Hard lessons to learn

Originally Published: September 13, 2004
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Having foregone its Friday night movie to watch the Florida State-Miami game, Clemson proved itself an apt student of the wrong lessons. The Tigers, playing Georgia Tech, duplicated the Seminoles' attempt to fashion the most painful loss possible. Already, the Atlantic Coast Conference race is turning in unforeseen ways.

Florida State coughed up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, gave up the tying touchdown with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, and lost in overtime at Miami 16-10. Bad, but not as gut-wrenching as Clemson, which on Saturday night coughed up a 10-point lead at home in the final 1:50 and lost 28-24.

Calvin Johnson and Georgia Tech stole a win from Clemson.
Midnight Madness on consecutive weekend nights proved to be a windfall for the insomniac college football fan, not only with the two games above but Texas' 22-20 victory at Arkansas, the first regular-season non-conference loss for Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt in his seven seasons in Fayetteville. Not all of those wins came against Louisiana-Monroe, either.

Texas tailback Cedric Benson rushed for 186 yards, his second consecutive game in the 180s. The Longhorns performed a 180 of their own in holding off the Hawgs, who had beaten them soundly, 38-28, in Austin a year ago. Benson's Heisman candidacy will have to wait a few weeks to get wings. Texas is off this Saturday before playing Rice and Baylor in the two weeks after. Benson in particular, like Texas in general, will have to prove himself against Oklahoma.

The defeat of Arkansas was a good omen, and if you don't believe in such ephemera as omens and momentum, you must be a football coach, perhaps even a Bowden. Father Bobby at Florida State and son Tommy at Clemson suffered the ultimate football nightmare. They now must scour their coaching knowledge to find a way to induce collective amnesia in their players.

That won't be easy for either team. Clemson had a second-and-1 at its 37-yard-line and could not convert. Tommy Bowden sent the punt team on the field. Fifth-year senior Geoff Rigsby had nearly completed his 28th game as long snapper without a hitch. But this snap made it about halfway to punter Cole Chason, who chased the ball back to the 11 and fell on it.

If Chason had had the presence of mind and the good bounces to get to the ball and fling it out of the end zone, Georgia Tech would have gotten a safety but Clemson would have been allowed a free kick from the 20. But that scenario is the desperate hope of a frustrated Tigers fan, and Tommy Bowden didn't waste a lot of time fretting over the botched play.

"There were a lot of plays in the game where we could have clinched the game. It never should have gotten to the bad punt," Bowden said. "We never should have had to punt the ball."

With 16 seconds left to play, Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball threw the winning touchdown on the first snap, a play that confirmed that Yellow Jacket freshman wideout Calvin Johnson is worth keeping an eye on. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Johnson, a local (Tyrone, Ga.) prize and nationally sought player last February, caught the pass at least two feet above the head of Clemson junior corner Justin Miller, who is 5-11 in his heart and in the program. The 18-year-old Johnson finished with eight catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns.

Clemson and Florida State find themselves in the uncomfortable position of preparing for an ACC elimination game on Sept. 25 in Tallahassee. The loser will have two league losses and be at the mercy of an untold number of twists and turns to stay in contention for the championship (gentlemen, start your tiebreakers). The loser will have to rely on guts and faith, which is where the Bowden family began last week.

The death of 15-year-old Bowden Madden, Bobby's grandson and Tommy's nephew, in an automobile accident reveals the true meaning of tragedy. That perspective should bolster the Florida State and Clemson teams and their fans. Football losses are never tragic.

Even if you grant the hyperbolic use of the word to these games, it shouldn't apply to a loss in the second week of the season. Florida State fell only to eighth in the polls, Clemson to 25th. There is plenty of time. The only thing there's a lot less of is margin for error.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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