The 2007 football season was interesting for Clemson, in one way or another. The offseason itself had plenty of story lines floating around. In 2006 Clemson experienced the high of starting 7-1 and crushing #13 Georgia Tech and Calvin Johnson on ESPN in prime time in front of a wild Death Valley crowd, only to slide and lose three of the last four regular season games, including a heartbreaking 3 point loss to rival South Carolina, ending Clemson's four game win streak against the Gamecocks. The Tigers limped into the Music City Bowl and fell to mediocre Kentucky team 28-20. Such promise and excitement early in the year, only followed by disappointment and frustration.
Rumors swirled early about CJ Spiller transferring to defending national champion Florida to be closer to his family. Fortunately for Tiger fans, Spiller stayed and Clemson came in to 2007 with arguably the best one-two punch in the nation with junior running back James Davis and Spiller both returning to provide Clemson with "Thunder and Lightning."
There was plenty of other talent coming back, too, such as receivers Jacoby Ford and Aaron Kelly. The big question surrounded the quarterback position. With the graduation of 2006 starter Will Proctor, the job seemed to be between RS Junior Cullen Harper and highly touted true freshman Willy Korn coming from nearby Byrnes High School. Korn was a four star prospect and rated as the #5 QB in the nation coming out of high school. Many felt that he was the future of the program. However, Harper won the job and Korn appeared in two of Clemson's first three games before suffering a shoulder injury in the Tigers' blowout victory over Furman, forcing him to take a medical redshirt for the season.
2007 started out in a big, but also kind of weird way. Clemson would open the season in Death Valley on Labor Day night against ACC Atlantic rival Florida State. This is only the second time the Tigers have played a regular season game on a Monday, the first being a 1982 loss in Athens to Georgia. Traditionally, Clemson University holds class on Labor Day, but with the game in town, the University wisely cancelled, much to the joy of Clemson students. The game itself also had an odd beginning. Most would've assumed the first touchdown of the season would be scored by James Davis or CJ Spiller, or even one of the other star players. It was not. It was scored by freshman tight end Brian Linthicum. Linthicum would score twice more that season with receptions against UL Monroe and Duke, and then transferred from Clemson to Michigan State the next year where he finished his collegiate career. The Tigers jumped out early to a 24-3 halftime lead before the Seminoles were able to rally and come back in the second half to make things interesting. Clemson was able to hold on and win 24-18. Some late game clock confusion led to a humorous sight in which the Clemson student section rushed the field thinking the game was over, only to immediately turn around and run back once it was determined that there was still time on the clock for FSU.
The Tigers ran out to a 4-0 record and climbed to #13 in the polls before hitting stumbling blocks in back-to-back weekends with losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. After 2006's trouncing of the Jackets where the nation was introduced to "Thunder and Lightning," many expected another explosive performance as Clemson headed to Atlanta. Georgia Tech had different plans, and Clemson's offense was smothered. Davis and Spiller were held to a combined 62 yards and the team as a whole only rushed for 34 as the Jackets beat Clemson 13-3.
The following week saw the Hokies of Virginia Tech come to Death Valley. In 2006, Clemson went to Blacksburg for a Thursday night game following the big win over Georgia Tech, where the Hokies were able to contain Clemson's running game and beat the Tigers by forcing them to rely more on Will Proctor and the passing attack, which was, uh, not good. The Hokies won 24-7 and essentially gave the rest of Clemson's 2006 opponents a blueprint for slowing up the Tiger offense. The 2007 game saw the Hokies come to Death Valley and smack Clemson 41-23.
Clemson recovered with a bye week and a homecoming win over Central Michigan 70-14. The Tigers got their groove back and won the next three games, setting up a prime time matchup in Death Valley with Matt Ryan's Boston College Eagles for the ACC Atlantic Division championship. The game lived up to its billing as the two programs slugged it out for four quarters. Ryan put the Eagles up 20-17 with 1:46 in the 4th with a 43 yard touchdown pass on third and seven. Clemson put together a nice drive looking to at least get in field goal range, but when Cullen Harper was sacked on third and seven at the BC 30, kicked Mark Buchholz was forced to attempt a 54 yard field goal to tie the game. The kick went left and the Tigers lost, ending the hopes of an ACC championship.
Clemson couldn't dwell on the heartbreaker against BC for too long as the Tigers headed to Columbia for a night game against the Gamecocks. This game, too, had it's oddities. On South Carolina's first play from scrimmage, QB Blake Mitchell attempted a long pass that was promptly intercepted by CB Chris Chancellor. In the first quarter, already 3-0, the Tigers got a nice boost when wide receiver Nelson Faerber blocked a Gamecock punt and fellow wide receiver LaDonte Harris returned it for a ten yard touchdown, putting Clemson up 10-0.
Faerber, an original preferred walk on from Duluth, GA and high school teammate of Charlie Whitehurst, would strike later on for the Tigers. Cullen Harper completed a four yard pass to Faerber to put Clemson up 17-7 late in the second quarter. LaDonte Harris blocked another Ryan Succop punt early in the third quarter and recovered it as the South Carolina 22. Unfortunately, Clemson was unable to take advantage of that as Cullen Harper was intercepted in the Gamecock endzone. Blake Mitchell's touchdown pass to Dion Lecorn with 9:00 minutes in the fourth quarter gave the Gamecocks a 21-20 lead. The Tigers and Cocks traded punts, leaving Clemson with just under two minutes to score.
Cullen Harper connected with Aaron Kelly four times on the drive as the Tigers were able to set up aBuchholz 35 yard field goal attempt from the SC 17 with three seconds remaining. It was certainly nerve racking for Tiger fans with not just the previous week's loss on a missed field goal, but also the memory of Jad Dean missing the potential game tying field goal with thirteen seconds left in the 2006 loss to the Gamecocks (although, had Bowden left in a smoking hot Reggie Merriweather it may not have come down to that, but that's another discussion for another day). Mark Buchholz was also 2/4 on his field goals so far in the game. This time, however, it went perfect for the Tigers and Buchholz nailed the field goal giving Clemson the 23-21 walk-off win.
At 9-3, the Tigers sat back on Conference Championship Saturday and awaited their bowl destination. Rumors arose and many held out hope for an appearance in a BCS Bowl. Some felt that with the right things happening that Saturday, the Tigers could find themselves in the Rose Bowl for the first time in program history. Unfortunately, that wasn't in the cards (Illinois went and was blown out), but a trip to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A bowl fora New Year's Eve tilt with Auburn was a good consolation prize.
The two Tiger teams played an outstanding game. Davis and Spiller combined for two touchdowns and 184 rushing yards. Regulation ended in a 17-17 tie, and Clemson got the ball first in overtime. Buchholz gave the Tigers a 20-17 lead on a 25 yard field goal, however, Auburn was able to find the end zone as quarterback Kodi Burns ran in a 7-yard touchdown to give them the 23-20 win.
All in all, 2007 was seen as positive by Tiger fans. A nine win season, a victory over South Carolina, and playing for the division title marked progress after the dismal finish of 2006. And while Clemson did not experience as much of the craziness that other programs did in 2007 (*cough* Michigan *cough*), there were still some oddities to make this season memorable.