The 2001 season for the Clemson Tigers will be one that is viewed with mixed emotions for Clemson fans. In a year where the Maryland Terrapins were crowned the conference champions and Florida State finally lost an ACC game at home, the Tigers found themselves left out of the BCS equation.
But thats not to say that this past season wasn't an exciting one.
Thrilling road victories over Georgia Tech and North Carolina State combined with tough losses to Virginia and South Carolina highlighted a year that had more ups and downs than your favorite ride at Six Flags amusement park.
Fortunately for Clemson fans it appears that even though the Tigers may not have won the battle this season, they are in fact, winning the war. The war I'm referring to is the recruiting war.
Signing prized recruits Roscoe Crosby (Union) and Airese Currie (Columbia) helped end the run of schools like Tennessee and Florida State coming in and grabbing all of the top talent in the state. And this year, the prospects look just as bright with immediate help coming in on defense. JUCO transfers Kelvin Morris, Brandon Jamison, and Randy Jackson will add some serious intensity to this unit in 2002.
That being said, lets review some of the key moments from this past year.
The first name that comes to my mind is Derrick Hamilton. Hamilton filled the shoes of injured WR Kevin Youngblood admirably this year, grabbing 49 catches for almost 600 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also was a star on special teams, scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return against the Maryland Terrapins and averaging over 31 yards per return, which was third best in the country. Hamilton was the go-to guy in most games, and he also displayed that elusive first step which will undoubtedly lead to a prosperous career as a Tiger.
The second name that comes to mind is Woody Dantzler. Dantzler singlehandily carried this team to road wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, and he'll likely do it again against Louisiana Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl. Oh, and did I mention that he became the first quarterback in Division 1-A history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more? Woodrow Dantzler defines everything that is good in college football, constantly deflecting glory towards his offensive line, receivers, and running backs. You can't help but love him.
Before the season began, it was a fair assessment that the defense would be young, but hopefully improved. After all, the athleticism at most positions had been upgraded over the last 2 or 3 recruiting classes, and the general improvement in team speed was going to help compensate for lack of true gameday experience. Well, if you thought that was going to be true like I did- you were dead wrong. Eric Meekins, Brian Mance, and Kevin Johnson will have the entire offseason to work on getting stronger, faster, and more confident before spring practice begins in April.
The secondary was burned with regularity this season, despite the promises of defensive coordinator Reggie Herring that this unit "would not give up the big play" this year. But don't jump all over Herring, and don't show me the statistics that show a gradual decline in defensive performance. He has two big ones coming in at linebacker next season who will both likely start come opening day. He'll also have help on the defensive line and a bigger, stronger secondary with a year of experience in their back pocket. Lets give him another year to right the ship- he will.
The One Play That Hurt
With the Tigers using a methodical ball control offense against the Virginia Cavaliers and nursing a 6-point lead late in the 4th quarter, cornerback Almondo Curry crunched Woodrow Dantzler on a blindside blitz on what seemed to be a developing playaction pass play. Dantzler fumbled the ball and Virginia promptly drove right down the field and scored on the following possession.
The play call was highly questioned as the Tigers' had established a solid ground game behind Woodrow Dantzler and Travis Zachary. The course of the 2001 season was forever changed, as talks of a run at a BCS birth and a miracle run were ended.
"We just let the ball get away from us. It was not a good call, obviously, but we want to hold onto the ball in that situation," said offensive coordinator Brad Scott afterwards.
The One Play That Healed
Faced with 4th-and-13 at the Clemson 37-yard line and trailing #9 Georgia Tech by 4 points late in the 4th quarter, Woody Dantzler delivered a 67-yard scoring bomb to J.J. McKelvey to help send the game into overtime and ultimately give the Tigers an incredible 47-44 win over the Yellow Jackets. The win ended a run of 4 consecutive games in which the Ramblin Wreck had beaten the Tigers by exactly 3 points. It was also the first time in 9 years that Clemson had beaten a top 10 team on the road.
The Most Baffling Game
Sure an upset is possible on any given Saturday in college football, but you don't lose on your own Homecoming...do you? Especially coming off two impressive road wins, and with thoughts of a conference championship and BCS birth.
In a game that is as mysterious to me as any other I've witnessed as a Clemson fan, the Tarheels came into Death Valley and destroyed the Tigers 38-3. Clearly, UNC came into Death Valley with a great gameplan- contain Woody Dantzler and force Clemson's young receivers to beat an experienced and talented Tarheel secondary, but its how they executed it that left Clemson fans scratching their heads on that beautiful October afternoon.
"That defense is a veteran, battle-tested crew and they're good," Tommy Bowden said. "They took away Woody's ability to run and made us play throw and catch against some very good people in their secondary. That was as fine a looking defensive team as you'll see."
That game would unveil a blue print for other teams to use for the rest of the season and you can believe that teams like Maryland, Florida State, and South Carolina were all watching.
The Biggest Play No One Remembers
With the Wake Forest Demon Deacons facing 3rd-and-8 from the Tigers' 9-yard line late in the 4th quarter, Charles Hafley intercepted a pass right in front of Wake receiver John Stone while falling flat on his back in the corner of the endzone. The turnover preserved a 7-point lead and practically gauranteed Clemson at least a 6-win season with Duke left on the schedule.
If Wake Forest would have scored on that drive and regained momentum, the Tigers could have been in a world of hurt, and a loss to the Deacons would have been extremely detrimental to the psyche of the team. Fortunately, an athletic play by Hafley saved the day.
The Loudest Game
Despite having a "down year," the Seminoles bring out the best in Tiger fans. Midway through the first quarter of the Florida State game is without a doubt the loudest I have ever heard Death Valley. I remember distinctly sitting in the stands and not being able to hear my own voice as I tried to speak to a fan next to me.
The Players We Missed the Most
A couple of players immediately come to mind here. Losing Keith Adams (NFL) and Alex Ardley (kicked off team) probably cost this team at least 1 win if not 2. Adams brought an intensity that was unmatched by any other player on the team, and Ardley was a proven cornerback that could flat out cover some of the top receivers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Offensively, Kevin Youngblood broke his leg during fall practice before he had the chance to play one game as the Tigers' featured wide out. Youngblood brought that Rod Gardner-type ability to the table and would have been the go-to guy in those big-play situations. He could take it the distance at any time, yet he never saw action this season.
The Most Disappointing Game
In a season where South Carolina had seemingly turned the corner and finally fielded a good football team, and the Tigers were consistently falling short against quality teams, Clemson still could have taken care of business against the Gamecocks.
A 4th-and-inches playaction pass that looked like a sure touchdown and a 14-point lead was erased when Woody Dantzler put a little too much air on a deep bomb to Travis Zachery. The end result- a huge momentum shift that allowed South Carolina to remain in the game and ultimately hold on for the 5-point win. It was the first win for the Gamecocks over Clemson in Columbia since 1987. Tommy Bowden now stands 2-1 against arch-rival South Carolina.
Trailing Florida State 17-10 late in the 1st half, Tommy Bowden reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a winner once again- almost. Benard Rambert took a direct snap on a fake punt and ran straight up the gut 61-yards for a touchdown. The play worked to perfection except for one small thing. Jackie Robinson, who had just been injured and was out the rest of the game, did not have a replacement in the punt formation and the Tigers were flagged for not having enough men on the field. Instead of a 17-17 game headed towards halftime, Clemson punted and Florida State scored 10 more points before the break to crush the Tigers' hopes of an upset.
Most Proud Moment
With the outcome of the Duke game already decided, Woody Dantzler rushed around the right end for a 22-yard score. With the effort, he became the first 2,000-1,000 yard quarterback in NCAA Division 1-A history. On the following possession, Tommy Bowden put Dantzler in for one more play and then allowed him to walk off the field before a standing ovation from the crowd. If you didn't get goose bumps realizing that would be the last time you would see one of the greatest quarterbacks in Clemson football history walk off the field at Death Valley- there's something wrong with you.
All in all, this will probably be a season that will ultimately be defined by the bowl game. Don't underestimate the importance of a big win against Lousiana Tech.
A bowl win is a critical recruiting tool, as well as a nice momentum builder headed into spring practice. We'll finish this up after the Tigers battle the Bulldogs up in Boise next week.
Highlights of the 2001 Season
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