Two years ago the Tigers won three of their last four regular season games to get a berth in the Tangerine Bowl, where they lost to Texas Tech to finish with a 7-6 mark.
This week the Tigers (3-4, 2-3 ACC) have reached a similar critical point in their season. Starting Saturday against North Carolina State, the Tigers must win three of their final four games to quality for a sixth consecutive postseason appearance.
After losing four in a row, the Tigers have revived their season by winning their last two. Bowden credits the improved play of the defense for the victories over Utah State (35-6) and Maryland (10-7).
His players are beginning to feed off those performances.
"I think the defensive players want to see if they can take it as far as they did last year," Bowden said. "We had a little four-game swing where the defense really dominated four performances. We've got two.
"I think the defense themselves would like to see it carried on for the remainder of the season. The last two performances have been very impressive. Everybody wants a third performance like that, and a fourth and a fifth."
The Tigers held the Terrapins and the Aggies to a combined 250 yards total offense. Utah State was a net minus-20 rushing.
The keys have been increased pressure and improved perimeter play.
"And stopping the run," Bowden said.
Now his own offense needs to step up the pace. The Tigers didn't break open the Utah State game until the fourth quarter and essentially had only two drives all day against the Terps, one resulting in a field goal, the other in the decisive touchdown. Bowden acknowledges the offense needs to be more productive, but he also notes the Tigers have been up against some good defensive teams.
"Texas A&M, Florida State, Maryland and Virginia are all really, really good defensive teams, nationally ranked and having great success against a whole bunch of different opponents," Bowden said.
"But, sometimes, as an offense you've got to mature against those type of teams. We're a lot more productive against Florida State's defense than Miami was and Miami is third in the nation. We were a whole lot more productive against Wake Forest defense with 37 points than Florida State was."
The game against the Wolfpack is the last of a three-game homestand. The Tigers go to Miami Nov. 6 and to Duke Nov. 13 before finishing at home against South Carolina Nov. 20.
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