Why is this the 2nd toughest of them all? If watching the "other white meat" touch you up for 35 in the first half doesn't piss you off, nothing will.
To say that the first part of Clemson’s 2003 season was rocky would be a drastic understatement. Clemson opened the year getting worked at home against the Georgia Bulldogs (30 - 0). The Tigers then had lackluster performances against Furman and MTSU before thrashing Georgia Tech in Atlanta. It appeared as though the Tigers were just not ready for Georgia but may have ironed out the issues halfway through the year. Just as always happened, this glimmer of hope was dashed and Clemson got drubbed in College Park by long-time nemesis Ralph Friedgen, 21-7. The Tigers squeaked past the white meat at home (30-27) before dropping another game at NC State, but was able to rebound with a 36-28 win at home over UNC. This left the Tigers at a very lackluster 5-3 heading into a game Clemson was expected to win in Winston Salem.
Before we get too far into this one, I will say that Coach Bowden does not get enough credit for his success against Wake. Don’t let the Tommy-hater fool you, this guy had Wake by the you-know-what for 4 seasons. Tommy won games against Wake teams sporting an illustrious 1999 record of 7-5, 2000 record of 2-9, a 2001 record of 6-5, and a 2002 record of 7-6. Hell, I petitioned the administration to throw a parade for such triumphs. I really think that major accomplishments that Tom had (like his stellar 4-0 record to start his career) are overlooked by Clemson fans and we really don’t realize how tough it is to whoop Wake’s ass year over year and really take it too personally when a perennial powerhouse like Wake Forest hands you your ass.
Jim Grobe had the Demon Deacons turning into a more consistent football squad. The team was coming off of two consecutive non-losing seasons and entered this contest with a 4-4 record on the season. East Carolina, Duke, NC State, and Boston College had all fallen to Wake at this point in the season. However, Wake Forest was not without its blemishes to Purdue and Virginia while getting routed by Ga. Tech and Florida State.
Clemson traditionally beat the crap out of Wake. In fact, a loss to Wake typically ended the losing coach’s Clemson career. Ken Hatfield had the dubious (dis)honor of losing to Wake in consecutive years ‘92-’93. You knew Robinson would have to fire him after that loss. West lost to him in his final (1998) campaign, and Robinson fired him. Danny (obviously) was undefeated against the preachers as was Pell. Red Parker was defeated in his final (‘76) season, Hootie Ingram lost in his first season (‘70). Before Ingram, Howard eventually got it on track after struggling early against ‘ole Peahead Walker. Howard had one loss and one tie against the Deacs in his last two decades as Clemson’s coach.
While neither squad was particularly impressive to this point, the Tiger faithful had many reasons and annual memories to believe that Clemson would once again come out on top in this one. And yes, I do remember the previous two games where Clemson scraped wins out. After seeing two seasons of Grobe’s unique blocking and cutting schemes we figured any good coach would have figured these guys out…especially with the large talent and football base differential between the two schools.
Wake Forest came out and ran over Clemson. Wake was able to field the opening kickoff and drive 80 yards, scoring 7 points on 4th and 1 rush from the Clemson 5 yard line. Interestingly, Wake had no passing yards on this first drive.
Clemson responded by driving inside the Wake 35 yard line before giving the ball up after an incomplete 4th down conversion attempt. Wake followed suit by driving 67 yards largely running the ball (15 penalty yards and one 17 yard completion were the only non-rushing yards). Wake punched it in on 4th and 1 from the Clemson 1 on the first play of the second quarter to extend their lead to 14-0.
Again, Clemson moved the ball well after taking over on their own 20. The Tigers were able to drive down to the Wake 22 before a Whitehurst interception was returned for a Wake Forest touchdown. This killed the promising drive AND gave the opponent 7 easy points. With 11 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Wake was up 21-0.
After again moving the ball fairly well down to the Wake 36, another Tiger drive was stopped. Clemson sent Cole Chason out to punt and successfully pinned the Deacons inside their own three yard line. AGAIN the Deacons were able to run (literally) the length of the field. Wake ripped off three (3) 10+ yard gains in the drive and were up 28-0 with little over a minute left in the first half.
On the next play from scrimmage, the Deacons forced a Whitehurst fumble that was returned for another Wake TD, extending their first half lead to 35-0. Clemson was able to get down to the Wake 15 before a Whitehurst sack then another Whitehurst fumble ended the half.
Clemson took the second half kickoff and, on the second play of the half, got a big 33 yard reception on a Whitehurst to Hamilton pass. Clemson then ran three unsuccessful plays and punted the ball back to the home team. Wake then drove nearly 60 yards, putting up a field goal to get themselves up 38-0.
The Tigers opened their next drive with a first down, then were forced to punt. Again, Wake took the ball and drove it down our throat. Wake was again able to grind it out, scoring on a one yard plunge. This was the last of the third quarter scoring. Wake 45 - CU 0.
Clemson capitalized on their next drive, getting an Aaron Hunt field goal to cut the Wake lead to a mere 42 points. Clemson thereafter was lead at the QB spot by Chansi Stuckey. Stuckey and the offense scored two more TD’s in a 45-17 loss at Wake.
Unlike most other crucial defeats, Clemson had one heck of a run after this one to save Tom’s ass. We beat up on #3 FSU (noted as the best win of the decade), Duke, put 63 on the Cocks, then Duane Coleman bitchslapped Tennessee to somehow end the season 9-4. As was said before, Tom builds you up to tear you down, and vice versa, and he really tore us down before taking the team to the mountaintop to end this season. This was a typical Tom Bowden output…half-assed until you are a lip quiver from getting canned, then do something ridiculous to live to die another day.
(Then he took us back down with a horrendous 04 season)
Wake ended up with a spectacular 5-7 record. The Deacons went on to lose to UNC then get crushed by Connecticut and Maryland to end the season.
Tom went on to lose to Wake twice more before finally getting canned at Clemson. **However, for the sake of the "real Clemson fans", lets think more of the Tom glory years, the years of beating up on a 2 win Wake team and the joy that came of it.**
Or we can get our heads out of our asses and talk about what really happened. Clemson got steamrolled in Winston Salem. Clemson was not ready to play and it was obvious. Clemson’s defense could not stop, check that, even slow down Wake’s misdirection-based ground attack. Offensively, Clemson had its chances and either could not convert or turned the ball over. This one put Tom one lip quiver away from getting shit canned.
Giving up 35 points in one half to anyone is unacceptable. Giving up 35 points in one half to Wake constitutes the loss of a job, hellfire, and brimstone. TDP NOT firing Tom on the spot after this game was the third worst move he has made as AD (giving Tom his two contract extensions tie for the two worst moves in his era, if you are wondering). IMO, this was a pack your shit and get out of town performance. The only thing worse than this was Tommy got a freaking new deal following this season. I don’t care if you beat the freaking NE Patriots, losing in this fashion (after the UGA loss) deserves nothing but a trip packing out of town. But let’s keep it positive, Tom only lost to Wake twice again (tell me how this adds up historically) before resigning as Clemson’s head coach.
This is what it should be like when you play Wake Forest.