Tigers Trying to Rebound

CLEMSON – Even if Clemson wins its last two football games of the year and finishes with a very respectable 9-3 season, it still will be viewed as disappointment by many of those key players on the team.

A trip to the Peach Bowl or Gator Bowl is still possible, as is a 10-win season, which will be the program's first time doing so since 1990. Nonetheless, it still won't fill the empty void left in the souls of the seniors by the losses.

Most preseason prognosticators believed the Tigers would finish with a 9-3 or 10-2 record. And while they're favored to go 9-3, it's the way the record came about that's so troubling to them.

Should Clemson finish 5-3 in the ACC, it would mark the third time under head coach Tommy Bowden. The other two times came in 1999 and 2003 – two teams that most believe didn't have the same level of talent as this year's squad.

"At the start of the season, you just look at all the guys that you have around and there's just so many talented guys that you have on one team," said senior cornerback Duane Coleman. "In my five years of being here, I've never seen so many talented players at each position and I really thought that we had a chance to do something really special this year."

To drive the point home even more is realizing that a 5-3 ACC record is only one more win better than what the Clemson accomplished in 2002 and 2004, which are considered to be the worst two of all the Bowden teams.

"(A few years ago) when you didn't have as much talent, you still got by some of those teams," Coleman said. "That first year (in 2003) that we beat Florida State, they had more athletic guys and talented guys than we did. That's why victory against them a few years ago was so special because we didn't have nearly the amount of talent and we outplayed them.

"Then this year, we got all the talent and some games we're getting outplayed."

When expectations aren't met, emotions are sure to run high amongst the players. They want to know who and what's to blame.

A few weeks ago, safety Michael Hamlin said some defensive players made remarks to the offense during the game at Virginia Tech. On Tuesday, senior center Dustin Fry said another tiff came about between the players sometime after Maryland game.

"It came up just a little bit, but we kind of ended it," Fry said. "I think we all want each other to win and to be successful. I think just a little bit of fighting came up, but we ended that pretty quick. … It hasn't been too bad."

An unusually stoic Chansi Stuckey, a senior wide receiver, said the last two games have brought the frustration level to a boiling point.

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "With all the high expectations we had, with all the guys we had coming back on defense and coming back on offense. We had the injuries, but we kind of played through that and went on a good little run. And I think that's the reason now that it's kind of hard because we're such a talented team and I really felt like we could've ran the table."

The only way to make sure things don't get worse is for the team to go out and perform the way it's capable of against N.C. State on Saturday, then follow that up with another win against rival South Carolina.

But in order for that to happen, the offense has to get in gear and quarterback Will Proctor has to perform better than he has in the two recent losses. The running game has been slowed of late, which means Proctor has to improve his play and carry more of the load.

"We knew it was going to be tough (to run) because a lot of people were going to try and stop the run," tailback James Davis said. "We've just got to keep working hard and work a little more on our passing game and get a lot more pressure on (the defenses) like during practice and do it in the real, live, game situations."

Should Proctor do what Davis suggests and play as well in the next three games and lead the Tigers to 10 wins, it will go a long way toward bringing back the good feelings that surrounded the team immediately following the Georgia Tech win.

But the giddiness won't fully return.

"That's pretty tough because you know how good you really are," Fry said. "We're still a good team, but to go from being 10th in the country to unranked in two weeks is a pretty tough blow to your ego. Having as much talent as we have on this team and having that happen to us, it hurts a lot. We thought this was going to be our year, and it can still be a successful year, but it's not what we had in mind."

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