A Loss Of More Than Just One Game

Sitting in the North Stands as Wynn Kopp readied himself to punt the football to Virginia with just under 2 minutes to go, I had already resigned myself to what was about to happen. I did not know how it would happen, but I knew the Tigers were not going to leave Death Valley with a win on this night. One minute and 46 seconds later, my premonition unfolded in front of my eyes as Billy McMullen ripped the heart out of Tiger fans everywhere.

Two story lines will develop on this loss as the week goes by…and neither of them are the reasons Clemson lost the game. The first wave of complaints will fall on the alleged "push off" by McMullen on Brian Mance in the corner of the end zone as time ticked away. Give me a break. That was no more a push off than last November with Rod Gardner, and I believe this morning…as I did last November, that an interference call should not have been called in either case. Give McMullen the credit for making a big time play when the entire game, and maybe the season for Clemson, were on the line.

The second wave of complaints will come against Reggie Herring and the Tiger defense. The Cavs gained over 380 yards of total offense against Clemson, but the Tigers did a decent job of not giving up the big plays. This was not a dominant defense performance by any means. But, the game was not lost by the defense. There were 2 huge offensive drives late in the game, both giving Virginia hope when it looked like the game was over, that spelled Clemson's fate. The first letdown offensively was the naked bootleg call and subsequent fumble by Woody Dantzler. A gutsy and good call. Horrible execution and terrible luck. But, most disturbing, was the decision to call three running plays in a row while the Tigers were backed up inside the 15-yard line with less than three minutes to go. It was as if the coaching staff decided to go conservative on offense and let the defense win the game. Not the smartest of game plans, in my opinion. You get one first down on that drive and the game is over and the Tigers are tied for 1st in the ACC. Instead, the season is teetering on disaster. This defense has proven to be suspect…so why would you put the games in their hands?

Grading my "5 Things To Watch" going into the Virginia game:

#1-Some Emotion
The Tigers showed some emotion for the first time this year in the first quarter of the game. Then, as the Tigers stormed back in the 3rd quarter, both the offense and defense seemed to feed off the crowd.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

#2-Block, For Goodness Sakes
The Tigers managed 433 yards of total offense, a good day by all standards. However, some of the biggest plays of the game were the three sacks that were allowed by the offensive line. In addition, the Tiger running game continues to be a big disappointment, with Zachery and Rambert only amassing 96 yards rushing for the game.

Rhymer's Grade…C

#3-Will They Come?
A good, and loud, crowd was on hand in Death Valley Saturday. It did not appear to me that many were staying away from the game because of the recent tragedies. On a side note, the Clemson University security measures fell flat because of a lack of communication with the public on what would and would not be allowed. Stadium cushions and binoculars were banned Saturday, even though those items were not listed during the week as things not to bring.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

#4-Make Groh Understand
For all the controversy that followed Al Groh and his decision to not go for two points versus Wisconsin, his remarks about college crowds, and his Arab comment from this past week; Virginia was a very well coached football team Saturday. Gutsy calls on the last drive (the halfback pass and the TD pass to McMullen) won the game for the Cavs, and the credit should fall to the head guy...Mr. Al Groh.

Rhymer's Grade…D

#5-Make The Tackles
This was an improved area…but there is still work to be done. Eric Meekins might have missed 3 tackles in the first quarter alone before being yanked from the game. Kevin Johnson made a big time tackle at the 2-yard line to prevent the touchdown with 25 seconds remaining. I guess we have to give credit for the improvement, but there is still a long way to go before this defense is a decent tackling team.

Rhymer' Grade…C+

My "5 Things To Watch" for next weeks game versus Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

#1-Catch A Break Or Two
This has to be about the unluckiest team I have ever seen step on the field. All the breaks seem to be going to the Tiger opponents. The Tigers will need the breaks next week in Atlanta to stay competitive.

#2-Rusty Wreck
Georgia Tech will have 21 days in between games when kickoff takes place next Saturday. Tech laid an egg last year in the Peach Bowl with all that time off because the timing was off. Let's hope that will be the case again Saturday.

#3-Keep ‘Em In Front
Tech has some very dangerous receivers that must be kept in front of you at all times. Make Tech earn their points by having to sustain long drives…not by getting by Clemson defensive backs for easy scores.

#4-Will There Ever Be A Big Play?
I can't remember the last time Clemson had a 50-yard touchdown pass or run. I don't think it has been this year, and that better change Saturday if the Tigers want a chance to win.

#5-Rally The Troops
The Tigers now are the underdogs instead of the favorites, and this would be a good time to evoke the "us against the world" mantra. This will be a big test of this coaching staff to see if they can keep the ship from sinking this week along with instilling the confidence that this team can win Saturday.

Scott can be reached at weekendedition@cs.com

Scott is the host of "The College Football Weekend Preview" on Thursday nights from 8-10 p.m. immediately falling Tiger Calls on WCCP 104.9 FM. The show can also be heard via the Internet at www.wccpfm.com

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