Dec. 10, 2000
Clemson enters the Gator Bowl with a 9-2 record, its best regular season mark since 1991 when Clemson won the ACC championship with a 9-1-1 record. Clemson posted a 6-2 ledger in the ACC, its second consecutive second-place finish under Tommy Bowden.
For the second consecutive year under Bowden, Clemson improved by three victories, just the third time in school history that Clemson has increased its victory total by at least three wins in consecutive years.
This Clemson team is as honored as any Tiger team in the last 20 years, or dating to the school’s 1981 National Championship season. The team boasts four All-Americans, six first-team All-ACC players, two more second-team All-ACC performers, two first-team academic All-Americans (only Division I program to do that), and five players who were finalists or semifinalists for national position awards.
The 2000 season saw Clemson sprint to an 8-0 record and number-three national ranking (October 15, USA Today), Clemson’s first 8-0 start since that 1981 season that saw the Tigers go 12-0. The Tigers then dealt with a two-game losing streak, a last second loss to Georgia Tech, and a 47-point defeat at National Championship finalist Florida State. The Tigers came back to defeat 25th-ranked and archrival South Carolina, 16-14.
Overall, Clemson is a young squad and the outlook for the 2001 season is bright. The roster heading into the bowl contains 15 scholarship seniors, and nine of them are starters. However, many of Clemson’s top players, including second-team All-America center Kyle Young, Davey O’Brien semifinalist Woodrow Dantzler, Butkus Award finalist Chad Carson, first-team All-ACC cornerback Alex Ardley, and career touchdown leader Travis Zachery, are all juniors.
Clemson began the season ranked 17th by AP and 19th by USA Today/ESPN heading into the season. The Tigers are 13th by USA Today and 16th by AP entering the Gator Bowl. A victory would give Clemson of its first 10-win season since 1990 and its first top 20 finish since 1991.
Offense Clemson’s offense established 34 team and individual offensive records this year, including most points scored, most touchdowns and total offense per game. The Tigers are a balanced unit, one of just six teams nationally to average at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game. Overall, Tommy Bowden’s team averages 446.5 yards per game.
The leader of the Clemson offense is Woodrow Dantzler, a candidate for the Heisman Trophy at midseason. An injury to his left lower leg at North Carolina in the season’s eighth game limited his effective for a three-game period (games 8 through 10) and took him out of the running.
The native of Orangeburg, SC had been averaging close to 300 yards a game of total offense prior to the injury, then failed to reach 100 yards in that category in three consecutive games when he was trying to play with the injury.
Dantzler will require surgery after the bowl game and he will not be 100 percent for the Virginia Tech game, but he will start. He did make it through entire game in the victory over South Carolina and gained 265 yards of total offense.
Dantzler set 16 Clemson records this season, including most total offense (2638 yards), most yards rushing by a quarterback (947) and most touchdowns rushing and passing in a season (23). He ranked 47th in the nation in rushing and 21st in passing efficiency.
At midseason and in 100 percent health, Dantzler had four consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing and 300 yards of total offense, believed to be the first quarterback in college football history to do that. His breakout game came at Virginia when he rushed for 220 and passes for 154 in a 31-10 Clemson win.
He enters the Gator Bowl needing just 102 yards of total offense to become the fourth player in Clemson history to reach 5000 yards in a career. For the season, Dantzler completed 122 of 212 passes for 1691 yards and 10 touchdowns. He completed 57.5 percent of his passes and through just six interceptions.
When Dantzler can’t go, the Tigers have an effective backup in Willie Simmons, a red-shirt freshman from Quincy, FL. Simmons played in eight games, all in reserve, and completed 36-80 passes for 616 yards and seven touchdowns. He threw just two interceptions and averaged 17.1 yards per completion. He came off the bench for an injured Dantzler to throw four touchdown passes at North Carolina, tying a school single game record.
Dantzler has some options in the Clemson offense. The Tigers ranked 10th in the nation in rushing this season and the Tiger quarterback had a lot to do with that ranking. But, so did first-team All-ACC running back Travis Zachery, who had 1012 yards on the ground this year, Clemson’s ninth 1000-yard season in history.
Zachery did not built his stats with one or two big games. The junior who was a mid-season addition to the Doak Walker Award list, had just three games of at least 100 yards, but was never held below 67 yards all season. He has been a touchdown machine, already setting the Clemson career record with 38, 33 rushing and five receiving. He has 33 touchdowns over his last 22 regular season game. He had 17 touchdowns this year (13 rushing and four receiving) to tie Lester Brown’s Clemson single season record.
Zachery is almost as effective a receiver as he is a rusher. He ranks second on the team in receptions (27), reception yards (288) and reception touchdowns (4). He is Clemson’s career leader in receptions by a running back (58). Also capable as a kick returner, his 1330 all-purpose yards led the Clemson team.
Dantzler and Zachery have combined for 1959 of Clemson’s 2600 yards rushing this season. Keith Kelly is third on the team in rushing with 240 yards, but he has played in just six games. Bernard Rambert has 215 yards and four touchdowns as Zachery’s primary backup. Fullback Terry Witherspoon has started four games and played in all 11 games and is an outstanding blocker, a trait that may get him a spot in the NFL next season.
The receiving corps is led by first-team All-American (Gannett News Service) Rod Gardner. The master of catching the “50-50” ball in traffic, Gardner needs just four receptions in the Gator Bowl to become Clemson’s career leader. He leads the team in receptions this year with 51 for 956 yards and six scores.
Gardner, a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, caught 80 passes last year to set a school record and recorded the school’s first 1000-yard season. He has increased his yards per reception from 14 to 18.7 and has 19 catches for 20 yards or more. His 50-yard reception with 10 seconds left against South Carolina was a play Clemson fans will remember for years to come. It set up Aaron Hunt’s winning field goal.
Gardner started the season with just 19 catches through the first five games, but came on strong to catch 32 passes for 676 yards and four touchdowns through the last six contests. He set a Clemson record with 182 receiving yards at North Carolina and tied a school record with three touchdown receptions in that contest.
Woodrow Dantzler, had 24 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns, third on the Clemson team in all areas. He had 4-76 and a touchdown in the win at North Carolina. He also is one of Clemson’s top kickoff return men.
Watts will tie the Clemson record for games played when he steps on the field in the Gator Bowl, as it will be his 48th career contest. Clemson’s nominee for the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award has had six knee operations since he has been at Clemson. The son of a high school coach, Watts has 18 catches for 175 yards, including a career high six catches at Florida State. He earned his degree from Clemson on December 21st.
Kevin Youngblood has started four games at wide receiver and the 6-5 freshman looks to be one of Clemson’s big play receivers next year. A native of Jacksonville and from the same high school as Gardner, Youngblood caught a pair of touchdown passes this year and averaged 18.4 yards per catch. He is also the top gunner on Clemson’s punt return defense and has twice stopped opposing punt returners for negative returns.
Joe Don Reames is another reserve wide receiver who figures to see action against Virginia Tech. He has four receptions for the season and is a very effective punt returner. Matt Bailey has nine catches for 121 yards, but will not play in the bowl game after having surgery in December to correct a tendon problem on his left hand. Tight end Morgan Woodward has four catches for 89 yards and two scores, but has now caught a pass since September.
Clemson ranks 10th in the nation in total offense, 14th in scoring,10th in rushing and 23rd in passing efficiency and the play of the offensive line has as much to do with that as anything. The Tigers feature a relatively small offensive line, as the five starters average 271.6 pounds per man. But, they are in outstanding condition and set the pace for the Clemson attack that never huddles.
The Clemson line is an intelligent group. Four of the six players with the most playing time already will have their undergraduate degrees when Clemson and Virginia Tech kickoff.
The Clemson offensive line is led by Kyle Young, a second-team All-American on the field and first-team Academic All-American in the classroom. A two-time ACC Player of the Week selection, he was named second-team All-American by Football News and was a third-team choice by Sporting News. Young, a first-team All-ACC selection with a 3.97 career GPA, set a record for knockdown blocks by a Clemson center with 112 and he was the line’s highest graded blocker in nine of the 11 games.
Will Merritt was a second-team All-ACC selection this year. The starting offensive guard was second on the club in knockdown blocks with 72, including a career high 20 in the win over NC State, his best game of the season. Merritt was one of 40 midseason selections as an Outland Trophy candidate.
Theo Mougros, also a Clemson graduate, is the other starter at offensive guard. A second-team All-ACC choice by The Sporting News, Mougros has served Clemson as a fullback, defensive tackle and offensive guard in his career. He had 62 knockdown blocks and started all 11 games this season. The native of Tarpon Springs, FL will play his final college game in his home state.
T.J. Watkins is another versatile offensive lineman. He has started at guard and tackle over his career, but started 10 games at tackle this year. He moved to tackle when it was determined in August that returning starter Akil Smith would be out for the year due to a blood clot in his lung. Smith will return next season.
Gary Byrd started the last two games of the season and three overall at right tackle. The sophomore is the biggest offensive lineman on the Clemson team at 6-4 and 290 pounds. John McDermott started the other eight games and has considerable experience. The graduate student started all 11 games last year and played 923 snaps, a Clemson record regardless of position. Brady Washburn (tackle) and Jermyn Chester (guard) also figure to see some action against Virginia Tech.
Defense Clemson’s defense ranked 18th in the nation against the run and had the 23rd best scoring defense in the nation. Clemson’s pass defense was also ranked among the top 15 in the nation heading into the Georgia Tech game, but the Yellow Jackets and Florida State Seminoles had consecutive record setting passing days that knocked Clemson from the national rankings.
For the season, Clemson gave up 2626 yards passing, but 975 of those yards came in those two games against George Godsey and Chris Weinke, two of the most statistically proficient signal callers in the nation. Clemson gave up just 269 yards of total offense and just 1.8 touchdowns on a per game basis against the other nine opponents.
The Clemson defense featured four first-team All-ACC players, including two who were chosen to All-America teams, Robert Carswell. Clemson had at least one All-ACC player at each level of the defense. The unit forced 23 takeaways, had 92 tackles for loss and 36 sacks.
While Clemson ranked sixth in the ACC in passing yards per game allowed, the Tigers were second in the ACC in pass efficiency defense. Clemson allowed just a 49.6 completion percentage and just nine touchdowns through the air. Clemson was second in the ACC in scoring defense and third in total defense this season.
The top two tacklers on the Clemson team ranked two-three in the ACC and were among the top 15 tacklers in the nation this year. Chad Carson who led the team in tackles with 146. They played against each other and used to tackle each other in high school.
Carson, also a first-team Academic All-American with a 3.94 career grade point average, had 77 first hits and 69 assists this season, as he averaged a tackle every 4.7 snaps. He added three sacks and had double figures in tackles in nine of the 11 games, including a career best 22 tackles in 87 plays against Georgia Tech, his father’s alma mater. Chad added a team best 18 tackles in the regular season finale against South Carolina.
Adams, son of former NFL star Julius Adams, had 138 tackles for the season, including a team best 18 tackles for loss. The junior, who was a finalist for the Butkus and Bednarik Awards, had at least one tackle for loss in 10 of the 11 games and has done so in 22 of his last 23. He had double figures in tackles in 10 of the 11 games. He now has 53 career tackles for loss, third in Clemson history behind the Perry Brothers (Michael Dean and William) and just ahead of Seattle Seahawks starter Anthony Simmons.
Braxton K. Williams is the third linebacker in Clemson’s defensive formation. The third junior starter at that position, Williams has 62 tackles to rank fifth on the team. He has added six tackles for loss, including four sacks. He had a season high nine stops in the win over South Carolina.
Rodney Thomas and Altroy Bodrick are two second-team linebackers who figure to see action. Thomas had 47 tackles for the season to rank eighth on the team. He had 22 on scrimmage plays and 25 on special teams. Bodrick, who started one game and averaged 22 plays a contest, had 39 tackles and tied for the team lead in fumble recoveries with two.
Clemson’s defensive front is balanced and experienced. Clemson Defensive Coordinator Reggie Herring has always used a two-platoon system on the defensive line, so eight different Tigers usually see action along the front four.
Terry Jolly is a first-team All-ACC defensive tackle who had 32 tackles and six tackles for loss this season. He is one of the emotional leaders of the Clemson defense. Classmate Terry Bryant also had 32 tackles this year at defensive end and was an honorable mention All-ACC performer.
Seniors Gary Childress and Freddie James are solid second-team defensive linemen who have been starters at one time or another in their careers. Both will have their degrees by the time Clemson lines up for the Virginia Tech game. Childress had 15 tackles and James had 21 this year.
The future star of the defensive line is Nick Eason, an All-ACC candidate for 2001. The native of Lyons, GA led the Clemson team in sacks this year with seven and had 11 tackles for loss, second best on the team. He had nine tackles, including two for minus yardage against Georgia Tech, then added seven stops against South Carolina. He had 36 tackles overall to lead all Clemson defensive linemen.
Bryant McNeal is another sophomore defensive end with considerable promise. He had 23 tackles and two sacks this year in 11 games, one as a starter. Jovon Bush is a strong and athletic second-team defensive tackle who had 16 tackles this year and figures to play against Virginia Tech. An ever improving freshman defensive end is Khaleed Vaughan, who averaged 30 plays of action over the last three games of the season. He finished the year with 18 tackles and three sacks.
Clemson’s secondary had two of the four first-team All-ACC players in 2000. Robert Carswell is a senior leader of the unit. The Gator Bowl will be his 41st consecutive start at a safety position. The native of Lithonia, GA was a third-team All-American by The Sporting News and a first-team All-ACC player for the second straight season. The semifinalist for the Thorpe Award had 80 tackles for the season and now has 361 for his career, more than any defensive back in Clemson history. He had at least double figures in tackles in each of Clemson’s last three games.
Alex Ardley is a first-team All-ACC cornerback. The native of Tallahassee, FL led the ACC in interceptions with six and finished tied for eighth in the nation in that area, his second straight season in the final top 20. Ardley had three interceptions against Maryland to tie a Clemson record, then had two in the third period of Clemson’s win over South Carolina. He had 60 tackles for the season.
Clemson’s other starters in the secondary are also from Florida. Charles Hafley is an All-ACC candidate for 2001 who had 92 tackles for the season, third highest on the team. He had a 27-yard interception return for a score in the win over Missouri and had nine passes defensed for the year.
Darrel Crutchfield is another former Raines High School (Jacksonville, FL) player to come to Clemson and serve as a starter. The cornerback had eight passes broken up, best on the team, and had 49 stops for the season. He had his best game of the season against Virginia’s tall receivers with seven tackles and four passes broken up.
Eric Meekins and Chad Speck are two other key reserves in the secondary who could see action on defense against Virginia Tech.
Special Teams Clemson had a strong year in regards to special teams. The Tigers ranked in the top 40 in the nation in punt returns, kickoff returns and net punting. Placekicking showed improvement as the year progressed, highlighted by the three field goal game Aaron Hunt turned in in the regular season finale against South Carolina.
Clemson averaged 15.0 yards per punt return in 2000, 14th best in the nation and tops in the ACC. It marked just the fourth time in history that Clemson had won the ACC punt return championship. Two different Tigers returned punts for touchdowns, the first time that has happened since 1987. Joe Don Reames, also a wide receiver on the Clemson team, ranked 25th in the nation with a 12.2 average. His 69-yard punt return for a score changed the momentum of the Virginia game.
Clemson’s kickoff return game was balanced as three different players had at least five returns. Rod Gardner handled some of the chores, but has not had a return since October 14. Reames had a 22.6 yard average on seven run backs, while Brian Mance averaged 26.8 on five returns. On 13 punt, interception and kickoff returns combined this year, Mance averaged 32.5 yards a return.
Clemson’s special teams defenses were strong. Opponents averaged 20 yards a kickoff return and had an average start of their own 24-yard line. Tony Lazzara handled most of the kickoffs and 17 of his 70 kickoffs went for touchbacks, and opponents started at their own 20 or worse 30 times.
The kickoff and punt return defenders are led by Rodney Thomas, a second-team linebacker who had 25 special teams tackles for the year, a school single season record. Chad Speck was second in that category with 16 special teams tackles and the senior now has 45 for his career. He needs just one special teams tackle against Virginia Tech to break Ashley Sheppard’s school career record. Speck was named as one of five finalists for the Mosi Tatupu Award, which is given to the top special teams player in the nation.
Jamie Somaini, a fifth-year senior, handles the Clemson punting, while Aaron Hunt is a first-year freshman placekicker. Somaini averaged 39.3 yards a punt with a net of 36.3. He had 14 punts inside the 20 and 13 of 50 yards or more. He had a 75-yard punt at Florida State, longest by a Clemson punter in 10 seasons. His 50.3 average at Virginia marked the first time since 1990 that a Clemson punter averaged at least 50 yards a punt, given a minimum of three attempts.
Hunt connected on 8-13 field goals for the year, including 3-3 against South Carolina. It was his 25-yard field goal with three seconds left that won that game against Clemson’s archrival. He was 43-45 on extra point this year and needs just two extra points against Virginia Tech to break Obed Ariri’s single season record. He already has the Clemson scoring record for a first-year freshman (67), breaking the record of 58 held by current All-Pro Chris Gardocki.
March 14, 2019