Clemson seeking strong finish unlike last year
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks the 10th-ranked Tigers have
grown since their late-season collapse of last fall and have the
experience to avoid a similar slide this season.
”Consistency is something this program has lacked,” Swinney
said Tuesday. ”That’s the next thing we’ve got to do.”
The quest starts Saturday when the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Atlantic
Coast Conference) travel to Duke (6-3, 2-2). Clemson appeared ready
to break through a year ago when it stood 8-0 and ranked No. 6 in
the country. The Tigers were in the thick of BCS title talk because
of a record-setting offense that looked unstoppable.
Then things fell apart.
Clemson lost three of its final four games in the regular
season. While the team rebounded to win the ACC crown, Clemson was
demolished in prime time in an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West
Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson’s already handled several obstacles it hasn’t in the
past since its lone loss, a 49-37 defeat at No. 9 Florida State, to
get itself back in the top 10. Swinney said the players have
learned from last year’s problems and look forward to continuing
their strong play.
”I just think the experience they’ve had is going to pay off
for them,” Swinney said. ”That’s usually the case.”
Tigers center Dalton Freeman said Clemson went nine games
without a break last year and bumps and bruises began to take a
toll. There were also several underclassmen at key positions, he
said, like quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins whose
production tailed off and mistakes increased as the season wore
”They hadn’t been through it before and I don’t know if they
were mentally ready” for the stretch run, Freeman said.
Freeman says those players haven’t forgotten what they went
through and are focused on building on their four-game win
For Boyd, this is a chance to prove he won’t have a drop off in
production the way he did last fall. Boyd had passed for 24
touchdowns and three interceptions in Clemson’s perfect start. He
had four touchdowns and seven interceptions the final four
Boyd said he’s a much more mature player this season and doesn’t
spend much time thinking about what went wrong for him last
”It’s a growth in the leadership role and having these guys
look up to me in any situation whether we’re down or up,” he said.
”So my job is to stay calm, stay poised and let the game come to
Boyd’s done that this season. He leads the league with more than
326 yards of total offense per game. He also tops the ACC with 20
TD passes against six interceptions.
Boyd threw for a record 428 yards in Clemson’s 42-13 victory
over Wake Forest on Oct. 25. He tied his own school record with
five touchdown passes to five different receivers – a fact Boyd’s
especially proud of.
”I think that’s when we’re at our best,” he says, ”when
everyone touches the ball.”
Clemson got a major boost against Wake Forest from Watkins, an
All-American who had struggled to match his freshman production as
a sophomore. Watkins had eight catches for a school record 202
yards and his first receiving touchdown of the year.
Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris believes Watkins is
rounding into form at exactly the right time to keep the Tigers
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils will have their
hands full trying to slow down the Tigers.
”Clemson is an ACC championship team,” he said. ”They’ve got
players that have performed at that level and continue to perform
at that level.”
Duke is Clemson’s last road game and the Tigers finish ACC play
at Death Valley against Maryland and North Carolina, who are
combined 2-3 in conference play so far.
Clemson closes the season at home against rival South Carolina,
which lost star rusher Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee
injury last week. The Tigers still need help in another Florida
State loss to win the Atlantic Division and defend their ACC title.
A perfect November might also bring Clemson a second straight BCS
bowl, Swinney said.
”We are pretty high (in the rankings) right now with a loss,”
Swinney said. ”We are about where we should be. If we can finish
strong, we’ll have every opportunity that’s out there.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report from