Clemson Eyes Contender Status

Friday, October 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CLEMSON, S.C (AP) — Clemson linebacker Chad Carson can't wait for this week's game, one of the biggest for the No. 5 Tigers.

But wait, don't they play Georgia Tech? Isn't the chance for the Tigers to stamp themselves national contenders and Atlantic Coast Conference champions next week at Florida State?

``This is a big game for a lot of us,'' said Carson, a junior from Newnan, Ga. ``Most of the starters on defense are from Georgia, so we grew up knowing all about Tech.''

That's probably the best news Clemson coach Tommy Bowden could get. He spent most of the week reminding everyone that the only game he wanted to talk about was this one at Death Valley on Saturday against the Yellow Jackets (5-2, 3-2 ACC).

Despite their record, the Tigers (8-0, 6-0) have looked less like a national title contender and more like a program in need of serious depth the past month.

Bowden said the offensive line played soft in last week's 38-24 victory over North Carolina. He said the defense has a problem with allowing big plays. And of the six or so players he needs to make plays on offense, he said he's getting production from only ``about 2 1/2 to three.''

``We're still not where we need to be in some areas,'' Bowden said.

So, at least his players won't be looking ahead to Tallahassee next month.

``Being from Georgia and not being recruited by Georgia Tech, it's an extra motivation for me to play harder,'' said Clemson linebacker Keith Adams of College Park, Ga.

There's reason for concern in Tigertown.

They powered through a perfect September, averaging 44 points and giving up less than 10 a game. Woody Dantzler was a dazzling Heisman Trophy candidate who could reverse fields better than most runners or throw the ball long and straight down the sidelines. Clemson's defense was as stingy as it was in the 1980s.

But the more defenses saw of Dantzler, the less room he had to operate. The Tigers trailed 17-0 to North Carolina and only came back when backup quarterback Willie Simmons threw four TD passes after Dantzler was injured.

The Tigers defense has given up 65 points the past three games, more than twice its September average.

``There are a lot of mistakes we have to fix,'' Clemson offensive lineman John McDermott said. ``We think we can do it.''

Dantzler is expected to start despite his bruised ankle.

Bowden took great pains this week to focus on Georgia Tech, which has won the past three games in the series. He wouldn't talk about the Bowl Championship Series, which ranked the Tigers seventh and way out of the Orange Bowl.

``The most important game we're going to play is this one,'' said Bowden, relying on a series of phrases from the coaches quotebook.

North Carolina built its lead with Dantzler in the game. It hemmed him in and made him force passes. Things turned after Simmons, a freshman, came in and tied a school record with his four TD passes.

Carson, Clemson's linebacker, said the letdowns are not something you can blame on individuals. ``We can pinpoint what they are and take care of them,'' he said.

While Georgia Tech is without Joe Hamilton, who helped the Jackets average more than 30 points against Clemson the past three years, it has quarterback George Godsey.

Godsey ranks 11th nationally in passing efficiency, throwing for 1,553 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Yellow Jackets come in with three straight wins. They know another victory — plus a potential loss by Clemson at Florida State — could put them second in the conference ahead of the Tigers.

``We're all excited,'' Godsey said. ``To play in a place like Death Valley, where else would you want to play a college football game?''