Confident Korn is ready for the pressure

Clemson’s new starting QB was shocked by the move but says he is ready and able to run the offense

pstrelow@thestate.comOctober 13, 2008 

CLEMSON — As Willy Korn awaited his media debut as Clemson’s starting quarterback Sunday night, receiver Marquan Jones challenged him to a rock-paper- scissors contest.

When coach Tommy Bowden yielded his seat to the main attraction, Korn plopped two helmets down at his own feet.

Korn had lost the contest, and the loser had to carry the other’s helmet to the locker room.

Having anxiously awaited the chance to compete for Clemson’s quarterback job, Korn now finds himself taking on all comers.

“I don’t remember who said it, but ... if you’re not that good under pressure, you’re probably not that good at all,” Korn said.

Tigers fans who have clamored for the ballyhooed homegrown product will get their chance to see how good Korn is come Saturday when Clemson plays host to Georgia Tech.

It might be premature to gauge his value on his first career start, but the situation is not lacking pressure.

With conjecture about Bowden’s job security running high, the Korn era began at Sunday’s practice, which was scheduled after Thursday’s 12-7 defeat at Wake Forest.

Bowden announced incumbent senior Cullen Harper would be benched for his more mobile backup Friday afternoon — a move Korn learned when he and a friend were surfing the Internet.

In contrast, Bowden did not even address the change during the team’s pre-practice meeting.

Korn, suddenly working with the first-string unit for the first time since August, described the whole evening as “weird,” although he felt good about how he performed.

“Coach Bowden said he wanted a spark in the offense, and it gives me a lot of confidence that he has that faith in me to be the guy,” Korn said. “Hopefully we can turn it around this weekend.”

In that respect, Korn said he believes he has as firm a grasp on Clemson’s offense as any of their quarterbacks.

After facing only Football Championship Subdivision opponents in mop-up duty this season, he said his adjustment will be coping with a Georgia Tech defense that averages more than three sacks per game and has yet to allow a pass longer than 26 yards this season.

Ironically, Korn sent a congratulatory text-message Saturday afternoon to USC redshirt freshman quarterback and newly-crowned starter Stephen Garcia, whom Korn befriended at an Elite 11 quarterback camp before their senior seasons in high school.

Garcia had reason to phone back this weekend — much to Korn’s shock.

“I really thought there was no way this was going to happen,” Korn said. “Just knowing how things have gone since I’ve been here.

“They usually stay with the older guy, stay with the senior, and I was kind of surprised when I found out about it.”

Korn said he was curious how the move would be received by the close-knit group of seniors who formed the offense’s nucleus with Harper. But he felt encouraged by the number of supportive text-messages he got from teammates last weekend.

Senior running back James Davis said he was “stunned” by the change but is confident in Korn’s abilities. Senior receiver Aaron Kelly portrayed Harper as a sympathetic figure, especially considering the circumstances beyond Harper’s control (such as offensive line injuries) that led to the move.

Harper will not be made available for comment until Tuesday, and Korn said he has not spoken to him since the announcement.

“This really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Cullen,” Korn said.

“He’s a team captain for a reason. He’s a permanent team captain because he is one of our mature senior leaders, and I know he’s going to handle it with a lot of class. I’ve been behind him the whole time. I’m sure he’s going to support me.”

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