Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper said he was told one thing by his new coach before he took the field against Georgia Tech on Saturday -- "Go out there and lead."
Easier said than done.
In less than a week, the Tigers had lost just about all of the offensive leadership they had, and in less than a quarter on Saturday, they lost their starting quarterback. Again.
Harper, who was benched in one of the final decisions former coach Tommy Bowden made for the program, took over for an injured Willy Korn and made enough plays for his team to beat Georgia Tech. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they also made enough mistakes not to.
Despite the 21-17 home loss to the Yellow Jackets, interim head coach Dabo Swinney said Harper earned the starting job back for their Nov. 1 trip to Boston College.
"He made one play that was just sheer want-to," Swinney said. "It was good to see No. 10 fight out there today. He played loose. Eh, he missed a couple of plays, but he made some plays. I thought he was a good leader for us. He's playing with a fractured shoulder. He's out there trying to help this team win, and almost got it done."
Harper completed 15 of 25 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Swinney said they made some adjustments in the offensive protections that helped for a more productive day on offense for the Tigers. Harper completed touchdown passes of 31 and 32 yards to receiver Aaron Kelly.
Harper said there was a wee bit of motivation for him at practice this week after his demotion.
"I was very disappointed, extremely disappointed," he said. "I feel like I'm a good player. But it came down to coach's decision and that was the decision they went with, so every day I went out there with the mindset and attitude of proving that I could be the No. 1 quarterback on this team and trying to get my job back. That's what I'm going to continue to go out and do and every day come to practice for a reason."
Korn, who will have an MRI on his shoulder Saturday evening, said he was disappointed his debut ended early, especially with so many family members in attendance, but that he was happy for Harper.
"Cullen played great," Korn said. "I was real proud of the way he played. I know it's been a real difficult week for him, having to deal with everything, but he went out there and played with a lot of guts, played with a lot of courage and gave us a great opportunity to win the football game."