Tigers' first game was all-too familiar

CLEMSON -- If Clemson had finished its epic first-half performance Monday with a dominating win over Florida State, it just wouldn't be Clemson football.

Instead, we were all treated to what we've become accustomed to when watching the Tigers -- a team that can be so breathtakingly good that it will make your head spin, and a team that can cause your head to meet a brick wall one game, or one half, later.

Monday started out as the kind of game it's a joy to write about. Local team destroys ranked favorite, gets a leg up in the conference standings, even a nice little sidebar about Rock Hill's own Jimmy Maners making, in the words of teammate Phillip Merling, the play of the game.

It was over, completed, finished. The Tigers led 24-3 at the half and were crushing Florida State up front. Seminoles quarterback Drew Weatherford was doing his impersonation of a punching bag, closely followed by the rest of FSU's offensive line.

Thank the good Lord computers come with a "delete" key. It was used heavily between halftime, when my story was ready except for the final score, and 11:50 p.m., when I was putting the finishing touches on the fourth draft of the same story, all of them completely different.

I'm not complaining -- that's the job. I'm kicking myself for stupidly believing Clemson would continue the drubbing it started, like I didn't learn anything from watching the Tigers play the last three years.

It's a day later and I'm still trying to figure out what I witnessed. Stats and play-by-play only tell so much, and the furious scribbling on my notepad resembles a Jackson Pollock painting.

Somehow, a Tigers squad that allowed one -- one! -- first down and a paltry 62 yards in the entire first half was completely obliterated in the second. What happened?

Bad Gatorade? Got lost going to the locker room? Found out Danny Ford's favorite hog died?

Yes, there were some injuries to the Tigers' offensive line and that could somewhat explain why a unit that had 210 yards at the half only got 82 afterwards. And the defense took a hit too, losing tackle Rashaad Jackson and cornerback Chris Chancellor in the second quarter.

But two players made that much difference? Two players' absence allowed FSU's O-line, after a half of getting dragged through the turf, to suddenly turn into cement pillars?

The Seminoles belted the Tigers in the mouth the whole second half, posting 194 yards and 15 points while holding Clemson's offense scoreless. And then there they were, down six with only 31 yards to go for the tying touchdown and probably the go-ahead PAT.

I can only imagine what would have happened if FSU would have won. Tommy Bowden probably would be floating down the Savannah River on a railroad tie and the Upstate would be lost to a tremendous earthquake of displaced rage, for starters.

Clemson's problem the last three years has been inconsistency, and it seemed as if Monday's first half had solved it. There were no more lingering questions of whether Cullen Harper could be the Tigers' quarterback; if losing Gaines Adams would massacre the defense; if Clemson's special teams could ever be a top-notch unit.

But then there was that second half. Harper regressed from a good first half; the defense completely fell apart and the special teams, well, they were special in name only.

Clemson won, 24-18, and began the season 1-0. Looking at the schedule, the Tigers will most likely be 4-0 going into a tough match at Georgia Tech on Sept. 29.

That is, until one thinks of Monday and how Clemson almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

But then again, if they won every week, it wouldn't be as much fun.

It'd just be boring.


• When: 1 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

• TV: None

• Tickets: Available at 1-800-CLEMSON