Clemson happy to turn page on defeat

CLEMSON, S.C. - It got to the point sports junkie Cullen Harper couldn't watch TV without getting sick.


"Everytime you turned on ESPN, you got Mark May and Lou Holtz talking about how Clemson got manhandled, about how well Alabama did," Harper said. "It was hard constantly being reminded of that."

Although Saturday's 45-17 victory over Citadel doesn't wipe out the Tigers' Alabama slammer from a week earlier, Clemson got to feel like a winner again.

"This definitely helps. It gets a good taste back in your mouth," Harper said. "Get your confidence back."

And that was definitely missing the past week.

Clemson came into the season ranked No. 9, but was embarrassed on national TV by the Crimson Tide, 34-10. There was almost no area of the team that escaped critics, be it a weak offensive line, poor decision-making from the quarterback, or a "Thunder and Lightning" running duo rendered useless by Alabama defenders.

Coach Tommy Bowden was criticized by some for calling Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban for advice about Clemson's recovery.

"This week has been a long week for coaches and players alike," offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. "We lived with it all week long and felt miserable about our performance last week and wanted to get some redemption."

The biggest way to do that was to get Clemson's stars in James Davis and C.J. Spiller going again.

Spence talked to the running backs Friday night about powering up "Thunder and Lightning" against the Championship Subdivision opponent, and Davis and Spiller got going from the start. Davis gained 24 yards on the first play, more than the 20 yards the two combined for against Alabama.

Davis' 38-yard touchdown run started Clemson's scoring, then Spiller added scoring runs of 37 and 1 yard on the Tigers next two series to lead 21-0.

After halftime, Spiller finished off a 17-yard touchdown that essentially ended the Bulldogs' chances.

Davis had 107 yards and Spiller 75. Clemson finished with 252 yards on the ground.

"We established a running game this week after having a poor performance last week," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "The players did well from the beginning."

Don't expect Clemson to leap back into the polls after this one. Citadel has lost its past 19 games against Bowl Subdivision opponents, and 15th straight to the Tigers.

This was about more than victory, Bowden said.

"You just need to feel good about yourself," he said.

Many top 25 teams, the coach said, open with lesser opponents to give themselves a margin of error should they open sluggishly. Clemson didn't do that and instead faced critics from all sides.

The offensive line and its four new starters looked porous and overmatched against Alabama as Harper rushed passes in trying to escape the pressure. Clemson's defense, considered a strength, was pushed around throughout by the Crimson Tide.

Against Citadel, the offensive line took steps toward melding into a unit the Tigers can count on.

"That was definitely a point of emphasis for us," said center Thomas Austin, the lone returning starter from last season on the line. "We wanted to come out and set the tone and establish the running game. It's a confidence booster."

The Tigers start the Atlantic Coast Conference season next week at home against North Carolina State. Then comes South Carolina State, another Championship Subdivision foe, before taking on Maryland to finish a stretch of four straight home games.

"We faltered in every way you can imagine last week," said Spence, the Tigers offensive coordiantor. "No one's more aware of that than I am. But I'm just proud of our players."

Perhaps, this week, Clemson players won't have to hide from disappointed fans.

"You're going to get praise, you're going to get criticism," Spiller said. "I think this team did a great job handling ourselves not badmouthing coaches or pointing fingers at other players."

"Now that we got the win," Spiller said with a grin. "Maybe we can get a little of the criticism taken away."


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