Somewhere in the minds of Clemson’s players has to be last season’s trip to Raleigh.
That afternoon, which was exactly 52 weeks ago, eighth-ranked Clemson waltzed into Carter-Finley Stadium to take on a fledgling N.C. State team gasping for its postseason breath. There was little reason for Tigers fans to worry about suffering a loss that day.
But not only did the Wolfpack shock Clemson, it destroyed the Tigers, 37-13, in a game that was even more lopsided than the score suggests. So it stands to reason that Clemson’s players are salivating at the chance to hand the Wolfpack a little bit of redemption when the teams meet again Saturday in Death Valley.
But you can’t just plan in exacting revenge.
It must be an action, massaged to fruition. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows the Wolfpack and its prolific senior quarterback are too capable to assume his team will exorcise those demons.
“We’re going to have to play very well,” Swinney said. “(Mike Glennon) gets rid of the ball, and we’re going to have to try to obviously get some pressure on him, and when we do, we have to win some match-ups outside from a coverage standpoint.”
Glennon, a 6-foot-6 rifleman from Centreville, Va., has thrown for 2,910 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. In last year’s pummeling, he passed for 253 yards and three scores.
If Glennon can keep his interceptions to one or none – he has 13 on the season – the Wolfpack’s chances at competing and possibly winning are significantly enhanced. N.C. State (6-4, 3-3 ACC) has turned over the ball 19 times in its four defeats, but just six times in its victories.
“I would just say the biggest thing is just turnovers,” Swinney said when asked about the Wolfpack’s weaknesses, specifying the defeats. “I think (Wolfpack) coach (Tom) O’Brien would probably tell you the exact same thing. It’s hard to win when you’re negative in the turnover margin, and they just had some costly turnovers that have hurt them.”
So the message is quite clear: Force turnovers.
And seeing that the No. 10 Tigers (9-1, 6-1) have made strides defensively in recent weeks, Swinney is confident his team has turned a corner. Opponents are averaging just 15 points and 301 yards over the last four contests. That is a noteworthy improvement from earlier in the season, and indicates the program’s overall balance is coming into form.
O’Brien recognizes the Tigers’ defensive ascent and just how difficult it is traveling to Clemson. It’s not just the players touching Howard’s Rock and running down the Hill. It’s the guys in those orange uniforms more than anything.
“They’ve lost one game on the road to Florida State,” O’Brien said. “They’ve been undefeated I think probably two years at home. Certainly, it’s a tough venue to play in. They feed off their crowd, and they have so many big-play guys.”
And with a victory, Clemson will assure itself of at least a tie for the Atlantic Division title. A Florida State victory at Maryland will give the Seminoles a spot in the ACC championship game on Dec. 1 because the ‘Noles own the tiebreaker with Clemson. Still, tying Florida State will be a noteworthy accomplishment for the Tigers, as it would yield at least a share of the division title in three out of four seasons.
Swinney says it would be “a tremendous accomplishment for this group.”
So there is more to play for than just revenge. And when a program is at Clemson’s level, stuff like pay-back should never be a factor.
The Tigers are bigger and better than that. recesses res