Cue up Denny Green, because after another week of high drama, The Clemson Tigers are who we thought they were: A contender eying championships.
Clemson may not make it look as pretty as Oklahoma, or as brutally dominant as Alabama, but hearts of champions were beating under jerseys of orange and white Saturday Night. What do you do when your dream season is on the ropes, inexplicably down big, late in the game, to a bad team? Georgia Tech took it on the chin from Virginia, but the Tigers went back to the first rule of football. The ghost of Al Davis says, “Just win, baby.”
The staff at Cheeseburger’s could not have been nicer. They que’d up ESPNU for me & the sparse crowd who braved the sheets of rain that night actually looked like they felt sorry for this middle-aged, overweight orange-clad Clemson guy with his Tigerpaw- bandanna’d dog. After all, midway through the third quarter, Clemson looked at 18 points separating it from woeful Maryland, and you could hear the calls nationwide. “It’s ‘the Clemsoning!‘” Cynical sports scribes and jealous rivals couldn’t wait for the game to end for them to declare 2011 the Year of the Paper Tiger. The Terps were on the Clemson Tigers like a happily-retired Ralph Friedgen on a Triple Whopper with Cheese!
Clemson was down. Big time. Somebody had to make a play. It wasn’t gonna be Bubba Cromer: I couldn’t take the pressure. I grabbed my Golden Retriever and scooted into the narrow bathroom and hurled. Poor Cromer. Poor Casper. Poor Clemson… right?!?
“The biggest play of the night might have been Bashaud Breeland’s interception,” CU head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “We were down 18 points and they had the ball. One more score and it would have been very difficult. That play turned the momentum.”
This was the first game I just watched. It’s not like I had a choice in the matter: The TV was muted. (Cheeseburger’s wasn’t THAT generous). So I had the chance to observe the team. Their chemistry. Their conduct. Their character. What I saw was pretty amazing– and that ain’t just the club sodas talkin’! The players and the coaching staff had confidence in themselves and each other. They NEVER lost faith. Quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 11 of his last 12 passes, making it count in the clutch, less than a week after a scary hip injury that carried him off the field like John Paul II! And in only his seventh game as a Tiger, playmaker Sammy Watkins broke C.J. Spiller’s single-game record for all-purpose yardage.
“I’m just glad to see the guy is human because he made a couple of boneheaded mistakes out there,” Swinney said. “He made some mistakes tonight where he actually looked like a freshman. It was kind of good to see to be honest with you. The guy was clutch, though. He did not panic. He came back over here. I told him he owed me one and that he will get another opportunity. He more than made up for the one mistake. He is just a special player.”
This weekend Clemson celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1981 national championship, playing host to UNC. They’re already doing a good job: 7-0, No. 7 in the first BCS poll.
Unfortunately– and this USC Lawschool Grad means that sincerely–It’s not going so well for the Gamecocks. When the Head Ball Coach should be taking responsibility, he blew up at The State’s Ron Morris instead — later joined in his bad behavior by USC athletics director Eric Hyman — and announced the end of the Stephen Garcia Experiment. A few superstars are keeping Carolina’s head above water, but I fear that can only last so long. It could be over, as a matter of fact, with the announcement of a season-ending injury to running back Marcus Lattimore. Not only was that a devastating blow to Carolina, it was a sad day for NCAA College Football. Lattimore is a gifted team-centric athlete (as opposed to , say, a lucky, me-centric brat). Marcus is in my prayers for a speedy recovery and I hope he is in yours.
One thing’s for DAMN sure: Clemson and Carolina have a recent history of being overhyped. After watching the gutsy historic comeback that marked Saturday’s victory in College Park, at least the Tigers’ talk is based in reality. Sadly, for now, it doesn’t look as if the Gamecocks are ready for primetime thanks to the men at the top, making their 14-12 escape from Starkville fitting as the SEC’s early game last week.
As for Clemson, they have the makings of a Champion.
by J.L. Mann Cromer, Jr , an Attorney licensed to practice in South Carolina, California &The District of Columbia. He received his BA in 1985 from Clemson University and his JD in 1988 from the University of South Carolina School of Law.