We continue the Worst of Tom Bowden with the game where the wheels fell off in 2006. This game is here not because it hurt to lose, but because expectations and emotions were so high after Georgia Tech the week beforehand and this loss crippled the offense the rest of the way.
Coming into this night game in Blacksburg, the Tigers were 7-1 with the sole loss coming to (future) 10-win Boston College because of a botched kick (Typical Bowden). We had just beat the dogshit out of Georgia Tech 31-7 and the offense under OC Rob Spence was truly awe-inspiring. He and Burton Burns had both James Davis and CJ Spiller running all over the competition and the offensive line under Brad Scott was actually very good in the new zone-blocking scheme. It was Brad's 1st year as OL Coach after taking over from Ron West, who in typical Bowden musical chairs fashion was moved to defense.
But QB Will Proctor had not yet had to throw the ball to defeat anyone thus far. The only game he had admirable statistics within was the Boston College loss. Thereafter, Clemson really only had to run the ball to beat the competition. Also, the OL depth was rather thin after West's inadequate recruiting to the position. Why a guy whose specialty was defense was ever coaching the OL is difficult to grasp, but thats Tom for you. We had lost starting Guard Roman Fry during the Georgia Tech game for the season, to be replaced by Chris McDuffie.
This game exposed both those weaknesses.
Coming into this one I was very worried. Bud Foster would be able to stop the run and I knew that, and we would have to throw to win. I was hopeful because we were getting Chansi Stuckey back from a broken foot, but I did not see any evidence thus far that Proctor could throw the ball to win. He had enough arm strength to hit the bubble screens and slants Spence liked to run, but he could not vertically stretch a defense to take pressure off the running game.
I hoped that we would be able to put up 100-120 rushing and Proctor another 150 passing and play good enough defense to win this one, but in no way did I expect us to continue putting up 200-300 yards on the ground like we had the week before. Jon Tenuta was the GT defensive coordinator who we exposed (many times) as being one of the most overrated coordinators in college football, but Bud is the real deal and deserves his respect.
VT was really fired up for this Thursday Night contest. They had just lost two big games to BC and GT and knocked themselves out of the polls. They were home 'dogs for the 3rd time in 12 years coming in and they wanted it more than Clemson did. We had our big emotional week before this one for Gameday and never matched their intensity.
Clemson arrived with the more vaunted running game -- a tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller averaged 185 yards between them. They managed 71 yards on 22 tries. VTs Brandon Ore stole the show however with over 200 yards rushing. Who knows what would've happened if we had Anthony Waters against the strong Hokie run game.
Both teams started out with 3 & outs, then Clemson got the ball back and marched 71 yards on 11 plays to score their first and only TD of the game. VT answered immediately with a 12-play 84 yd drive to tie it at 7-7 on a Sean Glennon sneak, after they had succeeded on a 4th & 1 sneak from their own 36 earlier in the drive. The horrible arm tackling we displayed on this drive continued for the rest of the game.
Then Clemson's offense went kaput. We could not run the football and Proctor had to throw, and couldn't complete anything. A bad punt by Chason led to a FG by Tech to put them up 10-7 and they kept the D out there on the field, possessing the ball for 10 minutes of the 2nd quarter. Clemson could've tied it when C.J. Gaddis stripped the ball from Sean Glennon at the Tech 25, but Proctor gave it right back with a fumbled snap.
At the half it was apparent that JD was not having success, but we never got anything going in the 3rd quarter to swing the momentum. Spiller did end up with a respectable 4.1 ypc, but as was typical of Bowden, never got the ball enough to make a difference (10 carries). We just kept on plugging away with Davis against an 8-man box hoping for the best.
"They had more people in there than we could block," Spiller said. "They were strong to the ball."
In the 3rd, Xavier Adibi picked off a Proctor pass and returned it to our 35, then Ore carried the ball in 5 successive plays all the way to the endzone to make it 17-7. The defenses stiffened up a little and both teams traded 3 & outs, but VT put it away late in the 3rd quarter with a long 79 yard drive to make it 24-7, the final scoring. Our defense was so bad at the LOS that we let them just churn out the clock the rest of the way and Ore finished with 203 yards rushing on 37 carries. Sean Glennon did not throw the football once in the 4th quarter.
Offensively, we had 10 series that resulted in no 1st downs gained, and 8 3 & outs. We netted just 166 yards of total offense, and Proctor was 11-for-28 with just 86 yards passing.
After seeing the game my fears were well-founded: Proctor didn't stretch a defense all year and now most Clemson fans hate him. I tried reminding people that I attempted to curb their enthusiasm about Proctor well beforehand but they acted (to me at least) like he just magically started sucking in this game and it ruined the year. That was not the case, he was crap from the start. If you cant throw a 10 yard pass and hit 60% of them, you should not be a QB.
I'm all for running the ball down everyone's throat until they can stop you. Make no mistake about it, I'm a power football and defensive-minded guy. Of all the seasons this decade except 2000, I would say I was probably the happiest during the first part of 2006, until this game. We had held 6 opponents under 10 points and were among the best rushing teams in the country until going to Blacksburg. We had not been held under 27 points coming in and averaged 42ppg. Other than special teams, which sucked royally in 06, there wasn't much to complain about.
But this outcome really impacted the rest of Bowden and Spence's playcalls for years. Tammy actually learned from the end of the 2006 season: he threw when he didnt have to throw, just for practice and to get his QB in the flow of the game rather than just handing the ball off. You have to do that unless youre an option team in college football. Throwing 30 times per game isnt needed to win a game, but 15-20 throws doesn't hurt you at all. If you noticed, Parker rarely threw more than 20 times in a game last season. Whomever our QB is this season will likely end up the same, thanks to us not having proven WRs. Having a solid running game, playing great defense, and being solid in special teams will be a good method for victory from now until the end of time.
Spence's problem hereafter was that he switched to the other end of the spectrum and threw on 2nd and 4 and then 3rd and 1, so we ended up punting. The need to throw to keep a defense honest and to keep his QB's passing abilities up was somehow warped into "Well we have to run on 2nd & 10 and have to throw on 3rd & 2" in Spence's mind. If Tom had used his own brain and overidden calls at such times as those, Spence might've continued the success he had in 2006 until this game.
The Season that followed....
The wheels never really got put back on. The team was deflated, as was typical of a Bowden squad after a big loss, and never recovered mentally. Complete lack of mental toughness is a Bowden hallmark. Everyone stacked the box on us to make Proctor throw and there was no more rhythm in the offense.
We lost to Maryland 13-12 in a horrible ugly game in Death Valley that I still hate Bowden for losing. We moved the ball for over 400 yards of offense yet could not put the ball in the end zone. That was truly a pathetic performance but without Fry up front, we could no longer run the football consistently. We nearly lost to (3-9) NC State at home and then got the Cluckers in Death Valley...... In short, Tom handed them a game by taking out the RBs who were ripping them a new asshole and deciding to throw in definite run situations. Although Tammy pretty much owned SC and somehow always made the right calls despite his poor coaching, he flipped to the other end of the spectrum here. It was a Les Miles-type performance.
We went to the Music City Bowl, with the fanbase furious at Bowden and I think the team quit on him too. The score was 28-20 but it was a much worse ballgame to watch than that score indicates. Clemson knocked themselves out of a better bowl game with the loss to SC (perhaps Gator, perhaps Peach) and didn't want to be there in the cold. Neither JD or CJ did anything. Our ST sucked. Proctor blew, and the defense that had played well all year tanked.