Tigers Lose Ugly

ATLANTA – One of Clemson's trademarks all season has been its ability to hang on to the football and not commit penalties. In fact, the Tigers were the only team in Division I not to have lost a fumble. However, it all caught up to them Saturday afternoon against Georgia Tech.

* Tommy Bowden Postgame Press Conference
* Clemson-Georgia Tech otebook
* Tigers at familiar .500 mark
* Tye Hill Postgame Comments
* Charlie Whitehurst Postgame Comments
* Box Score

Clemson lost three fumbles, threw an interception and committed eight penalties, one of which brought back a much needed touchdown pass. As a result, Georgia Tech once again won a close game, this one being a 10-9 victory Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

"There's no doubt we didn't play very smart offensively with all the mistakes," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "You're not going to be a good team, in fact you're not going to be anybody playing like that. …

"But as I told the team, you can play hard all you want, but if you don't play smart and you turn the ball over, you're going to have problems."

The Tigers fall to 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the ACC, while Georgia Tech improves to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in the ACC.

It really isn't surprising that the game hinged on a fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter. After Saturday's game, nine of the last 10 meetings between these two teams have been decided by five points or less.

"I didn't think that it would be 10-9," said Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey. "But didn't we all know that it was going to be tight. I thought that it would be tight for 60 minutes, and that's the last thing I told the players before we walked out on the field."

Facing a fourth-and-7 at the Georgia Tech 38 with less than 2:30 remaining, rather than attempt a 55-yard field goal, the Tigers opted to go for it.

Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who was responsible for two fumbles, took the snap out of the shotgun and immediately looked for receiver Aaron Kelly on a curl route on the right side. Kelly appeared covered to Whitehurst, who then tossed it to Curtis Baham, who was immediately knocked out of bounds for a scant two-yard gain to all but end the game.

"We tried to direct the ball to Aaron Kelly past the yard maker, which he was, but we needed to be a little more patient with the throw, and it would have been open," Bowden said. "But those are plays, to get to where you want to go, you've got to make down the stretch, and we didn't make them."

That was just one of the plays the Tigers didn't do correctly on offense. There were so many, it's difficult to pick only a couple that were costly.

Of course, there are the three fumbles, one of which came at the Georgia Tech 8 in the first quarter by tailback Reggie Merriweather, and the missed 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but probably the most painful one for the Tigers was the penalty for having only 10 players on the field, which wound up costing their offense a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Thomas Hunter on the same drive that the field goal was missed.

It's not a penalty to be one man short on the field, but what is a penalty is when that player short is on the line of scrimmage. Clemson only had six men on line instead of the required seven.

Tight end Cole Downer, playing in his first game since Sept. 17, was the player that was supposed to be on the field.

"Stupid stuff like that kills you," Hunter said. "No real play stands out to me. It's all about getting the loss. It hurts, it really does. It just makes you made. It's one play here, one player there that could have won the game. It's not just one or two plays, it's 10 or 15 that had we made the play, we would have won the game."

The odd thing is, even with all the mistakes, the Tigers still had a real shot of winning the game.

But another penalty, a holding call on Nathan Bennett, on their final drive put them in a deep hole they were unable to overcome, which ended on that fourth-down pass.

"You think you've got life there at the end, but it just didn't happen and we didn't make the plays," Whitehurst said. "We shot ourselves in the foot, no doubt about it. …

"I think we had a great game plan and it wasn't probably executed as good as it could have been, a turnover here and there and just critical penalties. Every time we had a big play, it was called back."

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