IT ALL COMES DOWN TO ONE GAME

DURHAM, N.C. – It's come down to this: Beat South Carolina next week and Clemson goes to a bowl. Lose, and the Tigers stay home for the holidays. <BR><BR>

After the Tigers' overtime win against Miami last week in the Orange Bowl, everybody just figured it was a foregone conclusion that they would beat Duke Saturday, even with a hangover effect, and become bowl eligible for the sixth straight year.

That hangover, however, must have been so big that several doses of Alka-Seltzer couldn't have cured it.

Also, somebody must have forgotten to tell Duke that it was supposed to roll over and play dead.

"This is a big turnaround," Clemson wide receiver Airese Currie said. "Everybody was so excited from the win last week that I think it kind of carried over to this week. Everybody wasn't as focused as they could have been going into this game. I'm just disappointed."

Now it's to the point that if the Tigers (5-5 overall, 4-4 ACC) don't win against South Carolina, they will miss a bowl for the first time since 1998, which was the same year head coach Tommy West got fired.

"I don't know that you can add any more fuel to that fire," Tigers coach Tommy Bowden said when asked if the loss intensifies next week's game. "It would be hard. When you play in that game, you're pretty motivated. Everybody knows what's at stake, but it's going to be a very intense game, regardless."

If Clemson fails to qualify for the postseason, all those last-second wins against the likes of Wake Forest, Maryland, N.C. State and Miami will have all been for naught.

"This erases a lot of things," Tigers cornerback Justin Miller said. "We were on a great path and now we've got to go back to the drawing board and try to win Saturday. …

"You've got to take the good with the bad. You win some, you lose some. All you can do is not make mistakes and go out and execute."

The only problem is, Clemson has made mistakes all year and has relied on its defense to bail out the offense.

Against the Blue Devils, the defense was stellar once again. But it wasn't enough this time to eek out the win.

"It's almost like they wanted us to beat them and we just didn't," said Tigers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. "We had so many opportunities. To their credit, they kept fighting and they hung around, and they stole it from us."

Much to Clemson defensive coordinator John Lovett's credit, he shouldered some of the blame for the loss even though it was evident he really didn't have to.

"No, because the other team scored more points," he said when asked if the defense played well enough to win. "That's all there is to it. Look at the scoreboard. That's all there is to it. That's the bottom line. … "We had our chances today to make a big stop in the fourth quarter and we didn't get it done."

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