No. 23 Clemson Downs Colorado In The Champs Sports Bowl
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James Davis walked out of the Citrus Bowl with the game ball under one arm and the most valuable player trophy under the other.
It was pretty obvious who was the key to Clemson’s latest victory.
Davis ran for a career-high 150 yards and a touchdown, Charlie Whitehurst scrambled for a score and the No. 23 Tigers beat Colorado 19-10 in the Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday, handing the Buffaloes their fourth consecutive loss.
Davis’ 6-yard TD run with 1:38 remaining sealed a fourth straight win for Clemson (8-4) and capped a disappointing season for Colorado (7-6).
The freshman’s performance also showed that the future is bright for the Tigers despite losing their star quarterback.
“I can’t wait until he knows what he’s doing,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing right now. He’s a special talent.”
The Buffs made it close, though, something they didn’t do in their previous two games – losses to Nebraska and Texas by a combined score of 100-6.
Backup quarterback Brian White replaced starter James Cox midway through the fourth quarter and led Colorado on a 69-yard scoring drive that made it 13-10 with 5:45 to play. His 2-yard TD pass to Quinn Sypniewski ended a streak of 14 quarters without a touchdown and gave the Buffs a chance.
White rolled right on third down, then threw left to Sypniewski, who was wide open in the end zone.
But Davis and Whitehurst answered, moving the Tigers 61 yards in 4:07 to put the game away. It wasn’t too surprising considering the duo made big plays all game.
Davis ran 28 times and eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season – a school record for a freshman.
“I didn’t expect this as a freshman this year,” he said. “But the coach gave me a chance and I made the most of it.”
Whitehurst foresees more from Davis in the future.
“There’s no telling what James can do next year,” Whitehurst said. “The sky’s the limit for James and a bunch of other young guys. It’s pretty easy to call plays and block with James in the backfield.”
Whitehurst, a senior expected to be a first-day selection in next year’s NFL draft, was equally efficient and effective. He was 19-of-27 for 196 yards and threw an interception. He showed no signs of shoulder problems after having arthroscopic surgery early this month to relieve pain that had bothered him since September.
He also played most of the game without leading receiver Chansi Stuckey, who sat out the second half with a concussion. His absence opened the door for freshman Aaron Kelly, who caught a team-high four passes for 36 yards, including a 23-yarder on the game-sealing scoring drive.
It was one of several clutch throws by Whitehurst.
His TD run was even bigger, coming on third and goal. He slipped out of Akarika Dawn’s grasp at the 5 and strolled in for the score, which made it 13-3.
Dawn dropped his head to the ground and pounded the grass with his right fist in frustration. It was that kind of night for Colorado.
It also was that kind of season.
“I don’t want to say a sense of relief,” Cox said. “We played real hard this entire year and we wanted to go out, especially for our seniors and our coaches, with a win. It was tough. We played a real tough game and everybody fought hard. But it didn’t work out for us.”
The Buffaloes were 7-2 at one point, losing only to Miami and Texas, and there was talk about a contract extension for embattled coach Gary Barnett. But consecutive losses to Iowa State, Nebraska and Texas ended that thought as well as Barnett’s tenure in Boulder.
Barnett had survived a sordid recruiting scandal and a suspension following derogatory remarks about a female kicker who claimed she was raped by a teammate in 2000. But the losses – most notably the 70-3 drubbing against the Longhorns in the Big 12 title game – ultimately led to his forced resignation nearly three weeks ago.
The school has hired Boise State coach Dan Hawkins to replace Barnett, but defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz coached the team against Clemson.
There was little Hankwitz could do to help the offense.
Cox made his second career start, replacing Joel Klatt after the senior starter sustained a severe concussion in the conference title game. Klatt, who hospitalized overnight after the injury, didn’t even dress for the game.
Cox, who made his first start in 2004 against Iowa State, showed his inexperience. He misfired often, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers and making poor decisions with the ball.
He finished 4-of-12 for 26 yards and was sacked three times. He got little help from the running game, which finished with 17 yards on 29 carries.
“It was tough,” Cox said. “They were getting a lot of pressure. It made it hard to stick to our game plan and get anything going.”