ATLANTA -- Tommy Bowden has transformed a flailing, downward-spiraling program into a lethal offensive juggernaut during his dazzling debut campaign at Clemson that could not be tarnished by a 17-7 Peach Bowl loss.
The Tigers (6-6) rebounded from a repugnant 3-8 record in 1998 to make the greatest turnaround in Atlantic Coast Conference history. No. 15 Mississippi State (10-2) extended Clemson's bowl losing streak to four games with their victory Thursday night at the Georgia Dome but could not erase the positive impact Bowden has made in his brief tenure.
"We got Clemson back where it used to be," said sophomore linebacker Keith Adams who was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. "We definitely got some respect back."
Bowden's youthful Tigers established 27 school records including most passing yards in a season (3,019). It was Bowden's rapid-fire, high-octane offense that enabled Clemson to remain competitive with each of its opponents despite losing six defensive players to the NFL last year as well as all of its offensive linemen to graduation.
The Tigers committed six turnovers against the Bulldogs in their fourth Peach Bowl appearance of the 1990s. Quarterback Brandon Streeter passed for 301 yards on 24-of-50 passing but was intercepted four times.
The Tigers' generosity negated State's Peach Bowl record 21 penalties for 188 yards. Bowden is encouraged by the progress made by his team this season and anxiously awaits spring practice knowing his system already has proven successful.
"I'm excited to start spring ball," Bowden said. "Last year, I wasn't excited. Last year, we went in completely blind."
A more favorable schedule awaits the 45-year-old coach who drops No. 2 Virginia Tech in favor of Missouri and will open with The Citadel on Sept. 2 instead of No. 12 Marshall. Clemson played the nation's third hardest schedule in 1999.
The Tigers will have 18 starters back next year including receiver Rod Gardner, who established school marks for catches (80) and yards (1,084).
Prior to assuming Clemson's coaching duties, Bowden revived Tulane's lackluster program. Bowden followed his 7-4 rookie head-coaching season with an 11-0 mark before accepting the Tigers' job.
With 16 redshirted freshmen ready to contribute, including quarterback Willie Simmons, Bowden sees parallels between his second Clemson squad and his second Green Wave team.
"It's a very similar scenario," Bowden said. "Guys will make quicker and better decisions. There's less thinking and more athletic ability. Our rate of comprehension will be higher."
Special teams, particularly field goal kickers, remain the Tigers' greatest liability. Tony Lazzara had a kick blocked in the first quarter, and Bowden lost what remaining confidence he had and opted for a fourth-down pass inside the 15 later in the game.
Bowden's presence has revitalized the Tigers, one season departed from their worst showing in the last quarter-century. Sophomore center Kyle Young is inspired by Clemson's quartet of narrow defeats, including a 17-14 loss to No. 1 Florida State.
Young noted the Tigers were within striking distance in each of their losses this year and is confident they will continue to improve.
"That's been our trademark this year," Young said. "This team really rebounded from last year."
Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.
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