Some people wouldn't put this on their list because it was such a disappointing season from the start. After the miraculous ending to 2003, we started this season 1-4 with losses to GT, aTm, FSU and UVA. This one is chiefly on the list because a) you don't lose to Duke EVER, b) you dont lose to a 1-win team in Week 11, and c) you don't lose to Duke after beating Miami's tail in the Orange Bowl at night to end their home night-game win streak. That is why this one just hurt. Tom builds you up, then tears you back down.
The Tigers laid a lot of eggs in the 2004 season after coming in with plenty of the skill talent they had in 2003, and a QB who appeared as sharp as cut diamond to end that season. We could've picked other games from this year, and did pick one, but this one was really to the worst team we faced, other than Utah State (who finished with more wins than Duke).
2004 started out rocky. We came in #15 and struggled against Wake Forest in a game where Tiger fans wanted bigtime revenge for the 45-17 pounding they gave us in 2003, and barely won 37-30. We held a 16 point lead at the half and blew that, and had to come from behind to win in double OT. Initially that could've been explained away by Jim Grobe being a great coach and basically having an entire offseason to prepare for us. However, the problems were quite apparent soon enough with this team: the offense that had shined so bright in 03 was horribly inconsistent and the defense was just plain average.
We had thumped GT the year before and they squeaked one out 28-24 at the Valley, we don't need to go into that one again, but it was clear we fell apart after this game.
Texas A&M was a game we all looked forward to playing. We rarely get outside of the southeast for an opponent. Texas A&M fans are still one of the best behaved and most gracious that we've encountered in my memory and it was a nice trip for most, except for the on-field performance. A&M was not a great team (7-5 finish), but the Tigers appeared totally shell-shocked in the 27-6 loss. A&M punched them in the mouth up front and they folded on both sides of the ball. Their fans were loud and on edge nearly the entire game and we didn't appear to know how to handle it. We just got out-toughed that night and Charlie Whitehurst was rocked (4 turnovers).
FSU wanted revenge for 2003 and got theirs 41-22, behind 5 Whitehurst turnovers. Then, we lost to the pergolas 30-10, which was not as disappointing since they were ranked #10. The defense could not tackle at all. Still, you dont lose to the White Meat son. Danny Ford didn't lose to the White Meat. We stood at 1-4 and needed to win out to get a good bowl game. Of course right now I was incensed because they just renewed Tom's contract and he goes and pulls this garbage, so I basically wanted him publicly executed. Mike O'Cain had been made the Offensive Coordinator because of his relationship with Whitehurst as the QB coach, and Whitehurst was downright terrible (11 picks at this point) in all of these losses. He couldn't control the football and made terrible decisions.
"Right now we are not a very good football team," Bowden said. "We didn’t play real smart on offense. We had some penalties. The defense didn’t tackle very good and wrap up. Obviously I am not getting the job done in those areas. So I have to go back and get that corrected.
Virginia is a good football team but they shouldn’t be that far ahead of us, and they're not. They weren’t the last three years. I’ve got to go back and get on the drawing board and get some results here when we come home next Saturday."
Utah State came at the perfect time, getting Clemson off the slide, then we actually beat Friedgen 10-7 in an ugly offensive game. At least the defense remembered how to tackle though. We beat the Chest 26-20 on a last second INT by Charles Bennett. We forced 6 turnovers against the pit wolfies, after just 6 the entire season thus far. We evened our record at 4-4 before going to Top 10 Miami at night.That game was the best we'd played all season and I expected an easy win @ Duke. I'm sure most of you did too.
But Tom found a way.
This one was much of the same story as above. John Lovett fixed the problems with tackling on defense but O'Cain and Whitehurst were totally baffled by Duke.
As such, there wasnt much scoring in this contest. We both opened up with 3 & outs and then a 40 yard pass to Airese Currie set the Tigers up for a FG, 3-0 Tigers.
Duke took the ball on the very next drive from their 33 and continually hit passed right up the middle against our defense to get the ball in FG range to tie the game at 3-3. The Devils immediately tried an onside kick and recovered it at our 19 yard line thanks to our guys simply not looking for the damn football. Duke hit one pass up the middle and had to settle for another FG, 6-3 Duke. Duke had zero success running the ball on these two drives, it was all crossing routes.
Reggie Merriweather took the ball on the next drive and chewed them up. His first 3 carries took the ball from our 25 to the Duke 41. Currie got an end-around for another 9. Then we started passing and it went in the toilet. Charlie got sacked, threw incompletions and could hit only the short passes, and we had to settle for another FG. 6-6
The defense stifled Duke for the rest of the half, not giving them an inch on the ground. Meanwhile, after Reggie had just chewed up Duke, we put in Duane Coleman and lose all momentum. Sound familiar? We did nothing the rest of the half, and neither of us did anything until the end of the 3rd quarter.
At the end of the 3rd, Coleman broke off a 9 yard gain and Reggie put up 7 more before Charlie ran another 12 and hit Chansi for another 15 to really get things going into Duke territory at their 48. Charlie hit Airese for 15 yards to the Duke 16, then Coleman and Reggie ran it in on 4 plays to put us up 13-6.
At this point, with the way the defense had played, the game was thought to be in hand. At worst I expected us to give up a FG or two. Duke took the ball from their 18 to midfield on the next drive, and the defense forced a quick 3 & out on the next Duke possession. Each time, Duke punted the ball and pushed us deep in our territory, forcing a big field position switch from the first 3 quarters of the game. The anemic Clemson offense could never move the ball and went 3 & out both times they got the ball back, inside our own 20.
The last Clemson punt was from the Tiger 12, and Duke received the ball at their 48. The Devils then threw consistently down the left side of our defense. Duke QB Mike Schneider hit 5-of-6 passes, all on the left side, culminating in a 5yd TD pass to tie the game at 13. Duke had just 21 yards rushing the entire game, but beat us consistently up the middle and on the left side of the coverage.
Airese Currie returned the kickoff to our 35, then Charlie threw another INT on the first play to Michael Collins, who fell down in his route. The pick set up Duke for the game-winning 53 yard FG, 16-13. All the orange in Wallace Wade stood there in silence.
The Fallout...and what followed.
Clemson had apparently fixed the major problem exposed up front with tackling down the stretch this year. We stifled Utah State, Miami, Duke, and then the defense dominated the Gamecocks the next week. Lovett's coverage schemes and the pisspoor coverage skills displayed by the LB corps (at times) and (mostly) Tye Hill with little help from the safeties Tremaine Billie and Jamaal Fudge (because of the scheme) did in the Tigers at the end of this game, but the defense wasnt the problem. 16 points and 21 yards rushing allowed is a good defensive performance.
Special Teams play was pitiful. We could not get any yardage on kicking returns and gave one back to them. 4 returns for a total gain of 20 yards, and 2 punt returns for a total of 5 yards. Who was the ST coach? Jack Hines, blithering idiot.
Whats worse, the offense could not move the ball in the air whatsoever with two speedsters in Stuckey and Currie that could each run off and leave the entire Duke secondary if you just gave them the ball. Ben Hall only got the ball once of course, because we never threw to him. The same problem that plagued us all year cost us this one: bad QB play.
I'll never understand how Charlie Whitehurst played as bad as he did in 2004. Mike O'Cain felt he was a scapegoat for the offensive problems when he was fired by Bowden later, and I hated Tom having to fire O'Cain (a CU grad) but it was the right decision. How much of the play-calling was actually Mike's as opposed to Tom and Brad is a debateable point though.
With one game left to play we were all in the dumps. Thankfully Tom pretty much owned the Gamecocks and in "The Fight" game we beat them like a drum to become bowl eligible, and Tiger fans, content with being 6-5 and bowl eligible, didn't immediately call for his head like they should've.