This was an especially painful Tom Bowden screw up. You dominate for almost 3 quarters, lose it all, then have a drive to win it all, then piss off the whole Clemson community.
If there ever was a time that these authors quit thinking Tom was the man for the job this was the one. We both agreed many years before hand that Bowden would not deliver, but this one was the ABSOLUTE day. Neither of us approved of the 2003 contract extension because we knew that Tom would completely blow it in a game situation in this fashion. You can make as many excuses up for losses as you want...this loss was complete bullshit and is all on the head coach.
Clemson had a pretty good squad this year, but was hampered by poor fundamental play all year. The Tigers opened with a big win over Florida Atlantic. The next week Clemson could not put it together on special teams. Clemson's kick return team did a piss poor job then a missed PAT in overtime put the nail in the coffin for Clemson at BC, both of which are completely unacceptable.
The Tigers did rebound the next week with a last second win over Atlantic-division rival Florida State. Clemson ended up reeling off 6 straight wins before suffering a crippling defeat to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The play over this period was really good and included a complete thrashing of UNC in Death Valley. This one loss to VT though would give our opponents a road map on how to defeat the Spence/Harper offense.
Clemson followed the VT loss with a deflating loss to Maryland on a late second field goal. Once again, Clemson squandered numerous opportunities to put this one away but allowed UMd to stick around andultimately upset Clemson in Death Valley. Clemson rebounded from the loss with a win over NC State and had only South Carolina left on the schedule. If memory (and a few Tom Bowden press conferences) serves me correctly, Clemson was but one game (again) away from competing in the ACC Championship contest.
South Carolina, after beating up on MS State, got the season off to a rough start with a home drubbing against Georgia (18-0). The Cocks struggled the following week nearly losing to Wofford before getting it on track beating Florida Atlantic. Carolina put together a tough Thursday night effort against Auburn, narrowly losing to the Tigers on national television. The Gamecocks then proceeded to dispose of SEC East cellar dwellers Vandy and Kentucky before dropping three in a row to Tennessee, Arkansas, then Florida. Carolina got a tune-up win against MTSU the week before the Clemson game.
South Carolina entered the contest with a less than impressive 6-5 record, Clemson shot itself in the foot, and limped in with an 8-3 record. Had Clemson won, other better bowls probably would've offered.
It started like most SC/CU games. Blake Mitchell opened with a big completion then immediately threw an interception. Will Proctor then hooked up with Jacoby Ford to record a 76 yard touchdown to open the scoring. Cocks 0--Clemson 7
South Carolina responded with a nice drive, balanced by play from Cory "back like cooked crack" Boyd and Blake Mitchell. Mitchell was able to cap the drive with a 1 yard keeper for the TD. Cocks 7--CU 7
C.J. Spiller was able to respond for the Tigers, Scampering 80 yards for a TD on the next play from scrimmage. Spiller just does that and is a special player. Cocks 7--Tigers 14.
South Carolina again responded. Blake Mitchell was able to again lead this group down the field. He received help from Mike Davis and Cory Boyd, with Boyd scoring the game tying touchdown to knot it up in the 2nd. Cocks 14-CU 14.
Clemson took the ball and was able to move it almost 30 yards before being forced to punt. SouthCarolina responded with a nice drive, taking the ball inside the Clemson 25 yard line. Clemson was able to thwart the drive when Jock McKissic picked off a Blake Mitchell pass at the CU 18 and was able to return it for a TD. Cocks 14--CU 21.
END OF HALF
The Tigers and Gamecocks came out of the locker room and traded 3-and-outs to open the half. SC's series was extremely peculiar. Carolina started the drive on its own 31 yard line and was able to pick up 8 yards through 3 downs, leaving the Cocks with a 4th and 2 situation inside their own 40 yard line. You could tell Spurrier must have been way too impatient, as he unsuccessfully went for the first down and gave Clemson the ball with great field position. The Tigers were able to take advantage of the poor game management, extending their lead on a 31 yard C. J. Spiller TD scamper. At this point I really expected a complete implosion by USC and another crushing win out of our Tigers, especially after the deflating lack of judgment shown by the Gamecock coaching staff on their last offensive series. USC 14--CU 28
BUT...South Carolina immediately responded with a pretty well balanced drive covering 68 yards and we couldn't tackle. Back to back catches from Blake Mitchell to Gaffney's own Sidney Rice (18 yards) and Mike Davis (17 yards) set up a Davis 2 yard TD run. Cocks 21--Clemson 28.
South Carolina got themselves all the way back into it soon after. A Thomas Hunter fumble set the Gamecocks up deep in Clemson territory. Carolina tied the score up on another Davis TD run, and unbelievably Clemson lost all the momentum built at the end of the first half/beginning of the latter half. Cocks 28-Clemson 28.
The two teams swapped punts to end the third quarter. After a Clemson punt to open the 4th, Carolina was able to drive the ball to the Clemson 18 yard line before settling for a Ryan Succop field goal, putting the Gamecocks up by three. USC 31--Clemson 28.
Clemson's last drive SHOULD HAVE BEEN one of the best drives in school history. Clemson started at its own 20 yard line. A FRESH and MOTIVATED Reggie Merriweather was inserted into the game and provided the spark Clemson needed to get it going offensively. On the legs of Merriweather and Spiller, Clemson embarked on a 7+ minute drive that methodically moved down the field. Clemson appeared to have it all together, as Merriweather rushed for 6 yards down to the USC 17. Then, INEXPLICABLY, Tom pulled the hard-running Merriweather out of the game and inserted what appeared to be a hurt James Davis. Once again, Tom proved he didn't know the difference between a sneeze and a wet fart by substituting the wrong player at the exactly wrong time for the plays called.
The drive immediately stalled, with Clemson doing itself no favors. QB Will Proctor took a key sack (very easily COULD have thrown the ball into the stands instead of taking the loss). Jad Dean then pranced onto the field and proceeded to shank a 39 yarder that would have sent this one into overtime. Game over: Cocks 31--Clemson 28.
Note that we do not put the blame of this loss solely on Dean, as many Clemson fans did. 39 is makeable, but the blame rests on Bowden and Spence on the last drive, and the defensive staff for letting them come back into the game.
Unfortunately, I think a few kids learned a few words that that their parents did not want them to pick up on after this one. Personally, I was done with ole Tom years before this debacle. In true Bowden fashion, Tom found another way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The big point that is always made by fans of USC and Clemson is that Clemson probably would have come back and won this one had Bowden not substituted Merriweather out of the game on the game's final drive. I will say that is probably correct but you never know with the brain trust of Tom and the "Mad Scientist" running the show (I could easily see Spence trying to outsmart the opponent by calling a bubble screen at the goal line, then having this thing completely backfire in his face). Obviously, had Clemson done nothing but run the ball up the gut with Merriweather (i.e., avoid letting Will Proctor make a bonehead play), Clemson would have been in much better shape overall. Yes, is is a shame i had to write that, but it is what it is.
The biggest sham from my perspective was Clemson's inability to go for the kill (a Bowden hallmark) early in the 3rd quarter. After a fortunate turn of events giving the Tigers 7 points at the end of the 1st half, Clemson had Spurrier gripeing. The ole ball coach was on-tilt, electing to unsuccessfully attempt a 4th down conversion deep in his own territory to begin the third, essentially giving Clemson more points. Had the Tigers shown some toughness and sacked up on the following drive, Carolina would have done what it had done so many times earlier...QUIT. Instead, we let them back into the game in the third quarter and effectively inverted the momentum of the game.
Clemson went on to drop its bowl game against Kentucky. This was another affair in which Tom and Spence could not figure out how to run the ball and play to our strengths. One offensive lineman falling out did not cause each of these losses to end the year.
South Carolina followed this game up with an up and down victory over Houston. While neither team had a great year, the South Carolina left a terrible feeling about our coach and the future of the program under his guidance given the extreme mismanagement of this football game.