From Inside Death Valley

I was afforded the opportunity to get back to Death Valley last Saturday, for the game versus the 4-0 Boston College Eagles.  I’m spoiled.  I have had access to really good football tickets for the better part of the last ten years.  Pretty much whenever I wanted to go to a game tickets were available.  I cannot thank my friends enough for allowing me that privilege, and it’s certainly not lost on me at all.

But I’m not here to tout the ability to make life-long friendships with my amazing charm.  (haha)

I’m on record many times, in saying how much I enjoy and have enjoyed the game with BC.  My brother’s family lives in Massachusetts, somewhat near Boston, so I have made the voyage to the northeast every other year (before this and last year’s scheduling snafu), and have made it a family gathering of sorts.  Plus, I thoroughly enjoy tailgating there and really just being on that campus.  Heck, we use the restrooms literally in the school’s library, and park in a parking garage.  It’s completely different than anything that we’re used to at Clemson or at other southern schools, save Georgia Tech.  I enjoy the change, and it’s usually a little crisp October day and the people are generally very good people, so that equates to it being highly enjoyable for me.  

As a kid that grew up in the northeast, it was instilled in me to despise the Boston fans of all sports, however, my experience with Boston College fans has been the antithesis of all of the other sports in that city.  But I digress.

The game ended up in the favor of our beloved Tigers by the score of 19-13, and a similar start happened from earlier games in the season.  A little trickery to start the game with an end around counter play to Justyn Ross made it seem like the playbook was about to be opened and a little creativity was going to be the theme of the night.  Not necessarily the case as stints of complete ineptitude seemingly crept back into the night, surrounded by glimpses of the greatness of the last ten plus years.

During the second series, Kobe Pace took a handoff 59 yards and it felt that the Tigers were on their way from completely dominating BC.  Even the offensive line looked dominant, and that defense.  Good LORD! This year’s defense is special.  I’m not going to recap the game for you, as you’ve read earlier, the score was 19-13, so it was the furthest thing from a dominating performance. 

However, from inside the stadium, in section D, row GG, Seat 22, I saw an offense that showed glimpses of getting better.  This was, by far, the best performance by the offensive line on the season.  They mixed and matched, subbed religiously, and seemed to get a nice flow.  Pace and Phil Mafah had some lanes to run through and Mafah showed his speed on those runs on the edge.  Which leads me to my only gripe about the offensive play-calling, albeit I’m not a football mind at all, and offensive coordinators at the lowest levels of football know more than I.  BUT, when Clemson would sprint out DJ and have Mafah there for a pitch to hit the edge hard, it worked…EVERY TIME (ok, there were only three or four times they did some variation of that play, but still).  So, again, novice mind here, but why would you not go to that play more.  Now I’m not saying to do it every play or even every other play, but every drive.  Especially because it was getting 8-12 yards a clip.  Mafah averaged 8.3 yards per carry on 7 carries.  Pace had nearly 150 yards, and the running game seemed to work the best it has all year so far.  Even DJ got into the mix and probably had opportunities to do more, which he will.

I don’t do this little fun column to talk stats, rather, I want to give you my .02, hence the title of this mess.  And as I am apt to do, I start to write about my experience in Death Valley this past weekend, and ended up doing exactly what I hate to do.  

Ok, now that all that word-salad has been stated, here is the point of this thing.  I did not really like my experience in the Valley at all on Saturday.  It reminded me of the Bowden Days, completely.  Now I know that has been extremely over-stated, because the talent on the team from those days is nowhere near where it is today.  So that’s not what I am talking about.  I am talking about the negativity around me in the stands.  It was eerily all too reminiscent of the days of yore.  

The gentleman directly behind me continually knocked EVERYTHING DJ did, even the good.  He found a way to disparage even the good throws and runs.  The husband and wife to my left clamored for any one of the back-up quarterbacks to be in the game.  Again, just like the West and Bowden eras.  It was just complete negativity from the opening kickoff.  And as much as I enjoyed being back in the Valley, I have not missed all the armchair quarterbacks adding their .02 to every play.  We get it Mr. Armchair qb, you paid for your ticket, so you can say whatever you like, but goodness gracious, it’s not all that bad.

We, as fans, get to go to 6 or 7 home games a year.  Some, that are lucky enough, can get to some or all of the away games.  I have had the pleasure of going to every game one year, regardless of location and it was glorious, and it was during the Bowden era, and it was still glorious.  And the criticism for the play was warranted back then.  You never knew what you were going to get from week to week.  The fans favorite player was always the backup quarterback.  

I started my fandom in 1995, as a freshman.  Again, a kid from the northeast really didn’t follow Clemson at all.  I was 4 in 1981 and was not yet a fan of college nor pro football yet.  And when I learned what college football was in 1988, my cousin was on the University of Miami roster, so that became my favorite team.  And they won, and won, and won during my tenure as a fan.  Fast forward to 1995 and my introduction to what would become my obsession as a Clemson student and Clemson athletics fanatic.  

In 1995, Nealon Greene was the starter and when he was not doing something well, the fans were clamoring for Freshmen sensations Billy Luckie and/or Brandon Streeter.  When Streeter was the starter, the fans wanted to see Woody Dantzler, and then Dantzler entered the mix and everyone wanted Willie Simmons, and the trend continued until Deshawn Watson took the reins from Cole Stoudt.  Clemson fans have had an embarrassment of riches with the last two quarterbacks, so the chatter about the backup had seemingly stopped.  

Welp, it’s back, and it really, really sucks.

My .02 this week is that Clemson fans are certainly allowed to be upset that the team is not scoring at will, as has been the case in the last 10+ years.  Heck, the West Virginia Orange Bowl was tied at 28 before the #train came off the tracks and started the build-up of the run of success for the Tigers.  

I think we have to stop, smell the roses and realize that this run is not over by any stretch.  130 teams in Division 1 would love to be where Clemson is currently.  There is a reason that Clemson gets talked about by the national media when they drop out of the top 25 for the first time since 2014.  Because Clemson has become a household name, a brand, one of the top 3 programs in the country for a decade, so it is a big deal when they struggle.  I said it in my column last week that this is truly a rebuilding year, and Clemson fans are not used to that.  

I sat in that stadium, listened to the critiques by overly critical, sometimes extremely ignorant fellow fans and chuckled.  I didn’t like it, but I literally laughed.  Maybe maniacally, maybe with a scoff, of that I’m not sure, but one thing I knew for sure was that no matter what the result, there are always people who want more.  

During the final drive for BC, I left my seats to meet up with a family friend who was standing behind the band.  Another New Jersey person, and Boston College football alumni.  His daughter goes to Clemson, and he was there just to visit her and see a game.  He said something to me about how nerve-wracked I must be, and I told him, and I truly mean this, I am really enjoying this game.  Yes, there were/are things that Clemson NEEDS to get better at in order to compete as the season wears on.  However, I am at peace with this team as it builds back up.  It’s ok to have a “down” year, and presumably be 10-2 or 9-3.  To want more from those records is something that Clemson fans should expect, no question about it.  But not remembering the journey is just downright greedy.

That game Saturday reminded me of a game in the early part of this new “rivalry” with BC up in Chestnut Hill, with everyone’s favorite Ron Cherry as the head referee after Matt Ryan had graduated and went on to the NFL.  2010 – Chase Rettig was the QB for the Eagles and led his team to a 16-10 victory over Kyle Parker, Andre Ellington, Dwayne Allen and others on that roster.  It was ugly all the way around.  Penalties, short drives, could not get anything going on the ground.  Me getting into a verbal spat with a couple of 40-something BC fans.  You know, the usual.

So as I stood, watching the end, talking to my family friend, I said to him, “I’ve been through these days before.  I know it can, and will get better.”  And quite honestly, I truly, truly believe that.  

We’ll be talking more about this game and many others around the country on Sluggo.  Check us out.

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