We had WTF Thursday to wallow in some past misery, but you have to get the weekend started right with a flashback to a great and happy time in Tiger football. This series is intended to help bridge the gap we know as "The Dark Territory" when Clemson athletics are on hiatus. So what better way to kick off TGIF Triumphs than to go back to 2003 and the epic 63-17 destruction of the hated Gamecocks in their own stadium.
I think most Clemson fans can pinpoint where they were when this game went down the way my parents can recall where they were when we landed on the moon or Kennedy was shot. Some were lucky enough to be in Willy Brice that day. Others were scattered across the southeast and beyond glued to the TV in a home or bar. We all have had to suffer through this current inexplicable (and unprecedented) string of losses to the yardbirds, but I'm not sure any of these last few wins for them can ever eradicate what happened to them on November 22nd, 2003.
I vividly recall our feathered friends howling that Bobby Bowden had intentionally allowed Clemson to defeat his #3 ranked Seminoles just a few weeks earlier to save Tommy's job. What Clemson had done to Duke right after that was dismissed as "just beating Duke" and "no big deal." Sure the coots were 5-5 and in the middle of the old Orange Crush portion of their schedule, but they were SEC strong and would secure their bowl bid at our expense. Lou Holtz had personally taken over coaching their secondary and had paid extra attention to the defensive gameplan leading into the contest. If Wake Forest could beat us down, surely we were no match for the garnet and black.
I had a viewing party for the game at my house as I was living in Georgia at the time. We all watched the smoke machines and hackneyed 2001 entrance as the tension mounted. Then came the turning point of the contest...the kickoff. Clemson had really found its offensive rhythm down the stretch of 2003 using 3 and 4 WR sets almost exclusively. To counter this, Holtz allegedly demanded that Chris Cosh use cover 2 as their primary approach. Clemson fans affectionately began referring to this defense as the "doughnut defense" because the apparent lack of speed at the linebacker positions allowed for gaping holes to form between the second and third levels. The Tigers used a lot of outside verticals with Airese Currie and Kevin Youngblood to push the deep safeties back and attacked up the middle with Derrick Hamilton and Ben Hall. The first TD was on a skinny post to Hamilton who easily worked his way behind the linebackers and around the safety to score. For the first time that night, good ol' Todd Ellis got to say "Touchdown Clemson."
One of the big parts of the success down the stretch in 2003 was how quickly Clemson was able to jump on the opposition. In the Duke game, the defense did a great job getting the ball back to the offense quickly and the Tigers were able to overwhelm the Devils before they could really get a read on what was going on. The same gameplan worked in this game as well as the bowl game against Tennessee. The defense stuffed the coots and forced a punt, setting up yet another Whitehurst TD pass. This time Airese Currie was on the end of a bomb over the middle. Clemson was in an empty set with Derrick Hamilton in the short slot to the left flanked by Currie and Youngblood. Hall and Tony Elliot were split out to the right with Hall in a flexed position. Clemson had run a quick pitch type of play to Hamilton from this formation against Duke that Hamilton took to the house, but this time Whitehurst glances over to Hamilton for a moment to freeze the middle safety and influence the inside linebacker to step up. Currie and Youngblood run double post routes with Currie easily getting on top of the underneath coverage man who was too flat to get back. The safeties over the top were split too widely because of Youngblood and the verticals by Hall and Elliot on the other side. Beautiful timing and execution by Whitehurst on this one as Hamilton was open and would have been an easy throw to take there, but Charlie went for their throats instead.
The defense once again stood strong and forced a punt, setting up another TD down the middle. This time Clemson got the perfect field position and down/distance to run play action. The Tigers were not a great running team in 2003, but the spread formations and Whitehurst's efficiency began to open the box big time and the Tigers found some success down the stretch, especially if they were able to stay in front of teams. The TD to Ben Hall was your classic attack the zone with the TE play. Clemson has a one TE, one back, 3 WR personnel grouping on first and ten. This is a good run down and the Tigers use the play action to draw up the Mike while running Ben Hall on a seam route right into the void. Again, the outside WR's influence the safeties big time on this. The safety on the play side jumps Derrick Hamilton instead of staying on the hash while the other safety is too far over dealing with Youngblood's vertical to recover. Hall was not much of a blocker, but he was a fast TE and showed that off on this play.
The chickens actually mustered a bit of offense in the second quarter to make it appear like this might be competitive, but the Tigers answered in force after 10 straight coot points with the hammer that was Chad Jasmin. Todd Ellis probably had nightmares of saying that name for a long time after this contest. Jasmin's first TD was set up with more precision passing over the middle of the field that got us on the doorstep. Clemson brought out the power package for Chad's first goal line run from the 1 yard line. Not too much later, Jasmin scored from nearly the same spot on the same play. The emergence of Jasmin as a power back later in 2003 was the final piece to the puzzle for that offense, which was just about the best Clemson had seen in the pre-Chad Morris days once they figured out how to best utilize its personnel. Jasmin then made it 3 straight TD's in the goal line offense when the Tigers went toss sweep out of the power set. There were actually two chicken defenders in position to possibly stop this play but Jasmin trucked through them. Just goes to show that real power backs are very useful tools in short yardage and you can see why the current staff has been looking for somebody to be that guy now. At this point the game was totally over and it was just a question of how bad the final score was going to look.
It's hard to pinpoint my favorite part of this game, but it might have been the fourth and final TD pass from Whitehurst in the third quarter. In what became a staple play during the CJ Spiller era, the Tigers pulled out the wheel route for a long bomb to Duane Coleman. The Tigers were in their base one back, one TE, 3 WR shotgun formation that was common in those days. The Tigers had the line down blocking to the left while the left tackle pulled around to protect Whitehurst on the boot action right. Coleman simply blows by his defender who got caught peeking in the backfield and Charlie laid a perfect ball to him before the pressure got there. Hall and Youngblood ran their routes inside to clear out the boundary, and the effect of the Tigers ripping the middle of the coot defense up earlier in the game helped open this one up. I especially liked we were still out for blood up 42-17.
The Tiger defense, which was similarly dominant for 3/4 of this contest, nearly had a pick six shortly after the Coleman TD. Chad Jasmin was all too happy to plow in for another short yardage power run for his fourth TD of the night. As the fourth quarter began, the Tigers had dropped 50+ already and the only one's really left in the stadium were jubilant Tiger fans and the coot band. The final insult was the insertion of young Chansi Stuckey (before he switched to WR) who took a simple QB draw to the house leaving coot jock straps all over the field. He even mixed in an Emory Smith style coot drag from about the 5 yard line in as the whipped chicken defense couldn't manage to bring down a 180 pound player. This was a throwback play to the Woody Dantzler days as the single back served as lead blocker on the draw.
Some great defensive moments in the game that should be mentioned would be the huge sack early in the game when Mo Fountain and company chased Pinkins down. Travis Pugh absolutely blew Corey Boyd up (which became a sequel on the the opening kickoff the next year when David Dunham crushed Boyd) on a pass attempt over the middle. The aftermath of this game was felt all over the state, as one would expect. 63-17 became cell phone pass codes, voicemail pass codes, Gameday poster fodder, and could be found painted in various places across the state. Charleston area radio personality (and proclaimed Gamecock lifer) Bobby Hartin went on an epic rant calling for the head of Lou Holtz and just about everyone else involved. Clemson closed out the year with a rousing victory over a top 10 Tennessee squad in the Georgia Dome completing one of the biggest roller coaster ride seasons in any sport ever. It was the Tommy Bowden era in a nutshell with WTF moments coupled with glimpses of brilliance that gave you hope for a better future.
Take it all in visually and have a great weekend! God Bless America!