Whitehurst Leads the Way Over USC

COLUMBIA – Over the course of four years, Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst has felt just about every emotion there is for someone at his position to feel. But the sensation he had after a 10-yard run in the final seconds Saturday night was like no other.

It was that 10-yard dash straight up the middle on a draw that iced the 13-9 Clemson victory over rival South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. Usually it's his arm that does the damage. This time, it was his legs.

"It was one of the best feelings in my life," Whitehurst said. "So many emotions run through you there in one second that you just hope that you don't do anything too crazy and too stupid. I don't think I embarrassed myself too much."

Even if he did, who could blame him? We're talking about the first starting quarterback in the long history of this series to guide his team to victory in four straight years.

"I think you have to have a pretty good supporting cast," Whitehurst said. "You have to stay healthy and get to play as a freshman. Our defense won the game tonight, I didn't win the game. It's definitely a team honor, but I never have to listen to it any more. We're 4-0 against those guys and they never beat us seniors. It's just awesome."

Oddly enough, however, the opportunity to win four straight almost didn't happen.

After going 6-for-11 for 27 yards with two interceptions in the first half, there were serious thoughts on the coaching staff's part of benching the senior quarterback. In the end, Whitehurst was told sternly he'd have one more shot.

"We definitely had discussions about it," offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. "Coach (Tommy) Bowden said we'd give him one more series and I felt like if he could respond to that challenge, then we'd have a chance to win. And he certainly did respond to that challenge. He played as tough a half of football as he's played the entire year."

The problem with Whitehurst's throwing, according to the folks involved, was more mental situation than anything else. Sure, he overthrew some receivers and made some bad passes, but Spence believes that was a result of what was going on inside his star quarterback.

"I think it was a combination of things," Spence said. "He probably put undo pressure on himself to make some big plays instead of just letting those plays come and letting those plays happen. I think that was probably most of it. …

"I think the pressure started to set in and the fact that we hadn't established any rhythm and he was just searching for that play to give him confidence. It was bound to happen. It was going to happen at some point and Coach Bowden and I thought that just one more chance would be enough and thank God it was."

Much has been made of Whitehurst's shoulder injury the last few weeks, but he said that had very little to do with what happened during the first 30 minutes.

"With the shoulder, it feels different every day," he said. "I don't think it played into it. Yeah, I felt it, but it was just one of those things where I wasn't on top of my game early and broke for halftime – and thank God there is a halftime – and we came out and we started doing a little better."

That's an understatement.

Whitehurst played was nearly perfect after halftime. He completed 11 of his 15 attempts for 145 yards. And on that first series of the second half, he help guide the Tigers on a 19-play drive to tie it at 6-6. It was the longest scoring drive of the season for Clemson as well as the longest against South Carolina.

There was no doubt at that point that Whitehurst was in it for the duration.

"After that one, you kind of new that something special was going on and we're suppose to win this thing," he said. "I think everybody kind of believed that."

And that's the way it should have been. Whitehurst has been the face of Clemson football for four years and for him to lead the Tigers to a fourth-quarter victory over the arch rival is how a career like his is suppose to end.

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