Tigers Must Regroup

CLEMSON – This wasn't your typical Tuesday afternoon football press conference. There were a lot less attendees from a media and ordinary people standpoint. But most different was the solemn look nearly every single player present had on his face.

The hangover from what they consider to be an inadequate season was still in full effect. The players looked more like walking zombies as opposed to warriors getting set to do battle in a bowl game.

It was painfully obvious talking to the media about football was the furthest thing from their minds.

The word of the day that was used over and over again was, "disappointing."

"It's been a disappointing year," senior offensive guard Nathan Bennett said. "It's not what we wanted. The season wasn't what we'd thought it would be. We had some big wins and losses and the program is nowhere near where it needs to be."

Most of the players will say publicly that they're happy to be going to a bowl game in Nashville, but truthfully, the game might as well be held in Siberia. To them, it has the same sort of relevance.

"I was pretty disappointed," senior receiver Chansi Stuckey said about learning the team was headed to Nashville to play Kentucky. "The only thing (good) is it's someplace different."

Tigers head coach Tommy Bowden said he doesn't think it will be that difficult to get the team motivated to play and go for that ninth win of the season. However, that task could be a little more difficult than he thinks.

"I think it was a disappointing season," Stuckey said. "We ended up 8-4 and some people may think that was a good season, but that's an average season at best."

All the players obviously want to beat Kentucky (7-5). They wouldn't be competitors at this high of a level if they didn't care.

Bennett and senior center Dustin Fry want to win this game something awful, but they too are having a hard time shaking those leftover feelings from the regular season.

"We didn't finish the year like we wanted to, which is obvious," Fry said. "It's like getting a ‘C' in class. Obviously we left things on the table. There were things that were attainable that we didn't get.

"It was a season full of successes and disappointments. There were ups and downs just like my whole Clemson career."

What is most bothersome to the players is that at one point the Tigers were 7-1 and ranked No. 10 in the nation. They had wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the two teams that met for the ACC Championship.

All they needed was a win at home over a Maryland team that was nearly a three-touchdown underdog and which had yet to have a quality victory.

But it didn't happen. A stunning last-second field goal lifted the Terrapins to the win and ended Clemson's shot at the ACC Championship game and the Orange Bowl right there.

"You put all your heart and soul into something and it didn't turn into what you wanted it," Bennett said. "It's been a rollercoaster year. We won eight ball games and we accomplished a lot, but we talked BCS since last summer. But none of that really matters now. It's all behind us.

"I really feel like this was our year to do it. We had everything set up."

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