Originally created 09/21/03

Tigers turn this season upside down

ATLANTA - Are we there yet?

The wild road that is college football took another strange turn Saturday. Good luck guessing where it goes next.

On a day when the Georgia quarterback David Greene's Heisman Trophy campaign was prematurely aborted in the bayou, Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst looked like the heir apparent to Carson Palmer.

And those weren't close to being the weirdest Heisman story lines.

Clemson's 39-3 undressing of Georgia Tech was the Tigers' largest margin of victory in the series in 100 years. The 1903 Clemson team, under the direction of coach John Heisman, dismantled Georgia Tech 73-0. Heisman left Clemson that year to rebuild Georgia Tech.

In a young season that remains more unpredictable than the weather, Clemson and its blossoming quarterback finally found something to crow about.

While the home television audience missed Clemson's most inspiring victory in more than a year, it was spared the purple jerseys. The garish garments might become as familiar as the no-huddle if Clemson keeps this up.

"It was chaotic in the locker room," Whitehurst said of the Tigers' halftime and postgame celebrations.

Forecasting the path of Hurricane Isabel was simpler and more precise than pegging the weekly fluctuations of this college football season. About the time Georgia was being downgraded to a tropical depression as it bogged down on the Louisiana bayou, a high-pressure system was lifting over the Clemson program in Midtown Atlanta.

"Nowadays you look at what happens on a week-to-week basis in college football and I'm not surprised by anything," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.

Whitehurst and the Tigers went nuts on a Georgia Tech defense that had all but shut down Auburn and Florida State the previous two weeks. Striking fast and furious from the no-huddle, Whitehurst piled up 232 passing yards and three touchdowns - in the first half. He mellowed out to finish with 298 yards and another rushing touchdown.

This was clearly not the same Clemson offense that was ready to be posted on the back of milk cartons after a 30-0 thrashing by that other team from Georgia in the season opener.

"I've always said the devastation of a loss is worse than the thrill of winning," Whitehurst said. "But to win a game like this is pretty awesome. I'll have to take back what I said."

The Tigers nursed their egos and offense back to health with unremarkable victories over Furman and Middle Tennessee State. But what did that really show?

Georgia Tech was supposed to be another story. The Jackets had been written off in the preseason only to become ACC darlings with a true freshman quarterback and a defense that stirred interest with a win over Auburn and a moral victory at Florida State.

Quarterback Reggie Ball was so excited, he declared the Jackets wouldn't lose another game.

Oops. It turns out that Georgia Tech's defense was about as deep as the kiddie pool, and Clemson showed the way to beat was to go deeper into the secondary - over and over and over.

Now before we get too reactionary and print those purple Whitehurst for Heisman T-shirts and go extending Bowden's contract for five more years, let's remember that this was only one game. Drawing definitive conclusions may be hazardous to your team's health.

A lot of things can blow up in a week. Just ask anyone from Clemson, Georgia Tech, Georgia or South Carolina.

"We're not there yet," said Tigers linebacker John Leake. "Georgia Tech thought they were there and they weren't there. You can't think you're there until you're there. I guess you'll know you're there when you're there. I just know we're not there."

There you have it.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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