Fine line draws down Clemson's expectations

Turnovers, QB's struggles leave reeling Tigers at 1-3

ACC notebook

College Football

September 30, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Nine months ago, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden was living the good life. His job - in jeopardy at midseason - was secure. His football team, which started 2003 slowly, finished the year with a four-game winning streak. He had finally beaten his father, Bobby Bowden, for the first time in five tries, and his Tigers looked like everyone's trendy pick to challenge for the conference title in 2004.

It didn't take long for reality to set in this year, however. Clemson (1-3, 1-2), which barely won its season opener against Wake Forest, has now dropped three straight games to fall near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

Clemson is off to its worst start since 1998, and the Tigers are two games under .500 for the first time in Bowden's tenure. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's causing problems for the Tigers. With 14 turnovers and only two takeaways, Clemson has the worst turnover margin of any Division I-A team in the country.

Even more puzzling during Clemson's poor start has been the play of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a junior who some thought would be a Heisman Trophy contender this year. Whitehurst has thrown 10 interceptions in four games, just five touchdowns, and is completing only 49 percent of his passes.

"We've got a fairly aggressive passing attack, and I don't want Charlie to be scared," Bowden said. "At the same time, it's a fine line, and that fine line is [the difference between] 3-1 and 1-3."

Around the conference

Miami: Speaking of the Heisman, the campaigning for Hurricanes defensive back Antrel Rolle is slowly picking up steam. Rolle, who is generally regarded as the best cornerback in the country, has been mentioned as a serious candidate by both Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com. Asked about the possibility of a defensive player winning the award - which hasn't happened since Michigan's Charles Woodson did it in 1997 - Miami coach Larry Coker didn't dismiss it in Rolle's case.

"Houston coach Art Briles said he felt like Antrel Rolle was the best football player he'd ever seen, so maybe he does deserve to be on some of those lists," Coker said.

Maryland: Ralph Friedgen said he's well aware of how much tougher things get for Maryland. Though the Terps (3-1, 1-0), who are off this week, may be just one play away from being undefeated, but the four teams they have faced have combined for just three wins. Maryland plays Georgia Tech on Oct. 9, then faces a " "murderers' row" of N.C. State, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

"I've told our players, we could win all those games, or we could lose all of them," Friedgen said. "That's the way our league is right now. Some of our young players have to grow up fast."

Florida State: Bowden said he'll wait and see how well quarterback Wyatt Sexton plays over the next two weeks before deciding whether senior Chris Rix will get his job back when he returns from a sprained ankle. Rix, who has started 37 consecutive games, was replaced by Sexton in the first quarter of Florida State's 41-22 victory of Clemson. Sexton completed 17 of 26 passes for 162 yards.

"It's going to be a judgment call," Bowden said. "It's the kind I haven't been faced with in a very long time."

Virginia Tech: West Virginia - which answered plenty of questions about whether it deserved its lofty ranking with a 19-16 win over Maryland - gets another chance to prove it is for real when the Mountaineers travel to Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday to face the Hokies. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer says his team will have its hands full against West Virginia's unique defense.

"The scheme they run makes them so tough," said Beamer, who team lost, 28-7, last year to the Mountaineers. "You don't see a 3-3 [alignment] that often, so it requires a lot of preparation. You've got to be poised and not let them get you on your heels. That happened to us last year at West Virginia. We'll see if we've gotten any better."

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