, the first rushing touchdown of the season. Yesterday he had a career-high 26 carries, 112 of the 117 rushing yards, and 76 receiving yards. He also recovered the ball on Clemson’s final possession on 3rd and one from TCU’s 48 when Parker botched a snap for a loss of eight yards.
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Don’t get me wrong–C.J. Spiller should continue to do everything he can to contribute to the team. But I would like to see some other people contribute as well. Not everyone is C.J. Spiller I know, but I wish Andre Ellington would get the ball more. I wish some receivers would step up and make some big plays. I wish Jamie Harper would quit running the ball like he’s terrified. Oh yeah, did I mention I wished people would quit dropping the ball, too? As I relayed in my previous blog, prior to the game C.J. Spiller had the potential to be the second player in college football history to acheive 2500 yards rushing, 100 yards receiving, 1,500 on kick returns and 500 on punt returns. Well now he’s officially joined the ranks with Reggie Bush to claim this honor. 3. The missed field goal turned out to be a deal breaker, though it shouldn’t have come down to such in the first place. I can’t hate on Richard Jackson. He has done such a stellar job thus far. But had the 34-yard field goal been made, he could have kicked another on, perhaps, one of the two 4th quarter trips within the 20 to win the game. In addition, there were other opportunities for Dabo to call for a field goal. Such as in the 4th quarter, when he chose to try and convert a 4th and 13 instead of kicking it. Dabo chose to burn a timeout and go for the long completion in wet and nasty conditions instead of going for three, and relying on Clemson’s defense to stop TCU with three timeouts left. After the turnover on downs, Clemson’s defense DID stop TCU. But because the Tigers failed to kick for three on the previous drive, the Tigers were forced to try for a touchdown again. It’s all relative. If we had scored a touchdown on the first drive of the game instead of kicking a short field goal, it wouldn’t have mattered. Woulda, shoulda, coulda…I’m not the coach, and I’m not one to pretend I know better than the coach does. I am sure Dabo had his reasons, and he’d probably agree hindsight is 20/20. Clemson allowed no turnovers and no sacks. The offensive line, including Cory Lambert, played respectably. Jerry Hughes was hardly a factor. It ALMOST seemed that the planets had aligned on Clemson’s behalf. But there was that pass tipped by Bowers and almost intercepted by Rashard Hall that freakishly resulted in a 58-yard completion and TCU’s first touchdown. There was the ridiculously poor weather. There was the all-too familiar lack of red-zone productivity. All of these factors combined for one poor Saturday. Clemson already ruins my Sundays, which are filled with less-than-titilating hours of study. My Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are consumed with class, work for the university and more study. Clemson could at least give me my Saturdays. Instead, I emerged drowned in toxic rain and drowned in sorrows. Yet I still have a bit of healthy optimism I refuse to shake. 9-3, here we come.
“But we’ve got Chris Turner!” October 2, 2009 I will not be in College Park this weekend. I will be enjoying a brunch in the comfortable and dry confines of a home, watching the game on one of two generously sized flat screens. It will certainly be a nice change of pace from last weekend. Thank you, football gods, for televising this game. I adore football season. I think that’s become obvious by now. But sometimes the travel, the
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planning, the traffic and all the other stuff that goes along with the actual four quarters of competition gets to me. Particularly the bizarre series of rainy Saturdays paired with the recent disappointing loss. Since Clemson has a bye next weekend, I’ll be in Canada, and then by the time the Wake game rolls around, I’ll be MORE than ready for America’s favorite pasttime to return to Death Valley. The loss, by the way, I have been meaning to discuss. I don’t like how many Clemson fans have reacted to only two losses totaling seven points to very good, Top 15 teams. I have been contemplating what it means to be a fan all week, and how one has a duty to remain loyal to one’s team if said person is, indeed, a true fan. No one likes a trash talker in his or her circle. This is subject matter for a different blog entirely. Expect a letter to fellow Clemson fans coming in the next few days. Speaking of trash talkers in the Clemson circle, Willy Korn had a few frustrated words about Coach Swinney regarding lack of playing time in an interview with Tiger Illustrated this week. I wish I could link the article, but the gist of it is this: he called Dabo a liar. Maybe you recall when I lamented Coach Swinney’s “deal” that he made with Willy Korn, when it was announced Kyle Parker would be starting QB. If you recall, Dabo told Willy Korn he’d play in every game. I maintained that coaches shouldn’t make deals with players, and that if Willy Korn was not the best QB, he shouldn’t see the field in important games. I don’t think talking disfavorably about your coach (however mild it may be) to the media is a particularly effective way of securing more playing time. What happened to ALL IN? I also participated in an argument yesterday with a South Carolina fan. This unfortunately is not a rare occurrence, but I find it my civic duty to address ignorance in the politest way possible. This fan claimed that C.J. Spiller was Clemson’s “entire team.” I willingly admit my concern with Spiller carrying too heavy of a load on offense. I wrote just that in my blog following the TCU game. But the entire team? Spiller doesn’t even play on defense, I said to the rabid fan. And while he’s an extraordinarily versatile player, he’s no Chad Ochocinco. I have yet to see Spiller kick a field goal, and perhaps this Carolina fan has forgotten how many field goals Clemson’s put on the board thus far. But if you want to talk about the heart of the team, the defense is where it’s at right now. Which is why I was surprised to see several beat writers from various publications predict Maryland would score 14-17 points on the Tigers tomorrow. I predict the Bamberg Bookends and the rest of their dominant posse will hold Maryland to a lone touchdown. Maybe to a mere field goal! I have big dreams. I think the Tigers are going to be angry and ready to redeem themselves, not only from the game last week, but from the last match-up with Maryland that went awry. Clemson led by 11 points at halftime in 2008, only to have Maryland hold them scoreless in the second half and come from behind to win 20-17. In addition, Maryland just isn’t very talented this go-round. Given their shaky offensive line and the apparent trending of Maryland turnovers, expect some defensive points scored by the Tigers. Maryland’s had 13 turnovers this season in four games, ranking them second-highest in the nation for turnovers and subsequently allowing opponents to score 61 points due to these mishaps. Another football blogger linked me in early August, after I wrote my Maryland prediciton, relaying that I wasn’t keen on Maryland’s season. “But we’ve got Chris Turner!” this blogger claimed.
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Sure, you’ve got Chris Turner. When he’s on his feet. So far, he’s been sacked 14 times this season. And since when did Chris Turner become such a stud? The only times I hear his name in the news anymore are Napoleon Dynamite comparisons… While Maryland’s first-round draft pick wide receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bay, had a pivotal moment in the Tigers vs. Terps match-up last year which most of you, I’m sure, regretfully remember, expect a Clemson skill player to have a pivotal moment in the game tomorrow. CJ Spiller needs just 64 all-purpose yards in his race to be the ACC’s all-time career leader. This could even be accomplished in his first kick-off return at the rate CJ’s going. Four of the last five match-ups between these two founding ACC teams have been decided in four points or less. But not this year, guys. Final score: 23-7, Clemson.
Concerning the infamous debacle October 4, 2009 First, I want to begin this blog by admitting I was 100% wrong in my predictions for the Clemson vs. Maryland game. 100%. I contemplated rushing home after viewing Clemson’s funeral in order to post a new blog to disguise the old; the old in which I was so confident in Clemson’s abilities to beat sub-par Marlyand, who has lost to AA teams, turned over the ball more than almost every other team in the country, and has an offensive line so poor that their QB had been sacked 14 times prior to facing us (16 times now that Da’Quan Bowers got his hands on ‘em). I apologize for underestimating Chris Turner, and I suppose the entire Terrapins squad. But I do NOT apologize for expecting more of Clemson. In fact, I don’t know that it was so much an underestimation of Maryland than it was an overestimation of Clemson. I, along with virtually every other sportswriter and every other Clemson fan, didn’t expect to see such an implosion of the Tigers’ team. I imagine even those who have a particular hatred for Clemson didn’t expect to see such a poor performance. I won’t go into all that went wrong for Clemson in the game, but it was basically everything save CJ Spiller and Michael Palmer’s performances. It’s taken me awhile to muster up the energy to write this blog, primarily because I didn’t feel like ruminating on the defeat and I’m still at a loss for words about the incident (and I’m not sure I can ever recall being at a loss for words). I’m just plain sad. In my last blog, I alluded to a soon-to-be-written letter I was addressing to Clemson fans. I was indignant with all the fans calling for Dabo and Napier’s heads, assuming so early on that Clemson’s season was destined for the wastebasket. I opined those fans were overreacting in premature anger, being unjust in their accusations that this team under Dabo was just an extension of the forgettable Tommy Bowden era. Unfortunately, I no longer have the gusto to address such fans. I’ll never become one of the pessimists that loudly complains for hardly any reason, but at this point all Clemson fans have a legitimate reason to be unhappy. Maybe even resentful. I wrote a blog likening fans’ obsession with Clemson to a love affair. That metaphor works on multiple levels, and it works here.
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We fans give our all to Clemson during football season. We dedicate numerous hours to showing up and rooting hard for our Tigers. We spend our savings to follow Clemson wherever they may go. We valiantly defend our Tigers when the haters spew their venom. We wear a shade of orange that’s uncommon in clothing stores at every opportunity. We read and listen to anything involving Clemson. We shout or love to the rooftops by decorating our cars, our front porches, our faces. We teach the wonderful traditions of Clemson football to our youth, and heck, we decorate them, too. We simply can’t get enough, and we wear our hearts on our sleeves. When you look at it this way, it’s no mystery we all get so upset. We are utterly and completely emotionally invested in this. And when you feel like you give all you’ve got, and you aren’t getting much in return, of course you feel resentful. You feel angry. I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say Saturday, “I just wish I didn’t care so much.” Well, I echo the same sentiment, and right now I don’t at all feel apologetic about it. Dabo had it right when, in the post-game press conference, he said that the fans deserved better. But I want everyone to know that just because we feel this way doesn’t mean we should give up on the Tigers. We all have this bye week coming up–a much-needed break. But like we deserve to dedicate ourselves to a team that doesn’t let us down, the team deserves fans that don’t flee when things get rocky. I’ve heard people saying they won’t go to a game for the rest of the season. That’s just outrageous. I have no respect for people who want to be World’s #1 Fan when things are great and not come out to support the team when things aren’t. These young players who donate their souls to the football program are much sadder than we fans are right now. And even if you or whoever might be mad at Terry Don Phillips, Dabo Swinney, Billy Napier or whoever it might be, just remember that it’s the players that need our support. You can complain about the ideology concerning the program until the cows come home, but the cows live in Clemson. They are home. So shut up about the heirarchical dilemma you think the Clemson football program is in, and continue to cheer the Tigers through the next seven games. There are seven fights left. I don’t expect anyone to forget the numerous dropped passes, the plethera of rookie offensive penalties, the now common terrible clock management that left us going into halftime with two timeouts left, the three trips into the redzone in the last half of the fourth quarter that couldn’t produce a single point, the sketchy play calling, or the lack of a soild quarterback. These are valid concerns–deep concerns. We all deserve to have them addressed. We deserved to have Billy Napier answer questions from the media after the game. We deserve a halt to the familiar excuses. (It was at least refreshing that in the postgame press conference, Dabo didn’t open with, “Well, we played a talented team today.”) I just expect everybody to remember that once you’re a Tiger, you’re always a Tiger. And if you don’t have this sense of loyalty, the rest of us don’t want you. In fact, you might as well be a Gamecock. Go ahead and move on to the other side and root for them, why don’t you?
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Not yet Jim Grobe! October 16, 2009 I’ve been feeling rather uninspired the past couple of days in regards to blogging about Clemson football. Maybe because I feel a disconnect from it all, being that there was no game last weekend. For that matter, last weekend I experienced no college football at all; I was in British Columbia, but still managed to catch some NFL games on Sunday. I must admit, while there I did miss my two hours a day of Sports Talk radio and Saturdays filled with upsets. Sure would’ve loved to have witnessed Duke upsetting N.C. State, but it was a nice (and much needed) break from upsets involving Clemson. I’m sure the team and the coaching staff feel the same way. Typically at this time of week, I sit down to write with a certain energy about the upcoming game. I generally feel like Clemson’s going to win, or at least has victory in its favor. These days, however, I just feel uncertain about it all. Uneasy, even. I smashed my crystal ball into the ground last week, because it clearly doesn’t work properly. Today the new phone book arrived at my house. The cover was graced with an action photograph of Clemson’s basketball team in Littlejohn Coliseum. “Great! We’re a freakin’ basketball school now!” my boyfriend exclaimed. I wouldn’t go that far in my anxiety about the football team, but tomorrow won’t be an easy feat for the Tigers. Wake Forest currently leads the Atlantic division with a 2-1 conference record. Given the instability of the division, that doesn’t mean much at this point in time. Yet if Clemson wins this game, both Wake and Clemson will have 2-2 records. The division would once again be wide open, with a question mark as to who might travel to the ACC Championship. Clemson would also have the tie-breaker over Wake. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Would people still be calling for Clemson to clean house and start a national search for the best and most qualified youfill-in-the-blank? (At this point, I’ve heard everyone blame everyone for the neurotic offensive problems and subsequent loss to Maryland). And to think that pre-season, I thought Clemson’s only relevant obstruction to the ACC Championship game would be Florida State. Those Florida State fans must want to watch Saturday happenings through their fingers, hands over faces, more than I do. Last season’s match-up with Wake was a pivotal one as well. Tommy Bowden, after receiving regular backlash at that point, led the Tigers to suffer an unexpected 12-7 loss to Wake. That particular defeat marked the moment that Clemson finally bid Bowden adieu. I highly doubt that if Clemson loses to Wake tomorrow, a staff member will be told, “Adios.” Even if certain folks might be dismayed by this hypothesis, they shouldn’t be. Everybody deserves a chance. And given that Dabo’s apparently been cursing his coaches and players up and down at practice, getting everyone nice and fired up, its evidence that he’s not Tommy Bowden. Oh yeah, further evidence he isn’t TB is that he hasn’t coached a medicore team for nine seasons. Shoot, he’s just at nine games. Clemson’s offense might be all over the place, but so is Wake’s, in a less deer-in-headlights kind of way. The Tigers’ defense has their work cut out for them. Wake does a lot of passing and
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running both, so its hard to know what to expect. Riley Skinner is protected by a solid offensive line, and Skinner is definitely comfortable on the field. He’s had QB game experience since he was a freshman, and he doesn’t get rid of the ball until he knows exactly what he wants to do with it. Clemson’s defense will need to have a lot of QB pressures to keep Wake from putting too many points on the board. On the offensive side, its been said that CJ Spiller’s bum toe has healed up nicely. He’s done a heck of a job dazzling us with a less-than-100% toe, so let’s see what he can churn out when he’s not limping around in between plays. Dalton Freeman will start at center tomorrow. Mason Cloy could possibly be utilized elsewhere on the offensive line. I guess we’ll see. In other promising news, Wake has a pattern of giving up a lot of yardage. Let’s hope this will happen tomorrow and that Clemson can actually acheive something in the red zone. I don’t know about you, but I want to see more Michael Palmer. I want to see some tight ends and fullbacks run over Wake’s defense to put some points on the board. Also, Jim Grobe has yet to conquer Death Valley. It’s the only stadium in the Atlantic Division in which he has yet to have produced a win. Not yet, Jim Grobe. Not yet. P.S. A couple of interesting links: James Davis’s injury is under investigation by the NFL [http://www.fanhouse.com/news/nfl/nfl-investigating-browns-rookiesinjury/714072?icid=main|htmlws-main|dl5|link4|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fanhouse. com%2Fnews%2Fnfl%2Fnfl-investigating-browns-rookies-injury%2F714072] Let’s hope this guy’s totally wrong [http://www.thestate.com/2009/10/15/984491/commentary-how-usc-will-shock.html]
The first drive said it all October 19, 2009 I’d like to begin by pointing out that there are no fair weather fans in Clemson football. Apparently, Clemson football involves no fair weather at all. Saturday’s noon match-up against Wake was a wet and cold one. When I awoke to rain pattering against my windowsill, I couldn’t help but get up and kick the wall the first thing. I am typically in a terrible mood in the mornings. Game day mornings are usually different, however; I jump out of bed ready to race to the game, excited to see what new chapter in the story of the season will reveal itself that day. But I’m sick of the constant rain we’ve experienced this year on game days. It used to be that it NEVER rained in Death Valley. I couldn’t figure out Saturday morning what all this rain we’ve experienced was supposed to mean. It wasn’t much motivation to go see the Tigers play, particularly given mine and others’ rather low expectations.
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Of course, I went anyway, appropriate rain gear in tow and protected by four layers of long sleeves. And boy, am I glad I did; and for those of you who missed it for whatever reason (either due to the weather or because you very vocally announced your boycott of the program) were surely kicking yourselves as you watched the magic unfold on the television screen. Chances are, though, you weren’t kicking the wall. Clemson’s offense looked entirely different. At one point in the game, even before the score was 38-3 (final), I remember turning to my neighbors and asking, “Am I awake, or am I dreaming?!” The first drive of the game was an accurate foreshadowing of what was going to ensue the rest of the afternoon. Wake lobbed a short punt, seemingly on purpose in hopes of recovering it themselves and embarassing Clemson’s special teams. I guess they underestimated the Tigers, because Clemson recovered the ball on Wake’s 46- yard line and in six smooth plays and just two minutes, TE Michael Palmer scored a TD on a one-yard pass, one of four receptions by Palmer on Saturday. The tone for the game had been set. From that moment on, Clemson’s offense ran varied plays smoothly, utilizing everyone on the field (Jamie Harper also scored a touchdown–loved how they were using the big guys such as Harper and Palmer in the red zone to score).
“Jim, that’s just hilarious! You really thought you could pull a fast one like that on us!” “Now just listen to me Dabo, what’s funny was that game against Maryland. I just couldn’t help myself.”
The receivers didn’t drop any passes, and Xaiver Dye, Jacoby Ford and Terrance Ashe all contributed. Kyle Parker’s 4-4 performance on the first drive previewed his strong performance for the rest of the day. He looked confident and purposeful; he used his legs and he scored his first rushing touchdown of the season on Clemson’s second scoring TD drive when he literally lept over his opponents into the endzone. CJ Spiller once again looked outstanding. He rushed for 109 yards and scored two touchdowns, including one 66-yard run. This is the sixth consecutive game that Spiller has had a 60-yard run or more. What’s even stronger testament to Spiller as a player is how he accomplishes these tasks with every defensive opponent knowing he’d better be on the lookout for #28. Everyone attempts to shut Spiller down as much as possible, and everyone fails.
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The tone was also set that Wake’s attempts at point production would prove futile (save the one field goal success). Clemson’s defense shut down Wake within the 10-yard line several times, and they simply had Riley Skinner’s number. One particularly priceless moment that encapsulated the defense’s performance perfectly was when Riley Skinner got sacked so hard in the second half, his helmet got knocked off of his head, revealing a face of utter and complete consternation. I had a perfect view of this from my seats, and I wish I had could have taken a picture that would give the moment justice. And as if that facial expression wasn’t priceless enough, he was immediately sacked again on the next play. The defense didn’t stop there. Led by Da’Quan Bowers, with his head newly sheared of dreadlocks, and ACC Defensive Back DeAndre McDaniel, the Tigers’ defense had two interceptions, five sacks and nine QB pressures. In my last blog, I addressed how crucial putting pressure on Riley Skinner would be in preventing Wake from running the board. It certainly was effective. The pressing concerns with Clemson’s redzone offense can, at least temporarily, be put to rest. The Tigers proved they have the resources to produce in this area, as they were five for five in redzone scoring opportunities with four touchdowns scored inside the 20-yard line. Now we are all begging the question: Is this particular Clemson football team here to stay? I guess there’s no better way to find out than this coming Saturday, when Clemson faces No. 9 Miami at Landshark Stadium, no less. Miami is a heck of a ball club. We will finally see how tough the defense can be when they try to handle Jacory Harris and a quicker-than-lightning offense in foreign land. We’ll also see just how confident and consistent Kyle Parker is capable of being. Can 3:30 p.m. on Saturday come soon enough?
Can the Tigers take the heat? Q&A with Miami’s Campus Correspondent October 22, 2009 In roughly 30 hours, Clemson will trample onto the field of LandShark Stadium ready to see what damage they can wreak upon the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes. Miami seems to have gotten their “swagger” back. Then again, so has Clemson. Fresh off of a confidence-boosting 38-3 win over Wake Forest, the Tigers prepare to greet the third Top 15 opponent they’ve faced so far this season. Hopefully, this game will fare better than the two painful losses to Georgia Tech and TCU. Will the Tigers finally win a close game against a tough opponent? To get the scoop on the ‘Canes, I shared a few Q and A’s with the ACC’s Miami Campus Correspondent, Christina. See her answers below. If you want to see what I divulged to her about the Tigers, and what I think they’ll bring to Miami besides their Speedos in Saturday’s match-up, click HERE [http://www.theroadtotampabay.com/ blogs/miami/2009/10/21/tigers-vs-canes-qa-with-emily/] to go to Christina’s blog. But first, let’s entertain ourselves with some Clemson/Miami trivia: –C.J. Spiller’s father will for the first time be present Saturday to see C.J. in Clemson uniform.
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Read this great article by Paul Strewlow [http://www.thestate.com/2009/10/22/993680/spillersfather-to-see-son-play.html] in The State to get the 411 about this. I mean, as if C.J. Spiller needed any more motivation to have an incredible game. The guy’s got determination and unbelievable heart as it is. How exciting for them both! –The last time Clemson played Miami was in 2005, when Miami won in Death Valley in triple overtime. Prior to that, in 2004, Clemson defeated Miami in LandShark Stadium in overtime. Clemson was also upset by Duke in 2004. Could the Maryland upset by redeemed by an overtime win in Miami? Or any type of win in Miami, for that matter. After all, I don’t really feel like having a stroke Saturday evening. –In this 2004 Clemson victory, Clemson’s defensive coordinator was John Lovett. Well, what do you know? John Lovett is now Miami’s DC. –Clemson’s greatest victory in history, the 1981 National Championship, occurred in Miami’s former home stadium, the Orange Bowl. Now for a lil’ Q&A: Q: First of all, talk about the injuries Miami is nursing right now after the past few tough games. Will any injuries be cause for worry on the Canes behalf when facing Clemson Saturday? A: Let’s put it this way: Most fans don’t even know who is left on the defensive line. Four already had season-ending surgeries and two others missed last week’s game against the University of Central Florida. Before the season head coach Randy Shannon said that the D-line was the deepest part of the team, and he’s been right on target. The unit has received a big boost (no pun intended) from senior Joe Joseph, who has 20 tackles, five for a loss, and a recovered fumble. Redshirt senior safety Randy Phillips decided this week to forego surgery and play injured the rest of the season. He has been out for a while. The same goes for junior safety Jojo Nicolas. Their replacements – redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque, freshman Ray Ray Armstrong and junior Jared Campbell have definitely stepped up. I haven’t seen the injury list for this week’s game yet, but Shannon said that it would be shorter than others we’ve seen… Q: Speaking of injuries, how has Jacory Harris held up so long against great teams? Is it because the offensive linemen have done a great job of protecting him? I know that a lot of people have said it’s pretty much “Jacory or bust” for Miami this year. Talk a little bit about your offensive line and if they can hold off Clemson’s defense. A: Nothing has come close to the immediate panic following the hit from a Florida State player that made Jacory Harris come off the field with what looked to be a serious arm injury. As Shannon said at Tuesday’s press conference: “No, we’ve got to get better and everybody has to be on the same page, and also Jacory [Harris] has to get rid of the football when he’s supposed to. It’s a conglomerate of everybody and not just the offensive line.” In the first two games, Harris was sacked just twice. Last week against the Knights it was six! Since those first two games, the offensive line has allowed 15 sacks. It should be an interesting matchup that will determine the success of the offense.
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Q: Why is Miami’s offense such a threat? Is it the speed? The complicated routes the receivers run? Jacory’s ability to make things happen? A: Mark Whipple’s “Whippleball.” It utilizes all of the playmakers on offense. Sixteen different players have caught a pass this season, and last week junior running back Graig Cooper attempted a pass on a wannabe Wildcat play. It’s mainly the play calling of Whipple and his knowledge of what each player brings to the table. It also doesn’t hurt that Harris has been the most consistent quarterback (as just a sophomore) in a long time at a school once known as “Quarterback U.” Q: Who should we look out for this Saturday, and why? A: I know it’s the easy answer, but I would say Jacory Harris. Better yet, let’s make that the offensive line. Without its protection, he and the running backs won’t be effective. Defensively, I’ll go on a limb and say Telemaque and Armstrong. Although they’re both freshmen, they hit and play hard and have already made a huge impact on the team. My favorite player at the moment is sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris, who leads the ACC in pass breakups. Q: Talk about Miami’s homefield advantage. Is LandShark Stadium a particularly intimidating place to play? If so, why? A: Land Shark Stadium is not intimidating at all. It’s no Orange Bowl. The seats don’t rock and you have no worries about the facility’s structure. However, those same fans who have cheered the Canes before have made the transition. The Oklahoma game was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard it there, and it wasn’t even sold out to capacity (a little under 70,000). That includes Dolphins (and Marlins World Series) games. I think the key factor has been the student support. For a school with less than 15,000 undergraduates, the turnout has been amazing, probably because of the team’s success so far. Everyone has pretty much seen the image of the “Glitter Girls.” The student section was actually expanded thanks to the nudging of Shannon and University President Donna Shalala. Q: Preseason everyone talked about Randy Shannon being in the hot seat. Clearly, that’s changed. Talk about Miami’s sentiment toward Randy Shannon and how it’s changed. What are the most obvious changes in Miami’s 2008 and 2009 teams? A: I think people are starting to trust him a bit more. His recruits have started to grow. However, most of the talk seems to be about Whipple and keeping him here (at least) through Harris’s collegiate career. If it’s any incentive, Whipple’s son transferred from UMass to be the scout team’s quarterback, so he’s definitely invested in the program. The biggest difference between the two teams is maturation. Everyone is a year older, and here comes the cliché: “The swagger is back.” The players are confident in their abilities to win every game, no matter the opponent. Q: Miami has a pretty young team, but seems to play consistently. How is this so? Is it great coaching, or what? A: It’s a combination of coaching and maturation. Most of the starters played collegiately for the first time last year. That experience definitely helps. They have the talent; they just needed to get a feel for college football. It’s also a testament to the coaching staff. The first thing Whipple said at his press conference was that he didn’t think the offense was very good. That attitude leaves the players hungry for more and never satisfied.
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Q: Name 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses for Miami going into Saturday’s game. A: Strengths 1) Offense – There are plenty of playmakers on this side of the ball to keep the Tigers guessing. The balanced attack (well, at least the ability to run when needed) helps out the passing game even more. 2) Focus – Shannon’s team learned its lesson from the Virginia Tech game. This is the first ACC game for the Canes in a few weeks, so they need to continue winning in order to move on up in the Coastal Division. 3) Weather – This may be a factor, especially since it was brought up during the press conference. Temperatures will more than likely hit the high 80s. And that’s not even counting the humidity. Weaknesses 1) Special teams – Although senior walk-on kicker Alex Uribe has done a better job on kickoffs, the coverage is still cutting it way too close. With two really good returners in C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, it should prove to be a very difficult test for UM. 2) Defensive line – With all the injuries mounting, it doesn’t matter who is running the football, and it just so happens that Spiller will be this weekend. 3) Intangibles – Clemson seems to play Miami really well. Plus, the Hurricanes need to keep their momentum going with a tough ACC stretch now that those first four games have been out of the way. Almost everyone expects them to win out, which is very scary considering they were underdogs coming into the season. On a weird and superstitious side note of mine, in the only other afternoon game played by the Hurricanes, it was the Hokies taking it to the orange and green… Q: Prediction? A: It’s Miami in a close game. That’s the best I can do for you. Both teams seem to make it a good game, but hopefully it’s a lop-sided one for the Canes.
Sweet, sweet victory October 26, 2009 To preface this blog, I think everyone needs to watch the end of the game again. Click HERE [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0Pv-5yVxm4] to watch the beautiful 20-yard pass by Parker, TD reception by Jacoby Ford and subsequent celebration by the Tigers. After the game, my company and I watched this clip about four times. I teared up each time as I watched Jacoby cradling the ball in his arms like he never wanted to let it go; the wide receivers’ group hug in the end zone consisting of Ford, Terrance Ashe and Xavier Dye which then attracted the entire team and staff in an orange and white huddle; and a sweaty, passionate Dabo Swinney running and bouncing around like the happiest boy in the schoolyard while embracing everyone, including his law enforcement security detail (surely they were Floridian, but they seemed happy with the victory, too.) Kyle Parker’s fist pumping and casting off of his helmet into the crowds while yelling victoriously was appropriately sentimental, as was Clemson’s team greeting the fan section in the endzone and celebrating as a Clemson family. By the way, I did wonder if Kyle Parker’s helmet hit anyone on its way back down to Earth.
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While everyone else prances around the field like madmen, when the camera pans to Spiller, he just looks tired as he congratulates his teammates. For good reason, I say. The guy ran 310 allpurpose yards, including a 90-yard kickoff return and 56-yard reception, both for touchdowns. This explosive performance resulted in Spiller being named National Player of the Week by rivals.com and National Offensive Player of the Week by Walter Camp Foundation. The 40-37 victory over No. 8 Miami marked the decoration of Clemson players other than Spiller, too; Kyle Parker was named National Freshman Player of the Week by rivals.com and DeAndre McDaniel has been named National Defensive Back of the Week by College Performance Awards.
That’s a tombstone, folks. Kyle Parker completed 25-37 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. This was the second best yardage and completion total for a freshman in Clemson’s history. Parker also became the first freshman QB in history to lead Clemson to victory over a Top 10 team on the road. He wasn’t without error, however. He did throw an ugly pass directly into a Miami player’s arms in Clemson’s endzone, resulting in an interception when there should’ve been a touchdown. He also fumbled the ball while being pressured by a few Miami players, resulting in the ball being scooped up by Miami for a score. But we all know Parker can be inconsistent, and as long as he can be great as he was the majority of the time in Miami, we don’t have much to complain about. McDaniel had two interceptions, one of which he returned 23-yards for a touchdown. With seven interceptions in seven games, McDaniel now leads the country (along with UCLA’s Rahim Moore) in interceptions. McDaniel also had seven tackles against Miami. Other Clemson players had a fine showing as well: Michael Palmer before his horrible injury (click HERE to see the hit again–YIKES); Jamie Harper; Andre Ellington, Ricky Sapp, and others. My point here is that Clemson didn’t win because Miami played horribly, though the seemingly furious postgame reaction by Miami’s Campus Correspondent seems to insinnuate this. Both teams played well offensively. There were a couple of glaring mistakes on both sides, but all in all it looked like the teams were evenly matched; for the day, anyway. I’ve already alluded to Clemson’s multiple personalities from week to week. It was a true display of “survival of the fittest;” an overtime and final score of 40-37 is testament to that. Surely everyone who witnessed the game was on the edge of their seats the entire time.
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Speaking of the high scoring game, who would have ever predicted Clemson would put 40 points on the board? Could the “no redzone offense” woes be officially historical? The plentiful end score was especially surprising given a scoreless first quarter. Anyway, I think Miami fans should probably not be too hard on their team given this loss. Yes, I’m sure it was a surprise to most of them, but most people predicted this game to be a close one. I contended that if Clemson actually showed up to play, like they did against Wake, Clemson would sneak out on top. I believe there was a general air of “who knows what will happen?” At least that was conveyed to me in the Q&A with Miami’s correspondent prior to the game. So now that Dabo Swinney and company have finally, and rightly, earned a bit of respect; the entirely too capricious group of Clemson fans who had too much airtime after the Marlyand loss to suit me have finally been quieted; and all seems well and optimistic in Clemson-land–what’s next for the Tigers? Could it be…? A trip to Tampa Bay? Or even an ACC title?! But one thing at a time, y’all. One thing at a time. As a Clemson fan, you can never rid yourself of all reservations. We’ve all learned this lesson season in and season out. After all, Clemson-land is a wacky, wacky place.
Spiller for Heisman Part II October 30, 2009 Yesterday on SportsCenter, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper was quoted as saying of C.J. Spiller, “I think he’s the top guy for the Heisman right now. If I had to give it out today, I give it to him.” What was once seen as a joke to many who were not Clemson fans, the larger than life-sized C.J. Spiller for Heisman posters were chalked up by most to simply be a follow-up on a promise made by Coach Dabo Swinney last season. That promise, of course, being that Coach Swinney would launch a Spiller for Heisman campaign if C.J. decided to return for his last year with the Tigers instead of entering the NFL draft. It was a popular topic of conversation at the ACC Media Conference in July; the conference occurred a week after the posters were released, and posters were distributed to all conference attendees who wanted them. The group returning home with giant likenesses of C.J. flashing his giant trademark grin included players, coaches and media alike. Many media members posed the quesiton, “So C.J., you obviously know that winning a Heisman trophy will take more than a poster, right?” And of course Spiller knew that then, and he knows that now. He had an appropriate sense of humor about the posters, but when he flashed that grin and confidently told me, “I think I have my chances [of winning],” he appeared to know much more than the rest of us did about the upcoming season.
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I’m a Spiller for Heisman supporter. Are you?
No one could forecast the fates of the once favorite Heisman candidates Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy. But after Bradford’s injury and Tebow and McCoy’s less than dazzling perfomances so far this season (McCoy’s 70% completion percentage includes passes consistently thrown for five yards of less against mediocre teams, and Tebow’s concussion has failed to ignite the Florida offense many anticipated), it’s looking like the Heisman trophy could legitimately be up for grabs by anyone. However, everyone DID know Spiller would have a big season. How big, no one could say for sure, because no one knew how the cards might fall for Clemson itself. And while the Tigers’ finish is yet to be determined–and could easily lean toward either an ACC Championship or another unprecedented meltdown of which Clemson fans have unfortunately become all too accustomed, such as a season-ending loss to an inferior N.C. State or Florida State team–C.J. Spiller’s individual finish will be of a nature grander than any Clemson football player in history. He breaks records every week. He scores touchdowns every game, and makes it look so effortless that his teammates come to him on the sidelines during games, asking him to make a play for them. This season alone, C.J.’s scored nine of Clemson’s 21 touchdowns and achieved 1,455 all-purpose yards of the team’s 3, 452. You do the math. What Spiller needs, though, is another chance to shine in the national spotlight like he did last weekend against Miami. His feats that we Clemson fans are lucky enough to witness every weekend need to be televised more often. His awe-inspiring performances need to be seen by the national audience so that people don’t think a Spiller for Heisman campaign is a sweet little grassroots movement begun by the always enthusiastic supporters of a lackluster football team. Hopefully, Clemson can make it to the ACC title game in Tampa Bay. I feel this way for obvious reasons, of course; but also because the rest of the Clemson team owes it to Spiller to get him that needed exposure. It’s unfortunate that the Heisman trophy race is notoriously consumed by political interests, but let this be known: if Spiller doesn’t at least make it to NYC for the Heisman trophy presentation, it will be an injustice to the entire sport of college football. A renewed Spiller for Heisman campaign by the University’s Athletic Department is now underway with the creation of this web site [http://clemsontigers.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/ spec-rel/spiller-for-heisman.html] released today, and Clemson fans can also do their part in supporting Spiller by voting daily on ESPN’s web site as part of a Nissan promotion.
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Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that this weekend is Clemson’s homecoming game versus Coastal Carolina. Hopefully there won’t be too much excitement there, and the forecast that was once calling for 60% chance of rain has now lessened to 20%, so it would be nice to have a relaxing Saturday of sunshine in Death Valley for once this season. This game will give Michael Palmer some time to recover from his concussion suffered last week, because we really need him to be ready to go for the remainder of the games to be played. It’s crunch time, and who knows how the remainder of the season will unfold. After all, didn’t you watch that UNC/Virgina Tech game last night? This ACC Championship is as wide open as ever… So LET’S GO, TIGERS!
Homecoming a success November 2, 2009 Clemson’s homecoming was a success. It was destined to be after the Clemson football team performed a skit and fully choreographed dance to “Thriller,” with the words changed to “Spiller,” at Tigerama, Clemson’s annual homecoming pep rally. This was the first year the football team participated in the performances. Tigerama has been in existence for 53 years, so this is evidence of just another way Coach Swinney tries to connect to the fan base in every means possible. The routine was complete with white gloves and plenty of moonwalking. You can witness the hilarity yourself by clicking here [http://clemsontigers.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/specrel/103009aac.html]. Then click “Watch the Video on Tigercast.” Perhaps the best line in the entire skit was when Willy Korn, while pretending to hate on C.J. Spiller’s abilities, said, “But he’s just so inconsistent. Sometimes he’ll run for two yards and sometimes 60!” Now that’s some inconsistency you won’t hear anyone complain about in real life. The actual homecoming game versus Coastal Carolina was as much of a success as one could have hoped for. Even though the Tigers expectedly outscored the Chanticleers by 46 points, there were several surprises. For one, the first quarter opened with one or two plays with DeAndre McDaniel on the offensive side of the ball. I hear this is because Dabo promised anyone who got a Pick Six against Miami would get to see some time on offense. Another surprise is how Jacoby Ford both threw and caught touchdown passes. He is the first Clemson player to do so since 1950, when Ray Mathews accomplished the feat in a game versus Presbyterian College. In the second quarter, Kyle Parker threw a lateral pass to Ford around the 20-yard line, who then passed it to WR Xavier Dye in the endzone. Other positive notes of the homecoming game include a beautiful 55-yard TD run by blossoming RB Andre Ellington, interceptions for a combined 96-yard returns by both Crezdon Butler and Rashard Hall, and a fair performance by back-up QB Willy Korn. But the 49-3 Clemson victory was not without its troubles. For one, it poured rain for the fifth straight home game. That gets pretty darn old for everyone involved. Before this season, I can barely recall a rainy game in Death Valley. It’s difficult to shun rain in Clemson given that its lakes
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got depressingly low last year, but honestly, I’ve never wished so hard for sunny weather. The rainy conditions gave me some apprehension early in the day. I kept envisioning C.J. Spiller slipping on the wet turf and sustaining an injury that prevented him from playing Saturday versus Florida State. Obviously, I have bad anxiety about Clemson football, particularly when the season gets down to the wire like it is now. Instead, it was a defensive star who underwent this unfortunate occurrence. Da’Quan Bowers’ injury he suffered in the game leaves him in a “doubtful” condition for the game Nov. 7 versus Florida State. According to the press release SID Tim Bourret sent to all media, “He has a sprained knee and the injury was more serious after the MRI was reviewed Sunday…It is not an injury that requires surgery but he could be out more than one game.” In fact, on the depth chart released by the SID Sunday, Bowers’ name has already been replaced with freshman DE Malliciah Goodman, who is also talented. There’s a fair amount of depth on the defensive line, so if any star was going to be hurt I suppose the injury of a DE is manageable. However, Bowers will be missed, and we should all hope, wish, pray, initiate some good karma, or however you may be inclined to assist him in a speedy recovery. Speaking of injuries, though I have received no official word on the state of Michael Palmer, he is in the numero uno TE spot on the depth chart for the FSU game. So now we must all look ahead to Saturday. I can’t express my elation over a 7:45 p.m. ESPN game in the Valley. The Tigers are going to be jacked, and so are the fans; the Valley will be rockin’, no doubt. FSU, watch out. More on the upcoming game later this week.
The great Atlantic Division rivalry meets again November 6, 2009 Finally, a night game in the Valley. I can hardly contain my excitement. Neither can any other Clemson fans I’ve spoken with, so this should be testament to how truly electrifying the atmosphere will be tomorrow evening. Tomorrow’s game has been dubbed “Solid Orange.” All fans have been instructed to wear orange from head to toe, and the players will be in all orange as well. Though as of yesterday there were still 5,000 tickets for sale, I’m sure the seats will be brimming with plenty of excitement and plenty of noise. It will be close to sold out come gametime. I believe the surplus of unsold tickets has to do with the lateness of the game (out of towners might’ve been put off by booking hotels in Clemson), and the fact that Florida State typically takes 7,000 tickets but only took 4,000 this year. After all, this is a BIG GAME. Clemson’s future in the Tampa Bay race hinges on this game. The Clemson/FSU rivalry is always a great competition, too. This year, the Atlantic Division rivalry is definitely tipped in Clemson’s favor. Here’s why: 1. Clemson has a huge homefield advantage. When I attended the ACC Media Conference, I asked every player I spoke with which ACC venue was the hardest place to play. Every single one said Death Valley. They attributed it to the outrageous noise levels and the intimidating amounts
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of Clemson orange. Tomorrow will be no different. In addition, Bobby Bowden has lost his last three games in Death Valley. And though Clemson lost 41-27 in Tallahassee last year, Clemson was only down by one touchdown with a minute to go. FSU scored again when Clemson failed to recover an onside kick, making the 14-point lead the largest deficit in Coach Swinney’s 15game coaching career. Coach Swinney’s probably ready for a bit of retaliation on his home turf. 2. Florida State’s only strength is its offense, but Clemson’s big strength is its defense. Sure, Christian Ponder might average 309 passing yards a game. But DeAndre McDaniel is leading the country in interceptions. The rest of the secondary ain’t too shabby, either. And if Ponder decides to hang onto the ball and run it himself, God help him. While Da’Quan Bowers is not going to play tomorrow due to injury, his back-up, Malachiah Goodman, has seen plenty of snaps. There’s good depth on the defensive line. Ricky Sapp and Brandon Maye will be ready to take Ponder down any moment, too, and given the situation with Ponder’s bruised ribs, FSU better hope one of those guys doesn’t give him a good lick early and either a) put him out of the game entirely or b) severely limit his mobility. 3. Clemson’s weaknesses are made strengths by Florida State’s weaknesses. For example, Clemson’s offensive line can often be a wild card, but Florida State’s defensive line is worse. Apparently, they’ll also be without DT Budd Thacker and DE DeKoda Watson. And while Clemson has young WRs and a freshman QB in Kyle Parker who can sometimes be inconsistent, FSU’s youthful secondary has failed to emerge yet this season. 4. FSU may not kick it to Spiller, but there’s always Jacoby Ford. Bobby Bowden has said publicly that the Seminoles aren’t going to kick it to C.J. Spiller, and if they do, it’s a mistake. However, I’m pretty certain that Randy Shannon didn’t intend to kick it to Spiller as much as the ‘Canes did, either; but the ball seems to go to C.J. Spiller like a magnet. After all, the guy’s a superhero! Even if Spiller doesn’t get his hands on the ball to take a kick return 60+ yards into the endzone, there’s always the equally lightning-fast Jacoby Ford returning kicks alongside Spiller. This paired with FSU’s lacking special teams coverage in recent years seems to be a definite advantage for the Tigers. (Sidenote: Spiller only needs one kick return for a touchdown to establish the all-time NCAA record.) 5. Oh, and did I mention Clemson has C.J. Spiller? Expect Spiller to have a huge game tomorrow night. While he shines on a weekly basis, he shined even brighter when in the national spotlight in the televised Clemson/Miami game. Tomorrow night, Clemson is host to ESPN’s primetime game. It’s the first nationally televised night game in Death Valley in a couple of years. This paired with C.J.’s motivation to silence the “Spiller for Heisman” critics will absolutely light #28 on fire. I’ll be interested to see how well the Seminole defense’s attempts to stop him will work. Final prediction: Clemson 38-24.
Now this has evolved into one entertaining season November 9, 2009 It was only a month ago when numerous Clemson fans were standing on the ledge, while I tried to ration with them through this blog to retreat from such drastic emotional states over the Clemson football program. These days, that stunning loss to Maryland seems like a mere blip on the radar. The team looks
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entirely different, particularly offensively. Those fans who called for Billy Napier’s head have most likely forgotten demanding a boycott of the remaining home games, because given that Clemson has put at least 38 points on the board for four consecutive games for the first time in school history, it seems that the offense just might’ve found it’s way. In addition, Clemson’s finally moved up in the AP Top 25, now seated at 24th after four consecutive wins. So while it’s looking much brighter here in upstate South Carolina (we were even blessed with the first dry game in Death Valley this season–the weather was beautiful), there are still some concerns, and I’m not ready to start celebrating Clemson making its first ACC Championship appearance since the inception of the ACC Championship game. We’ve definitely still got to beat N.C. State in Pack territory on Saturday. While Clemson is currently seated in the driver’s seat in the Atlantic division with a 4-2 conference record, Boston College is trailing right behind with a 3-2 record. BC has been the lone soldier standing in Clemson’s way to the ACC title game before, so this is an all too familiar situation. While Clemson hopefully takes care of the Wolfpack this Saturday, BC will be in Charlottesville trying to contain Virginia (which probably won’t be too difficult). Then Nov. 21, Clemson hosts UVA while BC plays UNC at Chestnut Hill. And the next week, Clemson plays rival South Carolina while BC plays Maryland. The Eagles need to lose at some point to make us Clemson fans rest easy, but if Clemson loses to N.C. State, BC beats both Virgina and UNC, and Clemson’s ACC future hinges on the BC/Maryland game, that would be pretty ironic. If BC wins, it could be viewed as Maryland being the big obstacle in the Tigers’ Road to Tampa Bay. Preseason, absolutely no one would have predicted that fate. But more predictably, Boston College has remained quite pesky after several seasons of ruining Clemson’s hopes and dreams. Really, if all goes as it should, Clemson will finish 6-2 in the conference (with losses only to Georgia Tech and uh…Maryland), and BC could most likely win their next three games as well and finish 6-2. But since Clemson owns the tie-breaker over BC either way, it’s looking pretty optimistic. This is how I am truly feeling about this whole situation: LET’S GOOOOOOO TARHEELS! Yes, all is looking fair. But I won’t take anything for granted yet, and I doubt the team will either. Players and coaches alike have all seemed more focused than ever, and no one’s appeared fazed by a resounding win yet. Clemson keeps moving along steadily on the ole’ Road to Tampa Bay. For that matter, no coach or player has seemed fazed by a disappointing loss, either. For the first time in years–well actually since the pre-Bowden era–Clemson’s squad seems to play new games like new games, new quarters like new quarters and even new drives like new opportunites to score and change the landscape of the season. Even ESPN’s Heather Dinnich is showing the Tigers some love. Yesterday in her bowl projections, she predicted Clemson to show up at the Orange Bowl. Nice to see a blogger besides a Clemson fan like myself believe that an ACC title is totally foreseeable in Clemson’s near future. I particularly believe this to be possible if Clemson sees Georgia Tech (6-1 conference) in Tampa Bay. After the past several meetings between the two ACC rivals, Georgia Tech has barely sneaked past Clemson with wins of no more than three points. This won’t happen again. One thing that will have to occur in order for Clemson to succeed in the remainder of the season is this: CLEMSON MUST GET THIS PLACE KICKING DILEMMA FIGURED OUT IMMEDIATELY. Richard Jackson missed two extra points and two field goals that happened to be in MUCH
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shorter range than what he’s proven capable of. That’s eight easy points just thrown into the garbage. Spencer Benton missed an extra point kick as well for a total of nine points . Was it bad snaps or what? They’ve been in plenty of game situations that have absolutely, 100% relied on place kicking ability, and particularly in games such as the ACC Championship, one missed field goal could mean doom. In other news, for those who claim C.J. Spiller is Clemson’s entire team (I’ve heard it more than once this season from Clemson opposers), perhaps they haven’t been watching all the other people stepping up and making noise for the Tigers. After a timid entrance to the season, Jacoby Ford has really proven his star quality the last few games. He had a big game Saturday with five catches and some big plays. The tight ends continue to impress, this time around with Dwayne Allen scoring a TD. In fact, speaking of the bigger guys on offense making plays, Chad Diehl showed up with a reception of his own in the first quarter. Good thing Xaiver Dye decided to stick around. He had a big-time reception with 10 seconds left in the second quarter, jetting down the field for a TD. Speaking of receivers stepping up, WR Terrance Ashe reminded everyone he was still a member of the receiving corps when he accompished a clutch third down reception for a first down when Clemson was trailing 24-21. Likewise, in the fourth quarter when Clemson once again trailed by three, Andre Ellington was the youngin’ to step up and convert the third down to a first down on a big play. He has proved himself to be quite the speedster, as he ran about 40 yards here to set Clemson up in scoring position. Then later on, he ran 9 yards for a TD to give Clemson the 27-24 lead. Clemson got four interceptions Saturday. Coty Sensabaugh got one that led to a play entailing a nice block by Jacoby Ford that allowed C.J. Spiller to score a touchdown. Byron Maxwell got an interception, too. Safety Rashard Hall had another interception with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. After snagging the ball, it appeared that he pitched it to Kavell Connor. No word yet whether the pitch was intentional or not. But perhaps the nicest interception was DeAndre McDaniel’s nation-leading eighth of the season. With 3:30 left in the game, McDaniel intercepted, raced down the field, pointed at Christian Ponder who attempted to tackle him, and gave Ponder a hit that quite possibly put Ponder out for the remainder of the season, as Ponder separated his shoulder. Check out this picture [http://www.cutigers.com/2009/football/florida-state/slides/KwB_11070760a.html] that shows McDaniel grinning ear to ear, running the ball at lightning speed while acknowledging Ponder. ICE COLD! Oh yeah, then C.J. Spiller scored another touchdown. With two touchdowns, a two-point conversaion, and a career-high 312 all-purpose yards, he had a nice day at the ballfield, as usual. I’m just glad the national audience got to see it. Perhaps he garnered some more Heisman votes. All in all, with a little Heisman talk and a chance at the ACC title, the story of the season has turned out to be pretty darn entertaining. Unstable fans, back away from the ledge.
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Paging reality November 13, 2009 Monday I was listening to a Charlotte-based radio show, and numerous N.C. State fans were calling in to rail on Clemson’s abilities. “They’re terrible. They lost to Maryland,” several callers said. “We are going to beat them hard and bring them back down to reality.” Oh really? Well if it’s reality you want to talk about, so be it, ‘Pack. First of all, if you want to discuss embarassing losses this season, must I remind you that N.C. State lost to Duke? Other teams in the month long losing streak N.C. State recently experienced include Wake, Boston College and Florida State; all teams Clemson beat soundly. In addition, the reality is that though N.C. State squeezed out a win last week against Maryland, it wasn’t pretty. The fact that the ‘Pack won by only a mere touchdown without Maryland having Chris Turner–the rock of their team–for more than an entire half, and that Maryland scored its first defensive touchdown in 41 games, should not entitle anyone to bragging rights. Also, Maryland’s stellar defense forced Russell Wilson to throw three picks–the most he’s thrown in a game all season. Just wait ’til DeAndre McDaniel gets in there, I say. I said preseason I was hesitant to herald Russell Wilson as first-team All ACC material. I actually predicted him to have a sophmore slump. And while he might not necessarily be in the midst of a slump, per se, he’s certainly not the best QB in the ACC. In fact, Clemson’s managed two superior ACC QBs–Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder–quite decently already. Now I must add that I don’t find it my duty to rail on N.C. State. I also know that as a Clemson fan, reality unfortunately entails losing crucial games to inferior teams. This article [http://www. thestate.com/2009/11/12/1024263/acc-sec-rankings.html] by Paul Strewlow for The State, posted earlier in the week, echoes my sentiments precisely: “When Clemson’s in the driver’s seat, it’s time to fasten seat belts and grip the arm rests.” Time and time again, Clemson fans have painfully witnessed their team’s last-minute demise in the contention for a place in the ACC Championship game. It’s hard to forget these woeful memories, so I look toward Saturday with trepidation. I feel like Clemson’s position is almost too good to be true. But I do believe this is a different team, and that this is not Bowden ball any longer. These guys hardly seem as capable of cracking under pressure. The massive comeback Clemson exhibited in the Georgia Tech game is direct evidence of an entirely different era of Clemson football. Clemson will contain Russell Wilson tomorrow. The Tigers’ defense proved against FSU that even without star DE Da’Quan Bowers (it has been officially announced he will sit out tomorrow as well), there is plenty of depth and plenty of talent to cover his tracks. N.C. State better hope DeAndre McDaniel doesn’t feel inclined to point out Russell Wilson tomorrow and stick it to him. That would be unfortunate… In addition, I can see no possible way that N.C. State’s defense could contain Clemson’s offense. Yes, I am talking primarily about C.J. Spiller, but plenty of other Tigers on the offensive side of the ball have stepped up to make plays (see previous blog). The ‘Pack defense has been plagued with injuries all season, as well as an inconstistent starting line up and plenty of
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inexperience. It seems they are still grappling for an identity and for defensive leaders. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that N.C. State’s defense is on par with FSU’s. Speaking of C.J. Spiller, rumor is that N.C. State has trouble covering kicks. Yup; I would say “trouble” is an appropriate word to use here. C.J. + poor kickoff coverage = TROUBLE. While I’m on the topic of special teams, I’m sure most of you have gotten the memo that PK Richard Jackson will be benched tomorrow due to an academic issue; Spencer Benton will fill the role. Let’s hope this goes well. Benton missed a kick last week, although Jackson missed several more. I’m not sure how this will play out tomorrow, but I’m not impressed when players let their team and fans down because of “academic issues.” Go to class. Go to practice. That’s why you’re paid the big bucks. All in all, my prediction: Clemson 42, N.C. State 21. I will close with an additional argument that does not pertain to tomorrow’s game. I am SICK AND TIRED of South Carolina fans randomly assaulting me (and other Clemson fans, I’m sure) about how South Carolina is superior because it’s a member of the SEC. I guess I understand why the fans use this as ammunition. When your team begins it’s annual self-destructive demise, there’s not much else to say. Also, for fans to use (and abuse) the argument that the SEC is better while puffing out their chests with pride would mean that Carolina fans would need to be loyal fans of EVERY SEC team. And I don’t believe this holds true. But let me remind everyone that the ACC has four teams in the AP Top 25 (Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson, respectively) as opposed to the SEC’s three (Florida, Alabama and LSU). And in 2009, the ACC had more first-round NFL draft picks than any other conference. So get off your soapbox, please. I would enjoy it if all the football teams in South Carolina were dominant. It would help recruiting. It would help exposure. …As long as Clemson remains the MOST dominant.
Another collective sigh of relief November 16, 2009 Another conference win. Another collective sigh of relief. The Tigers pulled it off once again and with a 20 point victory, I would say that’s solid. I happened to predict a larger deficit than others. I predicted the Tigers would win 43-21. Several of my compadres thought that was a lofty expectation, but I think that was the doubt talking on their behalves. Tiger fans are just waiting for the season to take its downward spiral. But guess what? There’s only one regular season conference game left. A 3:30 p.m. home game against Virginia, and C.J. Spiller’s and all the other Tiger seniors’ last game played in Death Valley. They will play like it’s their last, too. Be confident in that. I am finally confident enough to say this: there’s no way we won’t go to Tampa. You probably need to get your tickets. You can do so here. It’s finally time to kick back and
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enjoy the last home game. Enjoy the position in which the team has put itself. But mostly, relax! Oftentimes I feel like most fans don’t allow themselves to find joy in the season because they’re all too guarded and cynical. I’m occasionally guilty of it, too. I think it’s time to let go of the cynicism. But back to my N.C. State prediction; I’m quite proud of myself, since I predicted the Tigers to win 43-21 and the final score was 43-23. I was closer in my predictions for the game than any other writer I read and any other person I talked to. I don’t think this was luck, either. For the FSU/Clemson game, I predicted a final score of 38-24, Clemson. The actual final score, if you forgot, was 40-24. Yeah, I’m not an expert. I’m just a psychic. And since in my preseason predictions that I conjectured for the entire ACC season, I was one of the few and far between that predicted Clemson and Georgia Tech to meet in the ACC Championship–before one second of season play was performed–I think this is even more valid evidence a) why Clemson fans should feel confident that we’re going to Tampa Bay b) that I have proved myself of my psychic abilities and c) that if you gamble, you probably want to get in good with a gal like me. Furthermore, I think that at this point, many people actually believe Clemson has a shot of winning the ACC and taking that trip to the Orange Bowl. I’m probably getting ahead of myself here. But at the ACC Media Conference, I was one of THREE media members that predicted Clemson to win the title. I was actually ridiculed at lunch over this. I maintain that this wasn’t a display of bias on my part. It was instead a display of the gift of foresight. Hey, like I mentioned in my last blog, I also predicted Russell Wilson wouldn’t make first-team All ACC again. I don’t think anyone can disagree with me there. (I actually think it will probably go to Josh Nesbitt.) In regards to All ACC honors, I wonder if C.J. Spiller will receive All ACC Player of the Year. Shoot, Saturday he threw a touchdown, rushed for one and caught a TD pass all in the same game–the first player in Clemson’s history to do so against an FBS opponent (in 1950, Ray Mathews accomplished all three tasks in a win over Presbyterian College). Clemson’s staff probably never used Spiller to his full potential before this year, but they’re definitely making up for lost time. And could anyone blame them? What a Renaissance man! In other surprising touchdown news from Saturday, how about that Jamie Harper? I was shocked to see the RB, who’s become known for his utility in short yardage situations, run 69-yards for a touchdown. He almost screwed it up when he dropped the ball too early, but at least he crossed into the endzone. Since I unfortunately was not able to attend the game, I saw the infamous ball drop replayed on television numerous times, and it was clear that was the correct call. However, that was a rookie mistake, and he should’ve held onto that ball longer regardless. One thing I am not confident about concerning the Tigers is the place kicking. That first 28-yard field goal kicked by Spencer Benton was U-G-L-Y. Hey, at least he made it, I guess. But he then proceeded to miss two extra point kicks. Mark my words–THIS CANNOT HAPPEN AGAINST GEORGIA TECH IN TAMPA BAY. Can you imagine how it would feel to lose the first ACC Championship game appearance due to missed extra point kicks? I shudder at the thought, but IF we indeed beat Virginia (or BC loses to UNC) and we are lucky enough to face the Jackets in Florida, I can almost guarantee the difference in the game will boil down to special teams. Clemson’s squad has improved in every aspect from game to game except for place kicking. I
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don’t get it. I won’t dwell on it, though. I’m just thankful that indeed, Clemson looks like a better team every game. This is why I don’t fathom us losing to Virginia on Saturday. Look up, Tiger fans. There’s a great month of football ahead.
Well, it’s judgment day November 20, 2009 Well everyone, judgment day is upon us. Will the Clemson Tigers clench the division title on Saturday and take its first trip to the ACC title game since its inception? I think they will, by God. I think they will. Just one win against Virginia Saturday, and I’m throwing all my orange and purple garments in a bag immediately in anticipation. Well, maybe not all. This is a lifelong Clemson fan talking, and airline rules won’t allow for my luggage to weigh over 50 lbs. Anyway, I asked Blair Capps, my very football-educated RTTB blogger friend from UVA, to indulge me in a little Q&A about the Cavs in preparation for Saturday’s game. But before we hear what she has to say, I want to address a nasty rumor and subsequent nasty attitude going around the state of South Carolina. The Miley Cyrus concert is not the reason for a noon kickoff next week in the Palmetto State. Next week’s Carolina/Clemson game is scheduled for noon because it’s being aired on ESPN. ESPN, therefore, dictated the gametime, because if no one noticed, ESPN is the biggest sports media monopoly out there. They can dictate whatever game time they so please, as long as its worth it to the schools in consideration. Which almost always, it is. Cha-ching, if you know what I mean. I’m not sure why people think that South Carolina would be the ones to dictate to ESPN what time their game should air. Last time I checked, the Cocks weren’t even ranked. And that was today. If you don’t believe this argument, the SportsCenter blog confirmed that Miley’s jam session in Columbia is not the reason for the noon kick-off. For all of you Clemson fans up in arms about this, you should probably reconsider your stance. This is good for Clemson for THREE reasons. 1) C.J. Spiller will be extremely benefitted by playing a noon game on ESPN. Spiller highlights will run nationally all day long. This will give him excellent exposure to supplement his Heisman candidacy. 2) Clemson is USED to playing noon games. Carolina is not. This is an advantage for the Tigers. They’re less likely to throw up their scrambled eggs in the endzone. 3) Carolina fans aren’t used to noon games. They’ll be a lot less hostile in Williams-Brice than they would be at, oh, 8 p.m. Hopefully by kick-off they’ll still be griping about how early it is, and maybe not griping as much about how they play in the SEC and it’s sooooo hard on them. Now on to more pressing matters such as Senior Day on Saturday. I hope everyone’s taken several moments to reflect already this week that this is the last time we’ll see C.J. Spiller come down the Hill. EVER. Let the giant simultaneous boo-hoo session in Death Valley begin, as I’m sure it will at 3:15 p.m. Saturday. I’ll deeply miss our other seniors as well. Farewell to the following: Jacoby Ford, Michael Palmer,
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Rendrick Taylor, Thomas Austin, Corey Lambert, Jamarcus Grant, Ricky Sapp, Kevin Alexander, Kavell Connor, Chris Chancellor, Sadat Chambers and Crezdon Butler. Given that it’s Senior Day, I expect the Tigers to be particularly focused on making the UVA game Saturday a memorable one in Death Valley. That competitive edge will be matched with the fact UVA has not played in Death Valley since 2003, so none of their current players have experienced the atmosphere. Also given the less-than-fulfilled sentiment Cavalier fans have toward the state of the football program, I doubt many UVA fans will be seated in the corners of the stands. If I were them, I’m not sure I’d want to travel to see what I anticipate unfolding, either. Given UVA’s turnover tendency (they’ve had 16 this season) and the fact that Clemson is leading the FBS with 20 interceptions, I expect some beautiful disaster, such as a defensive touchdown on behalf of the Tigers (paging DeAndre McDaniel). If UVA’s O-line can’t protect Jameel Sewell, expect some other major offensive troubles for the Cavs. I foresee Ricky Sapp getting down with some tackles for loss and a couple sacks. Brandon Maye, too. And according to the injury report, Da’Quan Bowers is probably going to be back in action. I doubt they’ll play him as hard as usual, given that it’s his first game back after a twoweek hiatus, but he’ll be hungry. (Thomas Austin is listed on the injury report as probable for the game as well). Last week in a fourth consecutive loss for the Cavs–this time to Boston College–UVA failed to score any offensive touchdowns. I’m going to guess their red zone offense will be stagnant on Saturday, too. Maybe they’ll get a few field goals. My bold prediction: Clemson 40, Virginia 9. Without further adieu, here’s some Q&A with UVA’s Blogger Blair (hey, I kinda like that): Who on defense might be fast enough to keep up with Clemson’s swift offensive players such as C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Andre Ellington? We’re going to be looking at Ras-I Dowling (CB) when it comes to covering Jacoby Ford and the deep ball threat. Nose Tackle/DE Nate Collins had 16 tackles against Georgia Tech; we’re going to need another solid game from him to stop Spiller. What are Virginia’s main weaknesses that have inhibited the team from succeeding this season as it might’ve hoped it would? The Cavalier offense is, in a word, pathetic. Last week against Boston College the defense only allowed 14 points, but the offense had 0 touchdowns. The o-line has been struggling this year, and we lost all of our experienced receivers from last season. Gregg Brandon’s spread offense has been abandoned in favor of a scheme our players can actually run, but we still haven’t been successful. Most of the mistakes have been fundamentals. Dropped passes this late in the season? Are you kidding me? What’s the deal with Al Groh? Do you see him making his exit at the end of the season? What specifically of Virginia’s problems has to do with coaching? Everyone here in Charlottesville knows that this is most likely the end of the Al Groh era. There hasn’t been an official announcement from the AD, but the recent decline has a lot of the boosters shaking their heads. Ticket sales are down, no one is showing up to the games, and the program is losing $$$. Funny enough, our defense (with the exception of the 52-point atrocity at Miami) has been fairly decent this year, and Al Groh is our d-coordinator. Special teams has been
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pretty suspect, as well as a lot of our offensive play calling. Both of those coordinators are on one year contracts, so cleaning house will be easy next year. How do you see Virginia’s offense matching up to Clemson’s defense? Clemson has a lot of speed on defense as well; people seem to overlook that when you have CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford on the other side of the ball. We will probably rely heavily on Rashawn Jackson to carry the ball; I don’t think the o-line will be able to give Jameel Sewell enough time to make quality throws. What players should Clemson specifically look out for? Vic Hall, Vic Hall, Vic Hall. You have to watch this guy on offense, defense, and special teams. He returns punts, plays WR, can take snaps at QB, and is an excellent cover corner. He is one of the only pure athletes on our team, so you can never overlook him. Rashawn Jackson is a big, physical, fullback who can carry the whole offense when he gets a good head of steam going. LB Steve Greer is only a freshman, but he has been a big contributor this season. A lot of teams have made the mistake of underestimating him. Your prediction? Clemson has just too much speed on both sides of the ball. U.Va. 10 - Clemson 37. Spiller for Heisman! And finally, who would you like to see in the ACC Championship and why? Who do you see most deserving of winning the ACC? I’m beyond happy that Georgia Tech is representing the Coastal Division this season, rather than Virginia Tech. Miami turned out to be something of a false promise, but the Yellow Jackets have been solid all season. I’ve been waiting from the Tommy West era all the way up to Coach Swinney’s tenure for a title for the Tigers. I’ll be cheering for Virginia, but I won’t be crushed if Clemson wins and gets a ticket to Tampa Bay. Between those two teams, it’s a toss up. Georgia Tech has been consistently good all year, but Clemson impressed me by making some serious adjustments after the loss to Maryland. They’ve already played each other this season, but I think a Clemson-GT rematch would make for a pretty exciting championship game.
The season’s far from over November 23, 2009 Saturday was a pretty great day to be a Tiger fan. It wasn’t just because the Tigers sealed the Division title, either, though that realization led to even more celebration on the field than usual.
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I thought the game was a touching send-off for the seniors of whom us fans have become fond, and it was paired nicely with a lovely commemoration of our military service members. The fly over of the military jets cued the massive excitement in Death Valley. It was then the seniors’ turn to individually walk down the Hill, so the fans could show our appreciation for each one of them. C.J. Spiller brought up the rear, waving an American flag while the crowd went bananas. I must admit, I got a little teary-eyed at the fact we will never see C.J. Spiller play another game in Death Valley. There are some of those players that fans just become particularly attached to, and obviously he’s one of them. Yeah, his stardom has something to do with it. But he also embodies the ideal Clemson athlete: he’s selfless on and off the field; he is quick to credit his teammates and fan base for his success; he’s become incredibly loyal to Clemson; he has put the Tigers in the national news much more often than they would be without him. Not to mention, when Clemson fans felt a little down-and-out about the state of the program, Spiller was still there to get Tiger fans out of their seats and cheering. Also, when you watch a player evolve and essentially grow up in the way that we’ve watched C.J. Spiller, of course there’s a special level of attachment. But this factor includes all the Tiger seniors. When they’re a part of the Clemson family for four or more years, it’s appropriate to lament their exits. It’s human. The way Dabo called the seniors off of the field at the end of the game was a nice touch. One by one, each ran to his team sidelines of Death Valley, removing his helmet while his name was announced and the coaches hugged and congratulated each guy. (By the way, Dabo looks pretty swell in camo pants. So does the rest of the coaching staff. They donned such apparel in honor of Military Appreciation Day, but I think this should be a regular thing. After all, this is Clemson we’re talking about!) And at the end of the game, it was announced that Boston College had succumbed to North Carolina, which everyone already knew. But I had taken note that this was not announced prior to the game. I’m sure Dabo requested this in order for the Tigers to play like the Divison title was still on the line. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t really work. Virtually everyone predicted Clemson to win by a much larger margin than 13 points. (All fingers can point at me in particular. I embarassingly predicted a 31-point margin. There goes my enviable streak of accuracy). Clemson had some problems Saturday that have to be cleared up before facing South Carolina and Georgia Tech. For one, the defense was far from fabulous the first half. They allowed Virginia to accomplish 233 yards in the first half and score three touchdowns. Virginia only scored three touchdowns in their previous four games combined, and scored absolutely no offensive touchdowns just a week prior versus Boston College. Thankfully, the defense woke up in the second half, limiting Virginia to only 40 yards and sacking the QBs a total of eight times. This seems like a recurring theme: the defense is celebrated prior to the game, cited as a reason for a predicted Clemson victory; they then appear very lackluster in the first half, but after Kevin Steele works his magic over halftime, the defense reminds everyone in the second half why they deserve to be taken quite seriously. I was surprised, however, that there were no Clemson interceptions for the first time in weeks. But really, what’s with this zone-read deficiency? I bet Steve Spurrier and Paul Johnson have something up their sleeves.
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In other news, Richard Jackson appears to have his golden leg in working order once again. Well, maybe it’s too soon to say that much. But he made all of his kicks except a narrowly missed 53-yard field goal, and let’s hope this continues. It’s a pretty uneasy feeling when you have to watch the place kicker through your fingers over your eyes, particularly when you know the next several weeks of football will most likely heavily rely on special teams ability. Wait, did I say several weeks of football? That’s kind of a crazy realization. The last time Clemson played the week after the South Carolina game was in 2001, when Clemson faced Duke in a game rescheduled because of 9/11. It’s a little easier to be excited about rematching Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship in Tampa than playing Duke in a rescheduled regular season game. And then there will be a bowl game. Possibly even a BCS bowl game. While it’s a great thing that when most teams’ football seasons are winding down, Clemson has such thrilling weeks of play remaning, I’m a little nervous about how this might reflect on the good ole’ state rivalry game. Usually Clemson can 100% focus on embarassing the ‘Cocks. But even my interest is a little diminished in this week’s game because of what lies ahead. However, I’ll still be ready for some good, old-fashioned trash talking. Check back in a few days.
Will the Chicken Curse continue? November 27, 2009 You know, it’s apparent that South Carolina fans forget that the Gamecocks have always been mediocre. They were mediocre in the Southern Conference, in the ACC, when they were independent and now, in the SEC. I have to call this to attention because I am about to pull my hair out with the constant remarks concerning how South Carolina’s conference is ridiculously more difficult than Clemson’s. Yeah, I get it. South Carolina played both Alabama and Florida this year. Kudos. Go ahead and whine some more. I’m sitting here playing the smallest violin in the world for you guys. But South Carolina also played Vanderbilt, the hands-down worst team in the SEC. Final score: 14-10. The Gamecocks played N.C. State, one of the weaker teams in the ACC, the first game of the season; before they were beat up by Florida and Alabama, which fans cite as a reason for habitually losing to Clemson the last game of regular season play. Final score of that game? 7-3. Carolina put up one measley touchdown against N.C. State. AT N.C. State. Clemson put up 43 points against the Wolfpack. Basically, Carolina is 1-1 against the last two ACC teams they played: Clemson and N.C. State. I don’t think the victory against N.C. State is necessarily one that entitles bragging rights of massive superiority over ACC teams, either. This brings me to a reflection of a conversation–er, argument–I had with a Carolina fan just night before last. This Carolina fan had absolutely no sense of logic. I eventually had to leave the room because I found it fairer to argue with a third grader. First, he contended that Clemson’s defense is only considered to be talented because Clemson has only faced mediocre teams all season. I pointed out that Clemson has played as many current Top 10 teams at this point in the season as Carolina has (Clemson played #4 TCU and #7 Georgia Tech, Carolina played #1 Florida and
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#2 Alabama). And if teams ranked currently in the Top 25 are called into question, Clemson also beat #17 Miami and Carolina beat #25 Mississippi. I’ll hand it to you, South Carolina. You will play one more ranked team than Clemson will this season, and that will be #18 Clemson. Unfortunately, the ‘Cocks aren’t ranked. By the way, to add to my credibility here, these are BCS rankings and I think everyone can agree–even if you think the rankings are garbage–that they are most credible at the end of the season. Speaking of the rankings being garbage, this Carolina fan did indeed point out that the rankings are absolutely meaningless. This is the same Carolina fan I witnessed having a small heart attack from ecstasy when Carolina beat the then #4 ranked Ole Miss. All Carolina fans I have ever met spent weeks after that victory proclaiming how South Carolina had finally gotten into it’s groove, because it had beat the #4 team in the country. However, these are the same fans that now say the rankings are no accurate prediction of talent. I would agree that in the fourth week of season play, which is when Carolina beat Ole Miss, that the rankings are much less of a predictor of talent than when entering the final week of regular season play. My point here is, when one is engaging in an argument when intellect and ethos are important factors (which in my opinion is every argument), one has to be consistent with their claims. Either the rankings matter to you, or they don’t. Pick one side and stick with it. You can’t flip-flop around when it’s convenient. There was more flip-flopping to be had in this particular conversation. The USC fan proceeded to say the Atlantic division was a joke, and that if Clemson was in the Coastal division, it would never stand a chance in the ACC. The Coastal division is much stronger, I agreed. But Clemson played the two best teams in the Coastal division: Georgia Tech and Miami. Clemson lost to one by a field goal kicked in the final minute, and beat the other on Miami’s home turf. “But Georgia Tech is horrible! Their defense is abysmal,” the Carolina fan protested. Obviously their lacking defense hasn’t been too much of a problem for them, I pointed out. With their triple-option spead offense, Georgia Tech has pretty good ball control. The defense is on the field a lot less of the time than the offense. “Yeah, GT averages 480 offensive yards a game,” he said. “There’s no way Clemson can beat them.” Clemson’s defense, I replied, has handled the triple-option fairly well once this season. Since Georgia Tech’s main advantage is their stunning offensive scheme, the fact that Clemson’s guys have seen it once just weeks ago will be a great advantage for the Tigers. Yes, I conceded, GT has improved. But so has Clemson, particularly offensively, dramatically. “Offense doesn’t mean anything! Offense doesn’t win games. Defense wins games,” the fan proclaimed. “It doesn’t matter Clemson’s offense has improved.” I would see why you would feel inclined to say that, I said, since you knocked on the Atlantic division and only scored a touchdown against a weaker Atlantic division team. But you also just said Georgia Tech’s defense was “abysmal” and that because they averaged 480 offensive yards a game, Clemson didn’t stand a chance. Obviously, this totally contradicts the USC fan’s recent declaration that offense doesn’t win games. At this point, I got pretty frustrated. I realized that the entire conversation was centered on logical fallacies on the Carolina fan’s part. It was a debate whether Clemson was legitimately
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good; whether anyone in the ACC was legitimately good; and whether Clemson would beat Georgia Tech. There was nothing the Carolina fan wanted to debate involving the Carolina vs. Clemson game in particular, and until tomorrow evening, I am concerned about the Clemson/ Carolina game. Not the Clemson/Georgia Tech game. I understand that as a fan, when the alltime record of your team’s rivalry is 65-37-4 in the opponent’s favor and all signs point to another loss, there isn’t much to legitimately argue. Clemson leads 49-29-3 in games played at South Carolina, and 16-8-1 at Clemson. If these numbers seem a little lopsided, it’s because Clemson used to play the rivalry game every year in Columbia. We see how even that advantage worked out for the ‘Cocks. In fact, Clemson has more wins over South Carolina than any other school. These victories account for 10% of Clemson’s all-time victory total. Carolina has had a tough November already. The ‘Cocks have lost their last three games. They have to win tomorrow to go to a decent Bowl game. I understand the bad attitudes. I understand that usually, it’s miserable to be a South Carolina fan. As far as the game goes tomorrow, it’s ironic that it’s hard to predict what will happen given that history tends to repeat itself. It would be absolutely devastating for Clemson to lose this game, because if Clemson happened to win the ACC Championship, the ACC/SEC trash talking would only multiply a thousandfold for the next year. But who am I kidding? Those claims will never cease, anyway. But when I consider the facts, the facts point to a continuation of the Chicken Curse. Apparently, South Carolina has a great defense. This might have something to do with Eric Norwood, the giant defensive threat who lines up as an end and a linebacker. He’s a dangerous pass rusher and could pose a major threat in shutting down C.J. Spiller as well. Clemson’s had trouble when just one dangerous pass rusher gets into the mix–ie the problems GT’s DE Derrick Morgan posed for the Tigers all by himself. But Kyle Parker has only matured and showed an increase in pocket-presence poise each game, and Clemson’s offense is capable of great balance of the running and the passing games. Michael Palmer, Jacoby Ford, the blossoming Xavier Dye and even C.J. Spiller or Ellington are all extremely capable of making clutch receptions. And then there’s Clemson’s running game. C.J. Spiller–enough said. People have had his number all season long and still haven’t managed to shut him down. Given that USC’s defensive tackles are not all-stars and that the other DE, Cliff Matthews, was questionable for play early on in the week, I think Clemson has the advantage here. USC, on the other hand, has not as thoroughly established a running game. With a steady Garcia and a pair of talented rookie wideouts (Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley), it’s passing game is solid. Therefore a key to a Clemson W will be to put massive pressure on Garcia. This shouldn’t be a problem considering Clemson’s defensive line is much better than Carolina’ offensive line. Carolina has notoriously allowed a great number of sacks, and the Tigers lead the ACC with 33 sacks, ranking 11th nationally in that regard. DE DaQuan Bowers should be close to 100% after sitting out for two games due to a knee injury and being limited in play against Virginia. The Tigers will look to Bowers, Ricky Sapp and the team leader in tackles with 83, MLB Brandon Maye, to limit Garcia. This will leave DeAndre McDaniel to roam the field and hopefully snag an interception or two while CBs Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler cover the WRs. Chancellor has been beaten in man-coverage a time or two
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this season, and Carolina’s WRs are slick. This will be no easy task, but breaking up Carolina’s passing game should be manageable for the Tigers. Clemson has no injuries to report going into tomorrow. On paper, the Tigers are favored by most everyone. In reality, there will most likely be a few surprises tomorrow. My prediction is that this will be a close game: 27-21, Clemson. I’ll leave you with disclosing that my aforementioned Carolina fan wanted to bet $200 that Carolina will win tomorrow. I declined seeing as how I don’t gamble, and this same fan tried to bet me $200 that Carolina would beat Alabama, but never brought up this losing bet after the fact. You’ve got to give it to these USC fans–they’re loyal. They’re believers, gosh darn it. Hence the infamous line, “Wait ’til next year.”
Congrats, ‘Cocks November 29, 2009 I’ve almost recovered from the upset that occurred yesterday. Putting up all of my Christmas decorations helped a little bit. I’m looking forward to December for many reasons. That’s right: I will brand it an upset, and those of you who would like to argue against that terminology are only lying to yourselves. Or else you simply don’t read. Of course plenty of Clemson fans felt uneasy about this game. It’s not like the Tigers regularly face Carolina at the end of the season with a big game looming the week afterward. All week long in interviews, the coaches and players continually attempted to remind everyone that they were focused on Carolina and Carolina only. I didn’t really buy it then, and I certainly don’t buy it now. The Tigers lacked utter enthusiasm yesterday, as well as lacking focus. Critical fumbles and penalties the ninth game of the season? Of course that should result in a loss. The Gamecocks deserved to win, no doubt about it. They outplayed Clemson yesterday. There’s talent on that team; everybody knew that. Enough talent to stop Clemson? Most people agreed with that, given the right circumstances. Steve Spurrier even agreed with this statement. In interviews with the media, he was quoted as saying, “We caught Clemson at the right time. They have a big game next week, and we haven’t done much lately.” He couldn’t have said it better. Clemson was caught with it’s pants down. Coming off of a six game winning streak, looking forward to earning some redemption against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship, and recalling the history of pure, undisputed Clemson dominance in the Clemson/Carolina series, the Tigers simply didn’t show up to play. Carolina, on the other hand, had plenty of reasons to play for blood. It was a pivotal game in their season; without a win over the Tigers, they would’ve faced a 6-6 season, a paltry Bowl game and some speculated changes in football staff. Not to mention another drop in the bucket that is losses to archrival Clemson. Carolina had two weeks to prepare for Clemson. Those guys evidently utilized that time to its fullest extent. They preyed on Clemson’s weaknesses, magnifying them to reach the result of the worst loss Clemson has suffered to Carolina in Columbia since 1975. It was also the worst loss
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Clemson has suffered, period, since having Dabo Swinney as head coach. It didn’t help that C.J. Spiller was apparently suffering from a case of the flu. This limited his playing time and subsequently damaged his Heisman chances. The kick-off return for a touchdown, however, was a pretty enthralling start to the game, which quickly faded into discomfort for Clemson fans thereafter. I don’t have any complaints with losing to Carolina yesterday. Clemson got what it deserved, and likewise, Carolina got what it deserved. I still maintain that Carolina is a mediocre team. Clemson lost to Maryland, for goodness’ sake. Everybody knew Clemson had the ability to choke in certain circumstances. But I’m satisfied with ending the regular season 8-4 and heading down to Tampa under a brand spankin’ new head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. I think it’s been– realistically–a positive season under this new staff. Speaking of Dabo and his short tenure, he’s still 1-1 against Carolina. Can you imagine how awful it must’ve felt for Carolina to lose 31-14 last year, with Clemson having suffered a crisis midseason and subsequently being led by a substitute coach-in-training? With Carolina led by Mr. Steve Spurrier himself? That’s kind of like going to war on horseback with swords and shields to face an opponent with the atom bomb, and still managing to emerge victoriously. I personally don’t reach a state of devastation after losing to Carolina, as the laws of statistics prove that they are going to pull out a win every once in a while. Three wins in thirteen years definitely qualifies as “once in a while.” Following the game, I offered congratulations to the Carolina fans via my Facebook status. All that got me was an influx of trash talking messages, including references to Clemson not being able to hang with “the big boys of the SEC.” Excuse me? You win 10 out of the last 13 meetings with a particular SEC team, and all of a sudden you can’t hang with “the big boys of the SEC?” Does Carolina even qualify as “the big boys of the SEC?” I don’t need to go into why that’s one of the silliest attempts at an insult I’ve ever heard.
Photo owned by clemsonwallpapers.com
Someone also said the ‘Cocks “beat you like we owned you.” I think “ownership” has probably been accrued by 65-38-4. Not this singular meeting. Maybe if the ‘Cocks win in Death Valley next year, I might get a little more concerned. But I’m not one to say “wait ’til next year.” Partly because I don’t qualify as a Carolina fan, so that line isn’t in my daily vocabulary. In fact, next year’s meeting with Carolina ranks last on my priorities list, and probably isn’t too high on the
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Tigers’ priority list, either. After all, it’s Carolina’s locker room that has (or used to, ’til Steve Spurrier removed them) the “Beat Clemson” signs that would hang on the walls year-long. If that’s not symbolic of a complex, what is?! The complex is what bugs me most in this good ole’ state rivalry. Carolina fans absolutely despise Clemson. And when you are dominated and repressed by any entity for decades, of course that intense hatred and resentment will be there. On the other hand, Clemson fans don’t identify with these decades of repression and domination (by any team). It’s my belief that Clemson fans primarily dislike Carolina because of the fans. For example, yesterday my boyfriend got seven phone calls from the Carolina fan whose antics were featured in my previous blog. SEVEN, for several hours following the game’s end. Shouldn’t that person have been celebrating in a more positive way other than blowing up someone’s phone to hurl insults? Damned if Clemson beats Carolina, and damned if Clemson doesn’t. Anyone having a penchant for Clemson football will never be safe from harassment under either circumstance, apparently. This same person referred to Clemson as “the laughing stock of the South.” Had Clemson won, I would have called absolutely no Carolina fans. It would’ve been just another day at the ballfield. Same with every other Clemson fan I personally know. In fact, my freshman year of college, when for the first time I stayed in Columbia for the duration of the rivalry weekend, Clemson beat Carolina 63-17. I didn’t say a word to anybody. What is there to even say at that point if you’re at all interested in keeping your friends? It just seems to me that many Carolina fans have the equivalent of the short man’s complex. Remember those kids in school that felt deficient in some area of life, so they were incredibly mean to everyone else? It’s like everyone else has to pay for any feelings of inferiority harbored in those people’s hearts. Whatever. I felt bad for those kids then, and I do now. Carolina fans, I genuinely hope you guys enjoy this win. I hope it puts you right on your road to happiness and satisfaction. Everyone deserves to be happy. At least every once in a while.
The story of Clemson’s poster boy December 2, 2009 C.J. Spiller is the poster boy of Clemson football for good reason. I believed this before I had the honor of sitting down with him to have a one-on-one conversation on a Tuesday afternoon, when he took the opportunity to tell me about the man behind the notorious Heisman poster. Compared to the likes of Reggie Bush, he holds numerous records, both for Clemson and for the NCAA. He scores touchdowns weekly, sometimes in three different ways in a single game, setting even more records. The recently-named 2009 All ACC Player of the Year (he received 29 of 40 votes), first team specialist, second team running back, and first team All-American allpurpose player has a resume that’s only mounting. It’s likely he’ll end up in New York City for the Heisman ceremony. And while he’s constantly cited as the most explosive player in college football, his splendor
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doesn’t dull when Spiller removes his cleats. Generally, Clemson fans love him because he dominates the field. Without him, there’s really no telling what might have panned out for Clemson this season. Children love Spiller because he’s a superstar. On game days in Clemson, the streets are littered with youngsters in 28’s jersey throwing and catching the football, shouting things such as, “Look! I’m C.J.Spiller!” This leads to why parents love Spiller: he’s a true role model for their kids; a rarity in an industry that can too commonly be marred by scandal. You’ll never see C.J. Spiller in the media for anything other than what he has accomplished. He’ll never be at the clubs or college bars; he’ll never be confronted by law enforcement for anything other than an autograph. He’ll never be the player involved in a suspension-inducing brawl. Some may believe the habitual knee Spiller takes in the end zone after a score, his constant references to his faith in interviews, and the VCC (standing for Victory Christian Center, his church back home in Florida) always imprinted on his eye black might be shades of hypocrisy; vapid symbols Spiller uses to paint himself as a holier-than-thou celebrity. Those people are wrong. The past four years, I, along with Clemson fans, staff and media, have witnessed the evolution of C.J. Spiller from a teenage much-talked-about recruit into a mature, selfless individual of unshakeable values. It seemed a miracle Spiller came to Clemson in the first place, particularly since the only game he attended at Clemson was the mild and lacking spring game. He discussed attending the 2005 Clemson vs. FSU game–the year he was courted by masses of recruiters–but instead chose to attend a church reunion for Victory Christian Center. Yet he cites Clemson’s legendary fan base as his major reason for deciding on accepting Clemson’s offer. “My first experience with Death Valley was my first game [playing] here. I had heard stories about it, but that was my first experience,” Spiller says. He says that on other visits, he heard guys discussing the magnitude of the noise in Death Valley. He went on the majority of his visits to Florida State. A lifelong FSU fan, Spiller credits Florida State legendary running back Warrick Dunn as his childhood role model. Dunn was forced to raise his siblings at age 18 when his mother, a police officer, was murdered by three armed robbers outside of an ATM while off-duty. Spiller really admired “how [Dunn] played the game, and off the field, what he had done.” But Spiller turned down the seemingly irresistible offer to identically follow in Dunn’s footsteps as a running back at FSU. “It was a hard decision, especially growing up 20 minutes from Gainesville and a lifelong Florida State fan. But I had to put all that aside and do what’s best for me,” he says. “I also felt really comfortable on visits with coaches and players. I didn’t really want to get into a big town. I wanted a small town like I’m used to.” He began going to Florida State games as a young child to see Dunn play. Though Spiller began his football career humbly–managing the team because at age five, he had a late birthday and wasn’t old enough that year to play–he soon after began his running back career. He says people began to realize he was something special in his Pop Warner days. “I was always
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the kid that was always outrunning everybody else. My mom saw it at a young age and as I got older, the same thing.” He began as a tiger, actually; playing for the Bengals throughout childhood before gracing Lake Butler Middle School and Union County High School with his speed and athleticism. “I played other sports, but I knew football was my love. I knew I could play football at a young age. I understood how it was played and I was very blessed with a lot of ability to play the game.” His ability is equally matched with charisma, and has obviously served Clemson well. His teammates adore him, as do his coaches and fans. When rookie running back Andre Ellington scores a touchdown, Spiller is the first to sprint down the sidelines and greet him with an embrace and a secret handshake. It’s been reported that Spiller’s teammates will approach him on the sidelines at a game, requesting that he score a touchdown to jack them up. “They’re really your brothers,” Spiller says. “You’re around them all the time.” When asked if he knows he’s a role model to the younger players, he says, “I just try to show those guys what it takes to be successful. What it takes to have a good game—a lot of hard work and preparation. Anything I can leave those guys with that will help them in their careers.” He says Reggie Merriweather and James Davis did a great job of showing him the ropes early in his college career. He’s still in touch with Davis. He says it’s “one of those friendships that’s going to last forever,” despite the fact Spiller was overshadowed by Davis until this year—Spiller’s last. Though he’s been considered to carry a sizeable load on offense this season (some contend that Spiller himself is the Tigers’ offensive identity), he’ll never harbor negative feelings about any of these past occurrences. “I wasn’t worried about touches or playing time at all,” he says of the “thunder and lightning” days. He was only concerned about being ready when it was his turn to play. So when the arrival of the 2009 season was marked by a larger-than-life Spiller poster, causing many to scoff at what they considered a grassroots movement by the always enthusiastic and supportive Clemson community, Spiller knew before anyone else that the Heisman campaign would be no joke. “I always believe in my ability,” he says. “I never thought I didn’t have a chance of winning. If you are competitive, you never shoot low.” As the season progressed, so did the Heisman campaign. Spiller’s feats gained national attention, with most analysts projecting him in the top five of Heisman contenders. If by chance Spiller doesn’t make it to New York for the ceremony, however, he says he wouldn’t feel cheated by the notorious politics that follow the award. “I wouldn’t feel cheated at all. They are going to pick who they pick. They will pick who they think are the best guys in the country. I won’t hold a grudge against anybody. I’m going to go about my business like I’ve always been doing and get ready for a bowl game.” It’s easy to suggest that had Spiller played for a more nationally respected team—a team consistently in the Top 10—and had Spiller not been forced to split time with James Davis until this season, that the Heisman might be more certainly within his grasp. And it must be noted that as loyal as Spiller is to Clemson now, he’s had his fair share of doubts. On two occasions in particular it seemed Spiller was planning to leave the state of South Carolina. The first scare to the Clemson community followed the loss to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl in 2006. Spiller suggested he wanted to go back home to Florida and either play for FSU or
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the Gators. “I was just frustrated at the time,” he explains. “You know, being a young guy I didn’t understand everything. We were coming off of a bowl loss from a team that shouldn’t really have beat us. I think it was more frustration. When I calmed down and realized what I was about to do, I figured out that wouldn’t be a good decision. So I came on back here and finished it all up.” Then again last year, everyone anxiously waited to see if Spiller would enter the NFL draft or return for his senior season. He says the attainment of his degree was the major driving force in his decision to stay, but it’s been rumored that Coach Dabo Swinney enticed Spiller to stay by appealing to dreams of becoming a Heisman winner (which led the conception of the poster). Considering the controversy surrounding the Clemson football program last year, it was somewhat surprising that Spiller decided to return for his senior season. He admits that one of his lowest points in college football was 2008’s coaching change. “No player ever wants to go through such a thing like that, but at the same time you understand this is a business and there’s some things you can’t control.” But he has no regrets. “I will never regret coming to Clemson,” he says adamantly. Since Swinney was the person who recruited Spiller to come to Clemson, they’ve always had a special relationship. Spiller says he knew Swinney would “be good for the job” because of the work ethic he displayed as a wide receivers coach. Now he says, “I see our team out there playing for one. Playing for each other. Playing with passion. Only time will tell how the Swinney era will go.” At one point in the interview, Spiller takes a break to call into a scheduled satellite radio show. He has his foot propped up casually on a chair, talking through his personal cell phone that happens to be completely bedazzled with orange rhinestones, designed like the back of his jersey with purple and silver stones spelling “Spiller” over the large number 28. “This is C.J. Spiller,” he says into the phone. “A running back from Clemson,” as if he needs to clarify. At some point he says into the phone, “That’s my mentality. Whatever the coaches need, I’m willing to do it. If it’s going to help our team be successful, I am going to go out there and do it.” Looking around the second floor of the West End Zone, it becomes clearer how he’s developed such a fierce sense of loyalty to Clemson. The walls are papered in victorious memories that make Clemson fans and players alike feel blessed to be a part of such an organization. Every single chair is custom-made with purple and orange cushions stamped with tiger paws, and the carpet is orange and purple abstracted tiger stripes. Jerseys of Clemson greats are enclosed in glass, and lush purple leather recliners face flat screens playing the Clemson basketball game. There’s even a custom Clemson pool table made of purple felt with a large tiger paw in the middle. But the effectively brainwashing décor did not create the man seated before me, so I feel inclined to ask him how he became so loyal to Clemson. “I want to be a great ambassador for this university,” he replies earnestly. “It just comes with a lot of respect. Some guys have it, and some guys don’t. I understand the opportunity that was
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given to me, and why not share it? Go out and share it with others.” Spiller has done just that. He’s accomplished almost all there is to accomplish at Clemson. He’ll cross the graduation stage this month. One day, he’ll most likely be inducted into the Ring of Honor. His jersey will be retired. Many of his records will remain unbroken for decades, if not longer. He’ll be vigorously supported through his NFL journey. And it’s possible that after Saturday, he can take an ACC Championship ring with him. It doesn’t take him long to sum up his ultimate personal goals. “I just want to go out as a winner. I want to start something new.”
Clemson: #1 at breakin’ hearts December 6, 2009 Not this year Tigers. No ACC Championship. No win over Georgia Tech. C.J. Spiller scored four touchdowns in the ACCCG last night, contributing the majority of Clemson’s 34 points, and making Clemson fans everywhere terrified of next season when the superstar is no longer donning an orange jersey. The last couple of games, Spiller was quiet, yet he shredded GT’s defense last night to remind everyone why he was in Heisman discussions in the first place. Hopefully, the experts held onto their Heisman votes until the last minute to witness championship weekend. Spiller deserves to be in New York City, and if certain people want to deny him of that then they clearly didn’t watch the game. With a final score of 39-34, the heartbreak for Clemson fans continues as Georgia Tech squeaked by to continue the ridiculously long-lasting 5-points-or-less tradition, now clinching victory in six of the last seven meetings between the Tigers. I thought the Tigers had it. When Andre Ellington went airborne over the linemen, diving into the endzone to put the Tigers in leading position with 6:11 remaning in the game, Coach Swinney gathered the defense around him and said, “You don’t DESERVE to win a Championship if you can’t do it on defense.” The defense was jacked. I foresaw a 3-and-out and some subsequent tears of happiness on my end (as opposed to Tebow’s now infamous tears of sorrow), but Paul Johnson led his Jackets in a gut-wrenching, systematic fashion that ended in Jonathan Dwyer scoring a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game. Apparently, the defense wasn’t jacked enough. Kevin Steele broke his hand prior to the game while trying to pump up the defense, but his self-sacrifice didn’t seem to do the trick. When Derrick Morgan sacked Kyle Parker just short of a first down, and oranges began rolling all over the field, I knew that it wouldn’t be this year that the Tigers took home their first ACC Championship since 1991. How many times can Clemson lose these close games? How many times can it fall one play short?! It gets old, but I still had a magical experience in Tampa. Whether it was watching C.J. be awarded Player of the Year, listening to ACC heroes such as Danny Ford and Chris Weinke discuss their legacies, talking to Danny Ford on the sidelines of the ACCCG, or witnessing Jonathan Dwyer run over to embrace a vastly disappointed C.J. Spiller as he hung his head,
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sitting on the bench right beside where I stood, it was a trip that reminded me why I love Clemson football in the first place.
And why I always will, even through all the disappointment that goes along with it.
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