Execution is the Key

When you boil down the 2003 regular season of the Clemson Tigers, one word seems to creep up time and time again. "Execution" was the name of the game this year, and you can bet the Tigers will once again have to "execute" at a high level if they expect to beat the sixth ranked Tennessee Volunteers.

Like most teams entering the heart of the postseason schedule, the Clemson Tigers are faced with a monumental task when they kickoff their bowl game in early January.

No, it doesn't have to do with the fact that they are facing a team ranked in the top 10 in both major polls.

And no, it's not the fact they face one of the most successful programs in the nation in each of the past 5 years.

No....it has more to do more with the Clemson Tigers themselves, and more specifically, the 5 week layoff that they'll face in between games.

Coming off one of the most incredible 3 game stretches in Clemson football history, the Tigers have to find a way to keep the momentum going from the end of the regular season.

For starting center Tommy Sharpe, it starts on the practice fields.

"Right now, we are just working on practicing hard, getting our assignments down," said Sharpe. "Really, that was the biggest difference between the end of the season, and the beginning of the season. Towards the end, we executed at a very high level."

Execution was a key throughout the 2003 season.

In the games in which the Tigers executed well, the team was capable of accomplishing the seemingly impossible.

Against teams like Florida State, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina, the team found a way to execute, clicking on all cylinders on both sides of the ball.

The Tigers outscored their opponents by an average of 42-10 in those three games. The game plan devised by head coach Tommy Bowden and his staff exploited the weaknesses of the opposing defenses with uncanny precision.

Case in point, think back to the South Carolina game when the Tigers lined up in an empty backfield for the first time in ages, forcing the Gamecocks into a coverage which would lead wide receiver Airese Currie virtually uncovered 30-yards down the field.

The end result was an easy 26-yard touchdown that helped pave the way for a 46-point romp.

On the flip side, against teams like Georgia and Wake Forest, the unthinkable occurred. A lackluster start in both of those contests led the Tigers to two untimely defeats by an average score of 38-9.

Case in point, in the week leading up the Wake Forest game, defensive coordinator John Lovett preached "assignment football" to the players, the coaches, and even the media. Yet the Tigers found themselves out of position on nearly every rushing play that afternoon as Wake Forest drove up and down the field on the Clemson defense all day long.

"We couldn't get it going against Wake Forest," said Charlie Whitehurst. "For whatever reason, we just couldn't get our gameplan going on either side of the ball in that game. It all comes down to executing, and in that game, and the Georgia game, we didn't do it."

Against the Tennessee Volunteers, a team ranked as high as sixth in the country, the Tigers must once again find a way to get back to the level of execution they maintained at the end of the regular season.

The Vols won their last 6 games of the year on their way to a 10-2 season, including a very impressive 10-6 road win over the Miami Hurricanes.

"We know what those guys are capable of," said Justin Miller. "We know what those guys can do, but for us, it comes down to execution. We feel like we can play with anybody in the country, as long as we execute. We did it this year, now we've got to carry it into next year, and it starts with the bowl game."

Execution.

It sounds so simple, yet only the top teams in America can consistently do it. If the Tigers can "excute" on January 2nd, then we could be store for an incredible end to an incredible season.

If not...well, I don't want to think about that.

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