CLEMSON — Sitting in Alumni Stadium’s press box Saturday afternoon, staring at the grey, pea-soup skies and rows upon rows of empty metal bleachers, a feeling of déjà vu entered my head.
This was the same way I felt two years ago here, and three years ago inside Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.
The atmosphere was less than electric. At the moment, it wasn’t even plugged in. There couldn’t have been a sharper departure from last week’s prime-time, ABC, Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit-called showdown at Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium, with the national spotlight and 85,000 rabid fans in town.
The only thing missing was Admiral Ackbar looming in the next row, screaming: “It’s a trap!”
Boston College is fighting to keep Frank Spaziani and his glorious Tom Selleck-like mustache on campus for another year, and the Eagles have a potent passing combo in quarterback Chase Rettig and wide receiver Alex Amidon.
It was the perfect setup for Clemson to pull what some college football pundits call a “Clemsoning” – i.e., losing a game no one reasonably expects you to lose to an inferior opponent.
As Simpsons icon Troy McClure might say, you might remember it from such games as Duke 2004, Maryland 2006 or N.C. State 2011.
For a half, the Tigers appeared well on their way; an ill-timed double-throwback pass sabotaged momentum built by a 17-7 start and turned it into a 21-17 second-quarter deficit.
Those “here we go again” feelings cropped up. Just as quick, Clemson smashed them with a 13-play, 76-yard touchdown drive for a halftime lead.
The rest was typical Chad Morris offense: prop up a struggling defense by simply outscoring your opponent.
When the final totals revealed 576 total yards – the 10th-best single-game total in program history – Morris didn’t even seem all that happy, focusing on missed opportunities and short-yardage failures.
Just another day.
That’s the reality of this team: they’re quite strong mentally. Beaten by a better opponent in Florida State, the Tigers refused to feel sorry for themselves and showed that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of this season.
Think about it: are there any ACC teams beyond the Seminoles that look remotely frightening?
Virginia Tech – last seen taking a second beatdown at the Tigers’ hands in Charlotte – appears to be working on a Big East appeasement mission with losses to Pitt and Cincinnati.
Longtime nemesis Georgia Tech will limp into Death Valley with the millstone of a 21-point loss to Middle Tennessee hanging around its neck; the Yellow Jackets can’t stop anyone.
Wake Forest is an average Wake Forest outfit which just lost its best receiver, Michael Campanaro, to a broken hand.
Duke could have a shot at a bowl bid, but the Blue Devils don’t have Clemson’s talent level.
Maryland is Maryland. Enough said.
N.C. State was supposed to be the ACC’s breakout team after finishing last season with a rout of Clemson and a Belk Bowl win. Instead, the Wolfpack have taken a step back and also appear to have defensive issues.
It is entirely reasonable to look at the remaining schedule and project a 10-1 record when the Old Ball Coach and South Carolina come calling Thanksgiving weekend in what looks like one of the rivalry’s biggest showdowns yet.
Brent Venables’ defense remains a liability; afterward, the first-year defensive coordinator said he was “embarrassed” by his unit’s perpetual lack of fundamentals.
With an offense this potent, does it really matter? Morris’ system, with its exciting pieces and fast-paced tempo, can score on just about anyone. It’s on the defense to ease their burden, but it is difficult to see a game left on the schedule that this team can’t win.
Thanks to Florida State, they no longer control their ACC destiny. But no one is saying it won’t be a whole lot of fun to watch.