Friday, October 10, 2008

Clemson in Top 10? Wrong, wrong, wrong

After Thursday's truly craptacular performance in the national spotlight, the second this season for Clemson and coach Tommy Bowden (right), it's fairly obvious Bowden hates the media.

Why else would the Tigers coach go to such great lengths to make us look so bad? Very clever, Tommy, sacrificing your own career to show the rest of the world just to show how dense we really are. Brilliant. You got us.

And at this point, I'm coming clean. I owe every reader an apology. I'm sorry. I picked Clemson to win the ACC and ranked the Tigers in the top 10 (No. 7) of my preseason AP Top 25.

I couldn't have been more wrong. That was painfully clear by the middle of the second quarter of Thursday's 12-7 loss to Wake Forest when the Tigers had negative rushing yardage and zero first downs. This, an offense, that features two future NFL running backs.

The only solace in my folly is I have company. Fifty other ACC writers picked the Tigers to win their first conference title since 1991 and the AP sent Clemson off as the No. 9 team in the country.

A bad pick is my problem, I'll live with it. Tommy's are much bigger, at least until December.

It's not that Clemson lost, give Wake Forest credit for being a good football team. The Deacs aren't great, certainly not on offense or even special teams on Thursday, but the Deacs are well-coached and have an exceptional defense.

As Bowden said in the postmortem of the latest demoralizing loss in a long line of demoralizing losses in his 10-year tenure: "We tried everything."

Maybe but Bowden's ultimate failure is not only Xs and Os, and there were plenty of examples of that particular deficiency on Thursday, but in motivation and game management.

The former has to be the most disconcerting to the ever-so-patient IPTAYers. After the season-opening embarrassment against Alabama, albeit a performance softened by the Tide's subsequent climb in the national polls, Clemson was given a second chance on Thursday to show the world at-large they were a good football team.

Bowden, who presumably inherited the gift to motivate from his father — because he sure hasn't won 72 games at Clemson with his tactical brilliance — should have had the Tigers frothing at the mouth on Thursday.

Instead, the Tigers were indifferent. ESPN, so what? A ranked opponent? Eh. A chance to get back in the ACC race? Yawn.

And that's why coaches get fired. Not because you go on a message board and rant, or because I think Clemson should win the ACC and it won't, but because the players tune out the message. You could hear the radio silence in Tiger Town from Winston-Salem.

Even a wild-banshee of an effort on Thursday may not have compensated up for Bowden's circus of errors and multiple violations of Coaching 101.

To wit:

• Clemson's first drive of the second half started on its own 17-yard line and with a holding penalty, which is forgivable. First down is replayed and a pass to Jacoby Ford goes for 10 yards.

Except, Ford loses his shoe on the play. Instead of coming off the field, Clemson calls timeout. What?

Four minutes into the second half, with the ball deep in their own territory, there's no reason to call a timeout. Ever.

Then, coming out of the timeout, Clemson's flagged for a false start. That's not forgiveable, not after you burned a timeout to save a 5-yard penalty for delay of game.

These are game mismanagement mistakes you would expect at Duke, not at a football school like Clemson's.

Those timeouts, or lack thereof — Clemson called its second with 2:38 left in the third quarter — turned into a big problem when the Tigers got the ball back with 5:28 left in the game, down by five points and with no timeouts.

The Tigers ended up going for it on fourth down, twice from their own end of the field — and actually converting on fourth-and-17 from the 20 — but Bowden gambled correctly (for once), with no way to stop the clock, there wasn't enough time to punt, play field position and get the ball back.

• With 9 seconds left in the first half, and the ball on Wake's 39-yard line, Bowden calls timeout on fourth down.

You call timeout with 12 seconds left, and hope to convert the fourth down and get a field goal, or second shot at the end zone, or you call timeout with 1 second left and take one heave to the end zone.

What you don't do is call timeout with 9 seconds left, which Bowden did.

Cullen Harper threw an incomplete pass and gave Wake the ball back with 4 seconds left. Wake took a knee on the next play, so it ultimately didn't matter, but it's the principle.

The good news for Tommy is Arkansas' willingness to throw money at any ACC coach with a pulse last December, netted him a $4 million buyout. That parachute is reduced by $500,000 come this December, when he'll finally be shown the door.

He'll even probably find another job, maybe on TV like his brother, where he'll find out what it's like to have a coach make you play the fool.

-- J.P. Giglio