CLEMSON, S.C. - Tommy Bowden cracked his usual jokes and acted as if nothing was wrong, but it was obvious the third-year coach was more concerned than he admitted.
Instead of answering preseason questions, the Clemson Tigers may have created more.
In the season opener at Memorial Stadium, Clemson survived a scare from Central Florida and held on for a 21-13 victory in front of 75,000.
While the questions centered around the Tigers youthful defense, the offense failed on several occasions to put away the Knights.
"You're always satisfied to get a win," Bowden said. "I asked the team (in the team meeting) if anybody thought they played their best game, raise your hand ... no hands went up."
It wasn't until quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, on third-and-six from his own 24 with less than two minutes left in the game and UCF out of timeouts, picked up eight yards on a keeper that Clemson could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
UCF had a chance for a late score but the drive stalled at the Clemson 38. Instead of attempting to convert a fourth-and-18 , the Knights chose to punt with 3:10 left.
The Clemson defense allowed 328 yards of total offense, including 297 yards from Central Florida quarterback Ryan Schneider. The Tigers played soft coverage in the secondary and their defensive line had trouble applying pressure.
At times, the Tigers put as many as seven men on the defensive front and when they blitzedthey left UCF's quick wide receivers wide open. One thing Clemson didn't do was allow a pass play to go for more than 47 yards.
"We really weren't that intense out there," said junior cornerback Brian Mance. "We started out intense, but as the game went along and it started to rain, our intensity went down."
The questions about the defense were understandable, considering the Tigers returned just four starters. However, nobody expected the offense to have trouble with a healthy Dantzler and Travis Zachery back as well as a veteran offensive line.
"We were a little shaky," Dantzler said. "When we had time to make plays, we didn't do it and we let our defense stay on the field too long. But the good thing is that we know we didn't play our best and we still came away with a win."
WHAT WORKED: The star safety, a new position implemented this year. John Leake's pressure on UCF quarterback Ryan Schneider led to a 5-yard loss, which put the Knights in a fourth-and-18 situation at the Tiger 38 with 3:10 left.
WHAT DIDN'T: The secondary, which gave up plenty of big plays last year, surrendered 297 passing yards against Central Florida.
WHAT'S NEXT: Clemson plays host to Wofford, Saturday, 1 p.m., Memorial Stadium
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org