Our #9 choice on the Ten Worst Losses list is Boston College @ Clemson in 2007. One of Bowden's better teams led by Cullen Harper, JD and CJ faced off against future 1st round pick Matt Ryan and the BC Eagles in a contest that would determine the ACC Atlantic title. While Clemson fought hard and didn't lay a total egg as many of us feared, the missed catch by Aaron Kelly sticks in our hearts and minds forever. Clemson would've still needed a chipshot FG and/or TD play to follow (assuming he didnt coast into the endzone for the TD), but this drop on a catchable ball won't be forgotten by anyone wearing Orange.
"The coaches called my number late in the game to try and make a big play and I didn't come up with it," Kelly said. "It's something you dream about and something you really want and it just didn't work out."
The Tigers jumped out of the gate hot in 2007 after just falling to pieces at the end of 2006. Many people were turning against Tom Bowden and if we'd have come out against FSU on Labor Day weekend and choked in the same fashion which we finished in 2006, people might've turned on him much earlier.
But the Tigers did come out there and thumped what we thought was a pretty good FSU team 24-18. The Rob Spence experiment was producing again and putting up serious points in the first 4 easy wins over LA-Monroe, Furman, and NC State. Even though the 2nd team defense had given up some points, we were still cautiously optimistic about Bowden being able to keep this thing rolling a whole season for once.
Then Tommy laid an egg, two of them in fact. Both exposed the weakness on the Brad Scott-run OL. Clemson had run all over people with JD and CJ, and Harper could actually execute passes unlike Proctor......until Georgia Tech stuffed them 13-3. An offense that had put up 38+ in the last 3 games coming in was totally stifled in Atlanta. GT wasn't even that good, having thumped a horrible Notre Dame team 33-9 yet losing the two previous weeks to BC (24-10) and UVA (28-23). They even lost the next week to Maryland. But they wanted revenge over the asskicking we handed them in 2006 and got it. Neither CJ nor JD could do anything (34 yds rushing), and Spence's screens didn't fool them.
Then with our bubble burst, some people knew we'd lose to VT. I (surprisingly to all my friends) did not think so. I had been in attendance for VT @ LSU, a 48-7 throttling in Baton Rouge, and saw VT show absolutely nothing on defense in that game. Nothing. VT came into our Death Valley having beaten patsies Ohio, William & Mary, and a bad UNC team following that defeat. They were still pissed off about it, and eager to prove their worth to Bud Foster, and they beat us 41-23. We could not protect Harper whatsoever. Our Special Teams, following Bowden's pattern, blew it totally. Clemson put up 8 yards rushing with the best back tandem in the country, and only 12 carries between them thanks to Spence's playcalling. After that game I felt that Tammy had blown another season and it was all downhill, since I'd already given up on Bowden, but they surprised me.
We crushed Central Michigan, Maryland, Duke, and 9-4 Wake Forest in dominating fashion on both sides of the ball. We were 8-2 and 5-2 in the ACC coming into this cold night game in the Valley.
BC was likewise 8-2, having just lost to FSU and Maryland in consecutive weeks coming in. I still refused to believe Bowden could win us at least the division despite the statistical evidence that said Clemson should win running away. I recall talking to Figurefour the night before the game and we felt that Bowden would either blow this game or the SC game. He was now able to win something and we were sure he'd blow it, the question was when and how. For some reason I was still optimistic for this game.
There are a few things that stand out in my mind from this game. The first is that it was freezing in the Upper Deck that night, and I wasn't dressed for it. Why is it always 110 or -10 up there? The second is that Spence continued to run those damned zone plays up the gut with Davis against two future NFL DTs when we had success with Harper's passing. Another is that Spiller did have success and only got 11 carries.
Typical Bowden: when one RB has the hot hand, he takes him out and runs the other one, or runs plays suited for one RB with the other one (e.g. perimeter stretch plays with JD, and up the middle with Spiller). I still think one of the major reasons Spence/Bowden failed is because they called the wrong plays for the personnel they had on the field.
The game started out great for the Tigers. The D went on the field and forced a quick punt. JD capitalized on a 13-play 68 yard drive with a 1yd TD to push us out 7-0 early in the 1st quarter. We actually did have success running the ball out of the gate in this drive and the playcalls kept BC off-balance.
Matt Ryan led the Eagles back out and yet now we were the ones who could not stop Andre Callender. They drove right back down the field. BC went for it on 3rd and long and again on 4th down at the CU 22 and we forced two consecutive incompletions to stop the drive.
We traded punts and the defenses fought it out for much of the 2nd quarter, and Clemson blew two drives by deciding to throw on 2nd or 3rd & short-enough-to-just-run-the-damn-ball and going incomplete. We could've gotten 3 yards at least. Typical Spence calls basically, and no apparent strategy of mixing things up as on the first drive of the game. Buchholz missed a 46 yd FG on our only threatening drive of the quarter. BC capitalized on a few long plays and made it 7-3 before the half.
The 3rd quarter was much of the same but Spaziani made some adjustments up front. JD was now going nowhere against B.J. Raji and Spence kept banging his head against the wall thinking it would free up someone underneath on a bubble screen or slant. Harper was hitting his throws, but there seemed to be no effort to vertically stretch BC's zone coverage and they had nothing to worry about from Brad Scott's line. Buchholz hit a FG to make it 10-3 Clemson about 5 minutes into the 3rd.
I felt that we had had ample opportunities to go up a couple TDs by now and BC was giving us the short pass if we'd just take it. They had now stuffed James Davis and the OL was no longer opening up holes anywhere.
At the end of the 3rd quarter BC started a drive that was lengthened by a pass interference call on 3rd & 10, after that the D took the rest of the drive off. Ryan was hitting Callender in the backfield with short throws and our soft zone couldn't make the tackle soon enough to stop him from getting 6-10 yards a pop. When he wasn't catching the ball he was running all over us. 7 plays on the drive were to Callender. BC marched 80 yards on 11 plays and tied the game at 10-10.
After that BC short kicked the ball, for what reason I don't know, and we started at the Clemson 46, but Harper threw a pick on a wobbler and set them up in our territory. On the next drive BC converted twice on 3rd down and settled for the go-ahead FG, 13-10.
Clemson again got the ball in great field position after a short kickoff and CJ Spiller started off the drive, finally. CJ banged off 24 yards in 3 plays to put us at their 32 and after a few quick throws underneath we set up the Cullen Harper TD from 4 out. 17-13.
BC answered, and marched from their 29 yd line thanks to Andre Callender and Clarence Megwa, who Vic Koenning just could not figure out how to cover. The West Coast system is geared to RBs and yet VK couldn't find a way to stop it, this to me was just as frustrating as stopping the triple option. VK had decided that Ryan would not beat them deep today and backed up his coverages to stop the long play. But we lost the damn game on a long play: on 3rd & 7 from the CU 43, Matt Ryan found Rich Gunnell for the score. 20-17. Tremendous throw under pressure.
CJ set up a pretty good return to the CU 28 and the Tigers got the ball with under 2 minutes, with the air let out of Death Valley. 3 straight passes got us back into BC territory in plenty of time to score. Aaron Kelly got the call on 1st & 10 from the BC 45 and just missed the catch that would've set up a chipshot FG at least and would've likely coasted for the TD. 3 straight incompletions by Harper made it 4th & 10 with 0:33 left in the game when Clemson called TO. Harper hit the next play for a 12 yd gain to AK to convert the 4th down at the BC 33. On 3rd down Cullen took the sack and pushed us to their 37 and Buchholz missed the 54 yarder. Ballgame.
The season that followed
This game didn't ruin the rest of the season miraculously. The Tigers rebounded against little brother in the next game with a last second victory 23-21. We didn't really look as good on the field as we had before the BC game, but with it being Carolina I knew we would win. I felt that despite the talent on the SC defense that we should've put up many more points and played much better pass defense than we did in this game though. As is usual against them, if you just run the damn football up the middle you'll score. JD ran for 122 and CJ 88, yet the stupid-ass Spence couldn't figure out the concept of just running the damn football when the opponent can't stop it and we risked losing the game.
I dont remember having a great feeling for #23 Auburn in the Peach Bowl but with them installing a new Tony Franklin offense for the bowl game, and us having such success on defense over the whole season, it was hard to predict a loss. Cullen Harper had just had his shoulder scoped and I didn't buy that it was as minor as they said. We lost a hard-fought game in OT 23-20. The biggest thing about this game that sticks in my memory is that we did have success running it, and yet they decided to run perimeter plays on the goal line with Spiller when we knew at the time that CJ wasn't a bulldozer. By 2009 maybe I'd do that, but back then, nope. Back then CJ fell down when you touched him and wasn't suited to the tougher runs. JD was the one who needed the ball and yet Rob Spence couldn't give him the ball on the goal line. We were in prime position to blow this game open and blew it totally with playcalling. We lost to a freshman running a brand new offense and a team ranked 8 spots below us. They put up 423 yards on us with it. Inexplicable. Tony Franklin didn't even make it halfway through the next season.
Bowden conned Arky into offering him a deal and manipulating TDP into giving him an ironclad buyout after the season with a big payraise. I said "Let his sorry ass go" but they didnt. WIth Tiger fans encouraged by him not losing the next two games in humiliating fashion, breaking his pattern, they felt he could finally keep it going for once and many clamored for TDP to resign Tommy. He did, and we paid him $4 million to hit the road.