Clemson University

Tigers look for answers after sloppy loss

Clemson cornerback Haydrian Lewis will miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL.
Clemson cornerback Haydrian Lewis will miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL.

CLEMSON -- By the time Clemson coach Tommy Bowden addresses the team today, he hopes to find a happy medium between the panic and parity buttons.

On one hand, the list of areas in which the Tigers made critical and repeated errors in their 13-3 meltdown at Georgia Tech substantiated Bowden again labeling the performance "a total malfunction" Sunday.

On the other, comfort might be found in the company of misery. Six of the nation's top-13 ranked teams were upset during the weekend, creating a mass reshuffling that dropped Clemson (4-1, 2-1 ACC) nine spots to No. 22.

"What I have to do a good job of is, 'Let's correct our mistakes and get better,'" Bowden said. "You've got to make sure you keep things in context.

"Georgia Tech is going to be as good, if not better, than Colorado, Kansas State, Auburn -- some of these teams that upset the top-five teams in the country. So I've got to keep it in that perspective. There's a fine line you walk."

Finding that balance figures to begin with Bowden reinforcing that the Tigers remain still in the thick of the conference race heading into Saturday's 6 p.m. game against No. 15 Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0), although just with less room for future error.

A team has not won the ACC without a regular-season conference loss since 2000, and in the two seasons since the league split into divisions, the Atlantic Division champ has registered at least two conference defeats.

The only unbeaten remaining in the division is Boston College (3-0 ACC), which has two more nonconference games before hitting a challenging stretch run featuring road games at Virginia Tech, Clemson and Maryland and home games against Florida State and Miami.

Staying relevant to the conversation will likely require the Tigers to correct their Georgia Tech shortcomings -- or at least prevent them from all snowballing in unison once again.

Bowden counted eight dropped passes, which he presumed a team-high during his nine-year tenure. Blame for the six sacks -- four by middle linebacker Philip Wheeler -- were spread around among the offensive line and quarterback Cullen Harper.

Bowden said the staff would continue to evaluate the offensive line, where sophomore center Barry Humphries has struggled to hold ground at the point of attack. The Tigers are reluctant to use their second-stringer, right guard Thomas Austin, because of the discrepancy in the quality of his and Humphries' snaps, Bowden said.

The open date after this weekend's game should help rest tailback James Davis, who has appeared to favor his right shoulder the last two weeks but denied injury.

On the front burner, though, are special teams, which suffered a pair of breakdowns that led to 10 of Georgia Tech's 13 points while costing Clemson another 12.

Unlike last season, when dismal kickoff coverage and place kicker Jad Dean's eroding confidence festered, there has been no common thread among this year's special teams miscues.

"Every year it's going to be something on defense, something on offense and something on special teams," Bowden said. "You've got 30-some plays of special teams, you're not going to be perfect.

"There are going to be some next year, I'll go ahead and warn you. There will be something that breaks down on special teams and there will be a game we won't run on offense and there will be a game on defense where we don't stop third-down conversions."

That being the case, Bowden embarrassingly admitted spending all of Saturday night and a portion of church Sunday morning trying to figure out the most effective approach to handling two-sport kicker Mark Buchholz, who missed his final four field goals against the Yellow Jackets and is 5-for-11 the last two games.

Because nearly all of Buchholz's kicks have had enough distance, Bowden believes the stress and fatigue in Buchholz's schedule might be playing a role in his errant accuracy.

Three of the last four weekends, Buchholz has flown or ridden across state lines from a Friday night soccer match to join the football team for an afternoon game.

Also, under the current agreement with soccer coach Trevor Adair, Buchholz -- who switched from partial soccer scholarship to a full football ride this fall -- has done all his kicking early in football practices, then departed to soccer practice on an adjacent field.

Bowden said he plans to approach Adair about tweaking the routine in order to intersperse field goals during football practice and perhaps give Buchholz additional rest.

"This is unchartered waters," Bowden said. "I'm sure we will work something out."

• LEWIS OUT: Haydrian Lewis, who had risen from preseason afterthought to Clemson's No. 3 cornerback, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Georgia Tech and will miss the rest of the season.

Lewis, a junior from Charleston, is not eligible for a medical hardship waiver because he played in all five games, one above the minimum.

His absence figures to mean increased playing time for freshman Marcus Gilchrist.