AKA the Worst of Tom Bowden.
We've done our series on the Best of the Decade following the bowl game against Kentucky and now we'll start a series on the worst losses we've had in the last decade to carry us through DT. The two of us have picked what we believe are 10 losses that really epitomize the worst coaching you could possibly have on the field. This series will not be as fair-minded or as understanding of problems as our usual articles because we both hated Tammy Bowden as a coach. There will be rants and bitch sessions about Tommy's ineptitude on the field as well as his idiotic assistants (e.g., Jack Hines, Rodney Allison) and their inability to keep this team from looking like chicken salad one week, and chicken shit the next.
We've looked at a few criteria when picking out the order here: 1) the game's impact on the season that followed is the most primary factor; 2) the inexplicableness of the defeat; 3) and finally whether the loss just hurt. It was actually harder to rank these defeats than it was the best victories a few months ago, because Tom just laid a ton of eggs in his tenure here for us to pick from. In almost every season he had one killer defeat minimum.
Bowden's days here were plagued by defeats that really crushed the team thereafter, or victories that set us on fire. A football team's psyche can be a difficult thing for anyone to gauge, but if anyone should be able to it is the Head Coach. Several of the losses we chose just crushed the Tigers (and us) and they never recovered. In many cases we believe that if we'd won the game, the entire season that followed would've been different. Of course you can never really tell, but sometimes a team just overachieves and continues winning even when they have less talent than others. You just have to keep the winning going, and winning breeds winning. It breeds recruiting from there and carries over into the next season. Bowden's teams never could keep that up for a whole season: they'd start hot and fall apart, or suddenly catch fire midseason. That's why the man is not here anymore. That is also why I think the man is totally worthless as a football coach.
Some losses were truly inexplicable, many were to teams that had no business staying close to Clemson on the scoreboard. Some of them were to good teams and just hurt. They may not have crushed us in following weeks but they were simply painful to lose. Bowden Bowl I in 1999 was one of those games, and had it been in this decade it would've been included in this series. Losing that game 17-14 on a frigid night in the Valley just hurt. Who knows what would've happened had we won it.
But the 10th worst defeat was one of those that hurt the very next season...
Georgia Tech @ Clemson, October 2000.
This game featured a Tiger team ranked 4th in the nation and undefeated behind the play of Woody Dantzler and the calls of Rich Rodriguez, facing a GT team with George Godsey and Ralph Friedgen calling the plays. However the real battle at the end was Friedgen vs. Reggie Herring and the Fridge beat his ass.
The Season coming in...
Since this was so long ago, I thought it best to review just a little.
Clemson recovered from a 3-8 season under Tommy West with a 6-6 record from Bowden in 1999, where we faced the nations toughest schedule. Clemson lost 3 games in '99 to 3 teams that went undefeated in the regular season: Marshall (Chad Pennington), VT (Vick), and the national champion FSU. Bowden had given us a few feeling that West hadn't with his new offense via Rich Rod. We were in games that we shouldn't have been in and despite the 6-6 record we were very encouraged for the 2000 season. We were finally playing to the level of our talent, or so we thought. Woody Dantlzer came on as the QB to finish the '99 season when Streeter was injured and we didn't expect him to just light people up as a runner so quickly.
But he did, Clemson crushed their first 3 opponents. Missouri had a DE that everyone thought was all-everything, and he didn't do squat. They were thought of as a contender that season with their spread offense and running QB, and they couldn't do anything in the 62-9 defeat in a sweltering Death Valley.
With the Tigers 4-0 we went to Wallace Wade and jumped ahead of Duke, but the defense showed its first serious cracks. The 2nd and 3rd teamers could not stop anyone and Duke scored 22 points on us. I recall this was one of those nooner Raycom games and I was hung over for much of it, and Figurefour and I were royally pissed off at how poorly our D played. Jack Hines' secondary couldnt stop anything at all. Duke had nothing at all and could basically do what they wanted. If not for turnovers the game would've been much closer. It was one of the ugliest 52-22 games you'll ever see.
The next week we faced Phillip Rivers, and this was even before we had to hear about his wife and kid every week on ESPN, and the freshman phenom threw 3 TD passes and had a shot at another on the last drive of the game. Again the defense, particularly the Jack Hines secondary, could barely contain anyone. He threw for 370yds total. Rodney Allison's and Theilen Smith's poorly coached DL couldn't get enough pressure either.
We looked rough again in a 35-14 win over Maryland, and then Willie Simmons, filling in for an injured Dantzler, brought us back from a 17-0 deficit against UNC to win 38-24. The D gave up another 314 passing to R. Curry. Thanks Jack.
We hadn't looked like a #4 team since before Duke, and Figurefour and I both felt that we were just horrible on defense but lucky as hell thus far. We had All-ACC caliber people in that secondary (Robert Carswell, Alex Ardley, Charles Hafley) and they could never do anything right. Every position that Jack Hines was moved to ended up sucking.
Then we faced the Jackets at home the week before Bowden Bowl II in Tallahassee.
"We've been flirting with danger week to week," said Tommy Bowden after the GT game.
The contest started out well enough. Clemson blocked a punt and scored the opening TD after recovering the ball on the Tech 1yd line. Then an injured Woody led us on a 6-play 72 yd drive in the 1st quarter to make it 14-3 Tigers.
Tech got the ball back and our defense couldn't stop jack shit. We couldn't stop George Godsey at all this day. A 33yd TD pass in the 2nd, followed by 2 FGs made it 16-14 Tech at the half. Reggie Herring blitzed every play, as had become his M.O., and Friedgen exploited his coverage with trick plays and wacky formation shifts that always had someone immediately open as a safety valve. Godsey completed 35 of 57 passes for 454 yards on the day.
The 3rd quarter was uneventful scoringwise, with both of us trading punts and playing bend-but-dont-break defense. Friedgen was simply figuring out the adjustments Reggie Herring made, as it turned out. Only at the end did Brian Mance return a punt 88 yards for a TD to give us the lead back at 21-16 to start the 4th Q.
Tech was forced to punt again and Willie Simmons hit JJ McKelvey with a 65 yard pass to the Tech 12, and Aaron Hunt bounced the kick off the cross bar for his 2nd miss of the day. As was usual for Tom, a FG kicker cost us a ballgame.
GT answered immediately with a 48 yard TD pass from Godsey to Kelly Campbell, who had 14 catches for 209 yards on the day himself, and made it 24-21 Tech with 6:35 left in the game. Why is it that Georgia Tech always has one receiver we cannot do anything against anyway? We traded punts and Tech committed a late hit on Mance during a punt return, giving us the ball on the Tech 48 with about 2 minutes left.
Willie hit the Clemson official decoy, Justin Watts, on a 28 yard pass on the first play and putting us in marginal FG range. After TZach lost 4, Simmons hit Rod Gardner in the back of the endzone to give us the lead with 1:52 left. I thought another miracle had happened and we'd squeak out clean again.
But Reggie Herring did his worst. Godsey took advantage, as he had all day, and marched them 80 yards in 13 plays and killing us on 3rd down blitzes, which Herring had not figured out all damn day. He hit another clutch 3rd & 4 pass against a Herring blitz, then a 21 yard pass to Kerry Watkins at the 29 yd line. A stupid offsides call and another short pass to Watkins put the ball on the Clemson 16 on the Hill side right in front of me.
Then this happened, crushing my delusions of a National Championship.
I sat down in my seat there in the student section for about an hour alone staring into space and listening to the annoying GT band play continuously until one of my friends dragged me out of there.
And this is why I hate Georgia Tech, Fat Fridge, and Reggie Herring.
The season that followed....
With our bubble burst, the mood on campus was grim. There was no energy left in us or the team after that. We went to FSU expecting to get shelled and it happened, 54-7. We fully expected to bounce back against the Chickens after a Bye week, and we didn't. Granny Clampett had turned them around from 0-11 into a decent team that finished 8-4. Clemson fought a defensive struggle and Rich Rod's offense could never get anything going, only a miracle catch by the #1 Coot Killer Rod Gardner saved us, 16-14.
I had no expectation of being able to defeat Virginia Tech and Mike Vick after that. I had real hope it would be close though. We had played them very tough the year before in Blacksburg but it got away from Streeter in the 3rd quarter there, and they then fell to FSU for the national title. This year they had lost just one game (to Miami) and kept out of the BCS.
Bowden's team went to the Gator Bowl and got crushed 41-20, leaving a truly horrid taste in our mouths because VT gave us ample opportunities to score. As became Tommy's pattern, we were whipped physically up front by the Hokies.
"We didn't do a good job in the redzone," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. "When the other team is making plays and scoring touchdowns, you have to come back with something other than a field goal. Some of our problems were mental, but for the most part they just best us physically when we got into the redzone."
The team that started out #4 fell to 9-3 at season's end and Rich Rodriguez left us for West Virginia with his offense.