It was simple...2008 was SUPPOSED to finally be the year for Clemson under Bowden. This was a team that was one dropped pass away from playing for an ACC Championship the year before. The team returned the sensational running back duo of future pro's C. J. Spiller and James Davis for a final year. Clemson returned starting quarterback Cullen Harper to lead an offense that scored quite a few points in 07. Clemson's defense also looked to be ready for an ACC title run despite losing four (4) linebackers from the previous season. The Tigers had plenty of hype and even more pressure to prove the critics wrong. These high expectations coupled with the catastrophic results that followed make this collapse extremely embarrassing and fully qualifies for this list.
Clemson entered this contest ranked #9 in the nation. They were the clear front-runner in the ACC and were hoping to get the '08 season off to a big start against a revitalized Alabama program. This one was supposed to be the springboard to a big 2008 season and it was...only the team who really took off was from Tuscaloosa, not Pickens County.
Alabama came into this contest ranked in the top 25, barely. The Tide was coming off of a bumpy first season under Nick Saban but it was pretty obvious even in 2007 that Bama would be good, but not this good yet. I thought it would take Saban another season to pull it all together, but I was clearly off as Alabama came out and drubbed the Tigers in Georgia Dome to open the season for both squads (sorry to ruin the ending).
I really could just put the stat sheet up and you would completely understand who won and how big the margin of victory was that night. Instead I will briefly highlight the scoring and gameplay, so those of you who had this memory blocked out of your mind forever can either relive this one, skip to the post game/opinion part of the story, or substitute your last favorite team for Clemson in this recap.
Alabama received the opening kickoff and was able to return it to their own 36 yard line. Bama then utilized a run-oriented attack (story of the game for the Tide) that saw Glen Coffee and future Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram rip off quite a few 5-6 yard gains as the Crimson Tide marched down the field. The drive was halted by several Bama penalties and the Tigers were able to hold their opponent to a 54 yard Leigh Tiffin field goal. Bama 3--CU 0.
Clemson started its first drive at its own 31. After a Cullen Harper incompletion, Freshman Jamie Harper fumbled on his first collegiate carry. Saban apparently knew Bowden's M.O. with high-profile freshmen recruits. Clemson's defense stiffened though, forcing Bama to settle for another field goal, Bama 6-Clemson 0.
Clemson went three and out, then could not properly line up in their punt formation. A formidable return by Javier Arenas gave the Tide the ball inside Clemson territory. Then Ingram and Coffee led the march again, moving the Tide to the goal line. The drive was capped by a 1 yard TD plunge by John Parker Wilson. Tide 13-CU 0.
Clemson moved the ball well on the ground to end the 1st quarter, and was able to drive deep into Bama territory. Clemson's offense came to life here and was driven by a couple of nice C. J. Spiller carries and a long Jacoby Ford completion. The drive was stopped at the Bama 16 largely due to a quarterback sack given up by the Tigers. The drive eventually culminated with a CU field goal. Bama 13--Tigers 3.
Alabama responded with a 14 play, 83 yard drive capped off by a John Parker Wilson TD pass. The Tide simply steamrolled their way down the field, running the ball on nine plays in the drive. At this point, Bama is wearing Clemson out and completely dominating the game up front. This one seemed to take the teeth out of the defense. Bama 20--CU 3
After swapping possessions the next two series, Clemson began to move the ball through the air. The Tigers drove down inside the Alabama 40 when Cullen Harper was intercepted by Marquise Johnson, taking over around the Bama 35 yard line. The Tide utilized this late-half turnover put three more points on the board and head into the locker room up 20 on the favored Tigers. End of the first half: Bama 23--Clemson 3.
The highlight of the night for the Tigers came on the second half's opening kickoff. C.J. Spiller was able to return the kick 96 yards for a touchdown. This return was a dandy and well set up. Spiller eluded one tackler then turned on the jets, getting the Tigers back into the game. Alabama 23--Clemson 10.
Clemson's defense then held and forced a punt on the next possession. The Clemson offense could do nothing with this opportunity, and once again Dawson Zimmerman trotted on the field for another punt. Alabama seized Clemson's missed opportunity and put together another impressive offensive drive. The Tide methodically moved the ball down the field and reached paydirt on a 7 yard Julio Jones TD grab. Jones was also able to haul in grab on the following 2-pt conversion play to put this game out of reach. Bama 31--Clemson 10.
The two teams proceeded to trade punts and the third quarter ended with Clemson down 21 points. Clemson did get deep into Bama territory to open the 4th before turning the ball over on downs at the Alabama 13 yard line. Alabama did not miss a beat once getting ball back, grinding down the field and eating almost 9 minutes off of the 4th quarter clock. Bamacapped the night's scoring with a late field goal. Final score: Alabama Crimson Tide 34 --Clemson 10.
Alabama simply whipped Clemson's ass. In all phases of this game, the Tigers were completely dominated and simply embarrassed on national television. Clemson--and its coach--were once again proven to be chokers who were unable to build on momentum and definitely unable to nut up and win when placed on the national stage.
Clemson's offensive line showed the losses from the past season and got killed up front. Alabama MADE Cullen Harper uncomfortable and exposed his previous season records for what they really were: a product of a dink and dunk system that, once exposed, could easily be shutdown due to lack of talent and arm-strength at the quarterback position and a Yahoo calling the plays--I highly recommend the follow up article explaining his coaching philosophy. Clemson had the best running back duo in the nation and were simply stifled all night long. Clemson could not run and Clemson could not throw the ball which spelled disaster when pitted against one of the nation's best coached defenses.
Clemson was similarly dominated defensively. Mark Ingram and Glen Coffee did pretty much what they wanted all night. The Clemson defensive line got manhandled by a more physical Bama front. Julio Jones was able to show glimmers of why he was one of the nation's most sought after recruits and John Parker Wilson did a nice job managing the game, making a few plays when needed. Bama just wore us out up front on both sides of the ball. Alabama lined up and handed the Tigers their ass. Whooping the highly touted Clemson defensive line all night long.
What won this one for the Tide? Alabama's attitude and ability to play great fundamental football simply killed Clemson. Alabama came out and was determined to whip Clemson's ass the old fashioned way from the get-go. Bama lined up, said here it is, then played a much more physical football game than the Tigers. There were no gadget plays or any tom-foolery, the Tide simply manned up and showed that they were ready to play real football and Clemson was still stuck in a finesse-style that, when punched in the face, would simply roll over and die. Clemson was outcoached which exposed a pyramid of problems that this program habitually encountered.
Clemson's season went into the crapper. Everyone in the nation was now fully aware of how to shut down the "Mad Scientist's" offense--put 8 men in the box and MAKE Clemson (Cullen Harper) beat you over the top. Spence obviously did not realize how ridiculous his playbook of 5,000 screen passes coupled with offensive linemen in nothing but two point stances, poor preparation, and a lack of toughness really was. Also of note offensively was Spence's inability to get the football into his best players' hands, starving Davis and Spiller of much needed touches.
On top of the offensive fiasco, it was apparent that the Clemson football team COMPLETELY QUIT on Tom Bowden. This team was not mentally or physically tough enough to come back from a big loss and did not have the leadership from Tom "I am not here to get my team excited about playing on Saturday" Bowden. All of this in mind, this is how the next few games went down:
Clemson scored big wins over The Citadel, SC State, and NC State. We then came out and completely ran over Maryland in the first half of this ball game. The Tigers, however, could not put this one away and lost by absolutely pissing away some good football (and lost chances) played in the first two quarters. Sending both of us into a fit of rage unseen before. Clemson followed this gem up with the poorest offensive output we have EVER seen out of a Clemson team (yes, this does include Tommy West's latter teams) against Wake Forest. After the latest piss poor effort from Tom and this team, Bowden got canned and Dabo Swinney was named the team's interim coach, somehow leading this squad to a trip to Jacksonville to play Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Alabama, however, used this game as a springboard. The Tide ran the regular season table and were one quarter away from playing in the national championship game. Since this contest, Alabama has won a national championship and has not lost a regular season game.
This guy knows what he's doing (apparently so much so that Tom called the Sabanator to ask him why he was a crappy coach):