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October 16, 2008

ACC: Clemson faces struggle to salvage season

MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

The most disappointing team in the nation hardly resembles the team that opened the season ranked ninth in the nation.

Clemson enters the second half of the season with a new coach, a new starting quarterback and little chance of winning the ACC title. The Tigers (3-3) have lost three of their four games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

No wonder coach Tommy Bowden stepped down under pressure Monday. Former wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney will serve as interim coach Saturday against Georgia Tech.

"This is a bittersweet opportunity for me," Swinney said. "Coach Bowden is a lifelong mentor. I had the great privilege of playing for him at Alabama, and then he hired me here and promoted me here. He's more than just a coach and a friend. He's a guy that I love dearly. It's a very difficult situation with what happened here this week."

Bowden made one major lineup change before his departure. He tabbed redshirt freshman Willy Korn to replace struggling Cullen Harper as the Tigers' starting quarterback. Harper, the preseason conference player of the year, had thrown six interceptions and just four touchdown passes in the Tigers' first six games.

Bowden and Harper won't be the only guys missing from the sideline Saturday. Clemson's coaching shakeup also resulted in the ouster of offensive coordinator Rob Spence. Swinney will call plays instead with help from Billy Napier, who had been tight end coach but now is working with the quarterbacks.

"There's a lot left on the table for this team," Swinney said. "It's not a woe-is-me situation. We've got a lot to play for. We've got a good bowl opportunity, (the chance for) a winning season. We have an opportunity for a 10-win season (if Clemson makes the ACC Championship Game). That's out there. Anything can happen."

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Maryland RB Da'Rel Scott vs. Wake Forest run defense. Scott leads the ACC with 96.4 rushing yards per game, but he is facing a Wake Forest defense that has allowed just 2.4 yards per carry and 61.5 rushing yards per game against conference foes. Florida State's Antone Smith gained 24 yards on eight carries against Wake Forest. Clemson's James Davis ran for 25 yards on 12 carries against the Demon Deacons. In fact, Navy is the only team that has run the ball successfully against Wake Forest this season. After a fast start, Scott has gained just 75 yards on 34 carries against Clemson and Virginia in his past two games. Maryland's chances of beating Wake likely depend on whether Scott can reach the 100-yard mark.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Thursday
    Florida State at N.C. State, 7:30 p.m.
    Saturday
    Wake Forest at Maryland, noon
    Georgia Tech at Clemson, noon
    North Carolina at Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
    Miami at Duke, 3:30 p.m.
    Virginia Tech at Boston College, 8 p.m.
    Clemson QB Willy Korn. Korn, a highly touted redshirt freshman, finally makes his first career start Saturday against Georgia Tech as he attempts to save Clemson's season. Korn is stepping in for preseason ACC player of the year Cullen Harper, who was benched after throwing six interceptions and only four touchdown passes in the Tigers' first six games. Korn lacks Harper's experience, but his mobility could give Clemson's offense another dimension. Korn may have to showcase that mobility Saturday against a Georgia Tech defensive line that ranks among the best in the nation. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in tackles for loss and are seventh in sacks.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Duke LB Michael Tauiliili has collected at least 11 tackles in three consecutive games. Florida State's Smith has rushed for seven touchdowns in his past two games. Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan has 3.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and a blocked kick in his past two games. And Tech DE Michael Johnson has 6.5 tackles for loss in his past three games. Maryland LB Alex Wujciak has averaged 11.7 tackles per game in his past three contests. North Carolina RB Shaun Draughn has rushed for a total of 200 yards on 36 carries in his past two games. North Carolina SS Trimane Goddard has three interceptions and a fumble recovery in his past three games. N.C. State WR Owen Spencer has 196 receiving yards in his past two games. Virginia RB Cedric Peerman has run for 283 yards and three touchdowns on only 33 carries the past two weeks. Virginia WR Kevin Ogletree has caught three touchdown passes in his past two games. Virginia LB Clint Sintim has totaled six sacks in his past three games. Sintim ranks fifth in the nation and first among linebackers in sacks per game. Virginia Tech RB Darren Evans has rushed for two touchdowns in back-to-back games. He has scored at least once in each of the Hokies' first six games. Tech DE Orion Martin has at least one sack in three consecutive games. Tech CB Victor Harris has picked off a pass in three consecutive games. And Hokies K Dustin Keys has made 11 consecutive field-goal attempts.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Clemson WR Aaron Kelly has 28 catches for 262 yards and no touchdowns this season. Kelly had 88 receptions for 1,081 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey hasn't caught a pass in back-to-back games. Miami QB Robert Marve has thrown at least two interceptions in three consecutive games. Marve has gone 25-of-59 for 196 yards with five interceptions and one touchdown pass in the past two weeks.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "I think it was deserved. Not because he benched Cullen, he has the right to do that as a head coach. But I had the opportunity to play for Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley and Bum Phillips, and one thing I saw from great leaders is that they didn't try to displace blame on other people. Coach Bowden tried to reflect that it was the players' fault, assistant coaches, sacrificed people in order to save his skin, and I have a feeling you don't do that. Anybody in leadership role I own my company with 200 employees, and if I have a problem on the job, it's me who accepts responsibility, takes care of it. Anytime you have a coach who doesn't, players and coaches start watching their backs."
    Jeff Harper, the father of Cullen Harper, to the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail after Bowden's departure.

    "I've worked my whole life to lead a team. I'm not perfect. I don't claim to be perfect. I'm going to make some mistakes, but I promise you I'll make them full speed. There will be one gear wide open and that's the way I expect the team to play. We may make some mistakes, but I promise you we'll make them full speed.''
    Clemson's Swinney.

    "I don't have to worry about him beating me no more, I know that, unless he gets his golf game a little bit sharper. (Administrations) aren't as patient as they used to be. It's the way our profession is. Tommy has got his priorities right. That's one thing about him. He didn't let football be his god."
    Florida State coach Bobby Bowden to The Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat about his son's departure.

    "This is just one little bump in the road. Am I going to overcome it, or am I going to let it get to me?"
    North Carolina WR Brandon Tate to the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer after learning he would miss the rest of his senior season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament. Tate ranked third in the nation in all-purpose yardage before hurting his knee last week in a 29-24 victory over Notre Dame.

    "It's not the same Duke team everyone used to push over, run over. We know this is going to be a tough game going up to their place. We're getting ourselves prepared just like a Florida, Florida State game.''
    Miami TB Javarris James to CaneSport.com about the Hurricanes' game Saturday at Duke.

    "There is no clear-cut favorite."
    Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski discussing the ACC race to The Boston Globe.

    "There's no reason why we can't be on top of the ACC. Can we compete every year? Well, I hope so. If I hadn't thought that, I wouldn't have come here. There's no reason why Georgia Tech can't be right there in the conference.''
    Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  • ETC.
  • Wake Forest K Sam Swank probably will miss his second consecutive game with a strained quadriceps muscle. Shane Popham replaced Swank last week and went 2-of-4 on field-goal attempts in a 12-7 win over Clemson. Popham missed field goals from 25 and 39 yards last week. Miami's James is expected to play this week after missing four games with a high ankle sprain. Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt is expected to start Saturday at Clemson after missing two games with a strained right hamstring. Clemson G Barry Humphries has returned to practice for the first time since suffering a slightly torn ACL in the season opener. Humphries said this week he is at about 75 percent. North Carolina LB Quan Sturdivant's 32-yard interception return against Notre Dame marked the Tar Heels' fourth touchdown on an interception return this season. UNC leads the nation with 14 interceptions. Georgia Tech OT Andrew Gardner has started 45 consecutive games. That ties him with Houston LB Cody Lubojasky, Wisconsin G Kraig Urbik and Central Michigan OT Andrew Hartline for the longest string of consecutive starts in the nation.

  • ACC MIDSEASON REPORT
  • BEST GAME: North Carolina 28, Miami 24, Sept. 27. North Carolina rallied from an early 14-0 deficit when third-string QB Cam Sexton came off the bench and threw two touchdown passes in the last nine minutes, but the drama didn't end until the final play. The Heels' victory wasn't secure until SS Trimane Goddard snatched the ball from Miami WR Kayne Farquharson in the end zone as time expired.

    BEST REMAINING GAME: Virginia Tech at Florida State, Oct. 25. The Seminoles probably need to win the rest of their ACC games to have any realistic hope of overtaking Wake Forest in the Atlantic Division standings. A victory over the Hokies at Doak Campbell Stadium possibly could set the stage for a rematch in the title game in Tampa.

    BEST PLAYER: North Carolina SS Trimane Goddard. Is he really the ACC's best player? No. But it's hard to argue that anyone else has been more valuable. Goddard is tied for the NCAA lead with four interceptions and has displayed a knack for coming up huge in big situations. Goddard made that game-clinching interception against Miami and also had the decisive fumble recovery last week in the Tar Heels' victory over Notre Dame.

    BEST COACHING JOB: North Carolina's Butch Davis. This award just as easily could have gone to Duke's David Cutcliffe, but we instead will honor the guy in charge of the team that's playing as well as anyone in the league despite losing starting QB T.J. Yates to an ankle injury. Davis relied on plenty of underclassmen last season during a 4-8 campaign, but that strategy is paying huge dividends this season.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Clemson QB Cullen Harper. He's gone from preseason conference player of the year to midseason second-string quarterback on his own team.

    MOST SURPRISING UNIT: Georgia Tech offensive backfield. We figured Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson would need a couple of recruiting classes to find the right talent for his run-oriented system, but it turns out the Yellow Jackets already have a few ideal fits on their roster. Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw give Georgia Tech two effective option quarterbacks, and Jonathan Dwyer may be the most dynamic running back in the conference.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING UNIT: Clemson offense. Clemson seemed to have the best quarterback (Harper), the two top running backs (James Davis and C.J. Spiller) and the best wide receiver (Aaron Kelly) in the league. How are these guys only averaging 15.3 points per game against FBS teams?

    COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Maryland's Ralph Friedgen. The coach on the hottest seat left this week, which leaves Friedgen facing the most pressure of anyone in the league. Maryland has one winning season in the past four years and has been maddeningly inconsistent this season. The Terps beat previously undefeated California but also lost to Middle Tennessee and fell 31-0 to Virginia.

    MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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