Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said goodbye to his team for Thanksgiving break with a warning - and optimism for what's ahead.
Don't get into trouble during the week away, Bowden cautioned.
"I told those guys, 'Don't mess up,'" Bowden said. "'Y'all might want to be a part of this.'"
Whether senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst can play for the 25th-ranked Tigers (7-4) in their upcoming bowl game is a different matter. Whitehurst went to Birmingham, Ala., to consult with noted orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, about an operation for his painful throwing shoulder that's bothered the quarterback since September. Whitehurst had said outside the locker room at Williams-Brice Stadium after Clemson's 13-9 victory over South Carolina that he and his family would likely decide on his future this week.
Bowden wouldn't comment on Whitehurst's plans, referring questions to athletic department spokesman Tim Bourret. All Bourret added was that Whitehurst was on his way back from the consultation.
Bowden wants Whitehurst to do what's best for his health and his NFL future. If that means having surgery to repair a torn labrum and missing his final Clemson contest, "I'm completely comfortable with Will Proctor in the bowl game," Bowden says. "We don't have much depth. But I want what's best for him."
Even without the postseason, Whitehurst's legacy is secure. He's the first quarterback on either side of the rivalry to go 4-0. The win over the then-ranked Gamecocks gave Whitehurst five victories over national championship coaches.
"He's done a lot of things that hadn't been done here," Bowden said. "It's hard to put into words."
Easier to discuss was Clemson's hard-fought win over the Gamecocks.
The Tiger problems that lingered throughout the season - special-team gaffes, inconsistency in the new offensive system - surfaced at times at Williams-Brice, too.
But behind Whitehurst and freshman tailback James Davis, Clemson rallied to its fourth straight win over South Carolina and eighth victory in the last nine series meetings.
"That speaks well of our team not to give up," Bowden says. "It shows we're a pretty good team."
And one Bowden believes is only going to get better.
Davis' performance of 145 yards rushing and the game's only touchdown earned him a selection as the Atlantic Coast Conference's offensive back of the week.
When Clemson struggled to move the ball, Davis told running backs coach Burton Burns to "give me the ball and let's get a drive going," Davis said Saturday night.
On defense, young players like freshman Rashaad Jackson, whose tipped ball led to Charles Bennett's interception that killed South Carolina's final drive, were in on critical situations.
In 2006, Bowden says the players will have another year of comfort and ease with the systems of new coordinators, Rob Spence on offense and Vic Koenning on defense.
So Bowden won't spend a lot of time worrying about the missed opportunities in overtime losses against Miami (36-30) or Boston College (16-13), a second straight road defeat at Wake Forest (31-27), or dropping a sloppy game at Georgia Tech (10-9).
"We'll tweak and fine-tune," Bowden said. "I'm definitely not happy with seven wins. Those four close losses, we've got to find a way to make up the difference."
The most likely bowls for Clemson are Meineke Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., or the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Bowden's not worried about where since he already feels the Tigers are moving in the right direction.
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