Surging No. 3 Clemson not looking past North Carolina State
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson said the No. 3 Tigers won’t change their approach after their statement-making win at Miami, or their rise in the rankings.
Watson said a big reasons for the success this season with Clemson (7-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is the level-headed attitude the Tigers keep bringing into practice even as the victories pile up. The Tigers try and open 8-0 fort the second time in five seasons when they face North Carolina State (5-2, 1-2) on Saturday.
Watson enjoyed Clemson’s 58-0 win over Miami – Hurricanes coach Al Golden was fired Sunday, a day after the worst loss in program history – and thought it was great the Tigers had moved up into prime territory for the four-team College Football Playoff.
But rankings are ”just a number to me,” Watson said Monday. ”None of that stuff matters until December.”
Watson seems the perfect model for a steady handed quarterback, unaffected by the Tigers’ stirring success or, at times this season, his offensive struggles. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said it’s Watson’s even-keel demeanor that keeps the Tigers churning toward their goals.
Watson said he’s just himself.
”I’ve been the same me ever since I got here,” the sophomore said. ”There’s no need for me to change.”
Not when Clemson’s playing so well. The Tigers have outscored their past three opponents 135-41 with Watson doing whatever is required to win games.
He passed for 685 yards and five touchdowns combined in wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Watson threw for just 143 yards in the Miami win, the Tigers relying on the ground game after building their lead.
Elliott said the Tigers enjoyed the rout this weekend, but were snapped back into the task at hand with the Wolfpack by coach Dabo Swinney and the coaching staff.
The Tigers recent struggles at North Carolina State are eye-opening enough. The Wolfpack defeated Clemson there 37-13 in 2011, the last time the Tigers fell to an unranked opponent. Two years ago, North Carolina State stayed close to Clemson throughout a 26-14 loss that turned when Wolfpack tailback Bryan Underwood’s long, 83-yard run down the sidelines for an apparent touchdown was called back by a referee who ruled he stepped out of bounds. The Tigers forced a turnover three plays later and scored a TD of their own to pull away.
Elliott said the players will be reminded of the difficulties they’ve encountered with the Wolfpack.
”They’ll be made fully aware,” he said.
North Carolina State cornerback Jack Tocho said the Wolfpack won’t get caught up in Clemson’s big win last week.
”It’s very impressive, but you can’t look at it like a monster,” he said. ”They scored 58 points against Miami’s defense, but we run a different scheme.”
Clemson safety Jayron Kearse said the Tigers have kept their edge because they don’t treat one opponent as better than any other or feel a win like Saturday’s Miami blowout is any different than a 49-10 win over FCS opponent Wofford that started the season.
Defeating the Hurricanes ”gives us confidence, but it doesn’t outweigh any other win that we have,” Kearse said.
Clemson has won 10 straight games, its longest streak since the 1983 and 1984 seasons. The Tigers have also won their past 35 in a row against unranked opponents since that Wolfpack loss four years ago, which Kearse sees as a testament to the team’s resolve not to back slide.
The junior defensive back makes sure the players hit the practice field with purpose and fire to improve each session. ”If we get worse, that’s when we become one of those teams who lose to teams they’re not supposed to,” he said.
It’s a run of Clemson plans to continue this week.
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report from Raleigh, North Carolina