ATLANTA (AP) -This couldn't have been the homecoming Clemson's offensive stars wished for.
Quarterback Cullen Harper, tailback James Davis and receiver Aaron Kelly, all big reasons for the Tigers' success this season and all from the Atlanta area playing the Chick-fil-A Bowl in front of family and friends at the Georgia Dome.
But on Monday night, they shared one more thing - all were made largely ineffective in No. 22 Auburn's 23-20 victory.
``It's very disappointing,'' Kelly said. ``You have friends and family here, people who don't get the chance to watch games very much.''
Harper, the junior from nearby Alpharetta, looked the most off his game. The spunky junior had thrown for a school-record 27 touchdown passes, completing two-thirds of his throws.
Yet, he was just 8-of-20 for 42 yards through three quarters.
Davis, a junior from Atlanta's Douglass High, surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight mark and temporarily put the Tigers on top 17-10 with his fourth-quarter TD run.
Still, he was limited to fewer than 4 yards a carry.
Kelly, from Marietta, Ga., had set Clemson's single-season records with his 84 receptions and 11 touchdown grabs. It took until the final quarter, though, for Kelly to make a catch for positive yards.
Without Clemson's best playmakers making plays, an offense that ranked among the nation's top 25 in points scored (34.17 per game) was held to half its average in regulation.
The Tigers most electrifying play came on C.J. Spiller's 83-yard run, the team's longest rushing score in their long bowl history.
The rest of the game was mostly spent struggling with Auburn's stellar defense.
``We fought hard, and that's something you want to see out of your team,'' Davis said.
Clemson went five straight possessions in the second and third quarters without a first down. Harper was 3-of-10 in that stretch and Davis had one carry for 4 meaningless yards.
Clemson twice got the ball with under 2 minutes to play in a tie game and could not get anything going. Harper threw three straight incompletions on the first sequence, then the Tigers ran out the fourth-quarter clock.
By the end of regulation, the Tigers had only 11 first downs and 276 total yards. Take away Spiller's TD run and the figures get even worse.
The Tigers struggled in the extra session, too.
Harper was rushed into an incompletion on third-and-3 at Auburn's 7, leading to the go-ahead field goal.
Auburn freshman Kodi Burns followed with the winning TD run.
Harper finished 14 of 33 with 104 yards. Davis had 72 yards on 23 carries. Kelly caught four balls for 36 yards.
Harper came in leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in pass efficiency and while ``he played efficient for 12 games, but just wasn't efficient tonight,'' Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.
Bowden had talked extensively the past month to his players about how a bowl win would set them up for special 2008.
But gone are Clemson's hopes of a top-10 ranking to start next season and of its first 10-win season since 1990.
``It's kind of a gutcheck for some of us, me included,'' Harper said. ``We got to get back, get to work and start preparing for next season.''
One of the biggest questions is whether Davis, who surpassed 1,000 yards for the second straight season, would return for his senior year or jump to the NFL. He said after the game he'd made no decisions yet and would spend the next few days at home with his family considering his choices.
His mother saw him coming off the field and asked, ``We staying?''
``I'm definitely leaning towards staying, but I still want to go through the process and see what happens,'' Davis said.
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