ORLANDO – Ralphie IV, the real buffalo mascot for Colorado, was once saved from the gripping jaws of a coyote when it was a baby. This time, however, there was no saving the Buffaloes from the mauling defense of the Tigers.
* Whitehurst Leaves On Top
* Box: Clemson 19 Colorado 10
* Postgame Press Conference (Video)
* Notebook: Dean Sets Record
It’s a good thing, too because the Clemson offense struggled once again to put points on the board. The Tigers managed only two touchdowns against a team that has given up a total of 130 points over its last three games.
Clemson’s defense completely shutdown the Colorado offense for nearly the entire game, while freshman tailback sensation James Davis rushed for 150 yards to help the Tigers scratch out a 19-10 victory Tuesday night in the Champs Sports Bowl in front of 31,470 at Florida Citrus Stadium.
Davis was garnered Most Valuable Player honors in leading No. 23 Clemson to an 8-4 record and what will most surely be a ranking in the top 20. He was also the first person to rush for more than 100 yards against Colorado this season.
“When our defense gives that kind of effort, we’re a pretty good football team,” Tigers coach Tommy Bowden said. “It’s been indicative of the way we have played all season.”
The Buffaloes (7-6) managed just 124 yards of total offense and quarterback James Cox, starting in place of Joel Klatt, who didn’t play due to a concussion, was harassed and pressured all night. Clemson sacked him three times.
Cox finished the night 4-of-12 passing for 26 yards. He was benched in the fourth quarter for third-stringer Brian White, who guided Colorado to its only touchdown with just minutes remaining.
“I didn’t think we could control them like that,” Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “We did a couple of new things – put in a new stunt and a new blitz in and had a different way of using a three-man rush, which probably had the quarterback guessing.”
Rushing wise, Colorado had 29 attempts and gained just 17 yards.
It was the fewest total yards allowed ever by the Tigers in a bowl game. The old mark was 159 yards against TCU in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
“When a team is one-dimensional, it’s a lot easier to defend,” said Buffaloes interim head coach Mike Hankwitz. “We thought (Cox) would relax and be able to throw it more effectively and he wasn’t able to get out of his tense and stressful situation.”
Even looking at the stats on paper, they’re still almost unbelievable.
At halftime, Colorado ran 26 offensive plays for a total of 34 yards. Through three quarters, the Buffaloes had amassed 38 total yards on 34 plays. It was as though Clemson was playing a Division II school.
Moreover, Colorado started the game 0-for-9 on third-down conversions and converted its first one with 14:42 left to play.
This is just the latest in the spectacular run on defense for Clemson. Until Colorado’s score late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers had gone 12 straight quarters and 41 straight possessions without allowing an offensive touchdown.
“We were ready for them,” said Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams, who tied a Champs Sports Bowl record with two sacks.
Offensively for the Tigers, they used the services of Davis, who carried the load with 28 carries.
"He was strong and he had moves," said Colorado lineback Jordan Dizon. "He had the lightning and thunder package all in one."
For Davis, it was just the latest of special shows he's put on this year.
“The coach gave me opportunities and I just ran with it,” Davis said. “It isn’t what I expected. I just wanted to help my team win.”
Clemson senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst started slow, but picked it up and finished 19-of-27 passing for 196 yards and an interception. He also scored the game’s first touchdown on a six-yard run to make it 13-3 with 11:45 left in the third quarter after the Tigers held just a 6-3 lead at halftime.
However, the one time that the Tigers needed its offense to move the ball, they marched 41 yards over 4:07, capped by a Davis six-yard touchdown run with 1:38 left to play, which all but put the game out of reach.
“It was something where you wanted to milk the clock as much as you can,” Bowden said. “They were out of timeouts, but we still needed first downs to keep the ball out of their hands. It was a time where you worry about having your team buckle, but giving it to James made it easy.”
It was the perfect way to finish a season that started with so many question marks.
“I told the (seniors) last night that I will have more bowl opportunities, but this would be their final opportunity,” Bowden said. “I could not be more proud of the way this group of seniors responded.”