Clemson looking to put life back into Death Valley Tigers' lackluster play has yet to get crowd back on their side


Clemson has had more serene homecomings.

The Tigers take a 5-2 record and designs on a bowl bid into tomorrow's Atlantic Coast Conference game against Maryland, but the roar in Death Valley last week wasn't as deafening as it used to be.

Clemson handled its homecoming foe by a 27-0 score, but East Tennessee State isn't among the elite in Division I-AA. For the second straight week, there were 26,000 empty seats at Memorial Stadium, and the fans who came had to adjust to the offense that had been installed by the beleaguered head coach.

Ken Hatfield, the leader in question, met with some of his bosses earlier last week to discuss dwindling attendance and the direction of the program. The trend has been downward since Danny Ford left after the 1990 season.

Amid calls for his ouster and drug arrests of two players earlier this month, Hatfield said that his players have ignored those distractions and concentrated on football.

"All we're doing is focusing on the things we've got control over, blocking and tackling," Hatfield said. "We've got a large number of young players on our team, but we've retained our focus. Naturally, they're going to be better when they mature. We're going to be better when the young players progress."

Will Hatfield be around to see it?

When Clemson was placed on NCAA probation for a second time in an eight-year span under Ford, Hatfield was brought in from Arkansas. His first team went 9-2-1 and brought the Tigers their sixth ACC title in 11 years, but last season they became just another Florida State chaser with a 5-6 record, their first losing mark since 1976.

Clemson fans are accustomed to success, and the 5-2 record hasn't kept them from squirming. Clemson struggled to beat UNLV in its opener, then lost 57-0 at Florida State, the Tigers' second-worst beating. The combined margin of victory over Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Duke was 12 points. Then came a shocking 20-16 loss at home to Wake Forest. "Hatfield must go," was the chant from the stands at the end.

Some critics say the Tigers haven't played hard in every game, but Clemson will have no difficulty getting up for Maryland. The Tigerswere 5-4 last November when they went to College Park. A 53-23 loss to the Terps, the longest game in Tigers history and their worst loss in 15 years, ended their bowl hopes.

This season, Clemson is among the few teams that haven't participated in the nationwide offensive surge that followed the hash marks being moved closer to midfield.

Last week Hatfield ditched the I formation for the wishbone and flexbone -- the two halfbacks move closer to the line or move into a slot -- he operated at Air Force. Against East Tennessee State, the Tigers had their season high for points (27), rushing yards (278), total yards (410) and time of possession (36:54).

TTC Hatfield said that a revolving door at quarterback, and not a scheme, has been responsible for the offense's problems. Richard Moncrief, whose skills are best-suited to the wishbone, became the third starter at quarterback this season, after injuries to Patrick Sapp and Louis Solomon.

The offensive line hasn't performed as expected, and there isn't a breakaway back as Clemson has had in the past. In the Tigers' five victories, the defense has allowed an average of 10.2 points.

The kicking game, like Maryland's, has been a problem, and last week place-kicker Nelson Welch lost his punting job to a former Tiger soccer player.

The lackluster wins, an uninspiring home schedule and weather have cut into attendance, which averaged more than 77,000 last year.

On eight Sundays in 1995, when the Carolina Panthers play their inaugural NFL season at Clemson's Memorial Stadium before settling in Charlotte, N.C., Clemson won't even be the quintessential college town.

MARYLAND NOTES: LB Chad Wiestling, a senior captain who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee and missed the past four games, could start tomorrow. . . . Another injured senior captain, DL Mark Sturdivant, won't play until next week's game against Florida State at the earliest. He broke a leg in the season opener. . . . Reserve QB Kevin Foley has missed practice with a strained knee ligament. If he can't play, Dee Reed, another redshirt freshman, will back up Scott Milanovich.

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