Originally created 09/22/04

Tough start is familiar to Clemson



There was an underestimation of Clemson's emotional drain after the Tigers' first two games of the season, coach Tommy Bowden said Tuesday.

Bowden said he didn't realize how much the double-overtime win over Wake Forest and last-minute loss to Georgia Tech had taken out of his team.

He said he figured it out pretty quickly Saturday, when Texas A&M "manhandled" the Tigers 27-6 in College Station.

"I think it drained them a lot, physically and mentally," Bowden said. "It didn't look like we had our quickness and our bounce like we did the first two games."

With games at Florida State on Saturday and at Virginia on Oct. 7, it's a rather precarious position the Tigers find themselves in.

Even so, it isn't like being on the ropes is unfamiliar for Clemson (1-2), Bowden said.

"We've lost two games," he said. "It's not time to slice your wrists."

A year ago, after getting blown out by Wake Forest, the Tigers were 5-4 overall going into the Florida State game.

Clemson won that game and the next three after it to close out one of the best years for the school since the 1980s.

The Tigers play the Seminoles at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC-Ch. 6).

The primary quest this week, Bowden said, is addressing some of the lingering questions the team is facing.

Among those are finding continuity on the offensive and defensive lines and wrapping up on tackles.

Perhaps most important is striking a more sufficient balance between pass and run on offense.

Instead of teams stacking the box with seven or eight players to stop a team's running attack, which is fairly standard defensive scheming, defenses are backing off the line of scrimmage against Clemson.

Texas A&M went so far as to back its cornerbacks 15 to 20 yards off the line, allowing Charlie Whitehurst and the Tigers to throw underneath all they wanted. They just weren't going to allow a big play to sail over their heads.

That defensive alignment also alludes to a lack of concern for an offense's running game.

That was obvious, said sophomore Reggie Merriweather.

"No, there was none at all," said Merriweather, the North Augusta product, who led the Tigers with 53 rushing yards and is the team's overall leader with 143 yards in three games.

"That's why they play us with the corners back, six in the box," Merriweather said. "They think we're going to pass it all the time."

Against the Aggies, Clemson's backs had only 18 carries for 90 yards.

Conversely, Texas A&M's Courtney Lewis rushed 28 times for 165 yards by himself. Quarterback Reggie McNeal chimed in with 129 yards on 17 carries.

Merriweather said the balanced game plan might have been ditched too early to see any ground production come to fruition.

"I'd like to see us run the ball more," he said.

"We were killing them with the running game."

Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3219 or travis.haney@augustachronicle.com.