No. 12 Clemson seeking Orange Bowl redemption
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)
It's been nearly two years and 21 victories and the Clemson Tigers can't wipe away the memories of the drubbing they took the last time they played in the Orange Bowl.
Thomas and the No. 12 Tigers (10-2) believe they're ready to make amends this time around against No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) when the teams meet Jan. 3.
''The last time we went down there, it didn't go as planned,'' said Thomas, a fifth-year senior who played in the Mountaineers debacle. ''So hopefully, this time we can pull out the win.''
Clemson has some history at rebounding from disappointing defeats.
In each of the previous two years, the Tigers have bounced back from losses to rival South Carolina to close the regular season with victories in the postseason - in 2011 to win their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 20 years and in 2012 to defeat LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl for Clemson's first 11-win season in more than three decades.
Clemson faces the same hurdle this time around after dropping a 31-17 game to the Gamecocks, its fifth straight loss in the rivalry series.
''We're putting the last game behind us,'' Thomas said. ''It's the next game, we have to prepare, we have to play. We can't let that game stop us from trying to play this game.''
The Tigers were just as hopeful two years ago as ACC champions heading to their first BCS game.
Clemson was outscored 42-16 the rest of the way as West Virginia set a bowl record for points scored.
The defensive breakdowns led Tigers coach Dabo Swinney to let go of coordinator Kevin Steele and replace him with Brent Venables.
In the past two years, Venables has turned the Tigers D from a group to be laughed at to one that makes plays. Clemson improved to 23rd nationally in defense this year, up from 63rd in 2012.
Defensive end Vic Beasley was third in the country with 12 sacks this season.
''We're really going to have play our tails off to move the ball against them,'' Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. ''They have some very good personnel and a couple of those games, they haven't given up much yardage at all.''
Venables said he's using early bowl practices to beef up the Tigers physically and prepare them for an Ohio State attack led by dynamic quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde.
''We've been getting back to basics and fundamentals and getting physical,'' said Venables, who led Oklahoma's defense when the Sooners won a national title in 2000.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett believes the team will use the lessons of last year's bowl prep, when few gave the Tigers a shot of toppling powerhouse LSU of the Southeastern Conference.
Instead, Clemson rallied from 24-13 down in the fourth quarter to win 25-24 on Chandler Catanzaro's last-second field goal.
''We've already proven that we can win big games over big opponents,'' Jarrett said. ''It's going to be a nice challenge for us and we're really looking forward to it.''
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris remembers all too well the things that went wrong against West Virginia. He was in his first season and had produced a school-record setting attack on the way to an ACC crown. Much of that, he acknowledged, was forgotten about after the team's Orange flop.
''It wasn't a pleasant experience,'' Morris said.
The Tigers have worked to take advantage of opportunities since then, including a victory over then fifth-ranked Georgia to start this season.
Clemson's offense has again clicked most of this season, averaging more than 500 yards and 40 points a game - both among the top 15 nationally - behind senior quarterback Tajh Boyd and junior receiver Sammy Watkins.
Morris does not believe his players will get that tangled up in the frustrations of two years ago.
''The thing we'll build on is obviously what we did last year at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl,'' he said. ''How those guys came back after a South Carolina and played well against LSU. That's what we'll ask these guys to do and that's what these guys will do.''