Clemson University

Tigers need to address special teams woes

CLEMSON -- Seriously, Tommy Bowden, when is enough enough?

How much longer are you going to let your special teams cost Clemson games? There's something to be said for sticking to your guns, I suppose -- you said last year your father coached his own special teams for years and you didn't really feel the need for hiring one coach just for special teams.

Well, the need for some kind of change is evident, coach. The Tigers' special teams are awful, horrendous, ridiculously bad -- and after a second straight game where Clemson lost because of it, the question is raging.

What's the problem, and why isn't something being done to fix it?

"I think what I need to do, obviously, is maybe take them in practice," Bowden said Saturday, minutes after Virginia Tech finished brutalizing Clemson for 278 yards in kick returns, including touchdown runs of 82 and 100 yards. "I got to throw them back on myself."

Now, not all of special teams are completely lost. Punter Jimmy Maners is having a great season and place-kicker Mark Buchholz's struggles are a bit over-dramaticized. He's missed six of his 15 field goal attempts, true, but four of them were from 47 yards or beyond.

But, geez. The rest of it, including the coverages, snapping and tackling, is really, really, really bad. And now it's putting losses on the schedule.

It was a problem last year, so you hired Andre Powell as your running backs coach. You needed someone to fill the hole and figured Powell's expertise on special teams at North Carolina was a perfect 2-for-1 deal.

Problem's still there, coach. Powell can't be held solely accountable for lousy tackling, but it's obvious the running game's taking precedence in his and your everyday gameplan.

"We can't invest any more time," you say. "We're just going to have to continue to use different personnel. We've used pretty much everybody we have on the team."

Better try again.

It's probably not a good idea to attempt to hire a special teams coach in the middle of the season. Not many established guys -- and this problem is way too important to trust to some wet-behind-the-ears rookie -- are going to jump ship this time of year.

But I suggest you make a list now, Tommy, of guys who are reputed special teams masterminds, and offer them their own Lake Hartwell property and a stake in the Esso Club for 2008.

About the only hope for this year, besides wishing for a completed tackle once in a blue moon, is to put every kick out of bounds. Better to take the penalty than give up another touchdown, I say.

If not, this is going to happen again, and again and again. With the Tigers already in danger of falling out of contention for the ACC title and every kick returner left on the schedule licking his chops, there's not much time to keep fooling around.

I'm not the first to take this shot, coach -- ESPN analyst Lee Corso said Saturday that Clemson's special teams were the worst in college football history. Not that I pay much attention to Corso, but he's seeing what everybody else is seeing, which is a blueprint on how to beat Clemson.

Waiting for you to come into the postgame press conference Saturday, I saw Shane Beamer, son of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, waiting to congratulate his dad. I'm pointing this out because I'm sure the younger Beamer's head was cataloguing your team's special teams woes for his job -- co-special teams coordinator at arch-rival South Carolina.

"It's very frustrating," you said. "We couldn't play a normal game because we dug ourselves a hole with special teams."

Coach, I know your pride would take a serious blow if you buckled and hired a special teams coach. Being a rather stubborn individual myself, I completely understand.

But put it this way. It would give you a scapegoat instead of making you the target.

And after Saturday, I can see it re-growing on your back.