Clemson heads into bye with momentum and skeptics
CLEMSON — Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been around Clemson long enough to know that he isn’t only going to hear praise and optimism even with the No. 16 Tigers at 5-1 going into an off week.
“At the end of the day, there are always going to be skeptics and things of that nature,” Boyd said after Clemson’s 47-31 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday “Now we’re coming off a bye weekend, and they’re (worried that we are) not going to be prepared for that game.”
For the past decade, people have almost expected Clemson to fall apart after success. Last season, the Yellow Jackets beat the Tigers, ending their 8-0 start and leading to three losses in four games. If not for a weaker-than-expected Atlantic Division, Clemson might have even missed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
And that’s just the most recent example. In 2000, the Yellow Jackets ended another 8-0 start by the Tigers, who then lost three of four. In fact, Clemson has gone through a stretch of losing at least three out of four games in all but two seasons since the turn of the century.
Despite Saturday’s win, Clemson still fell one spot in The Associated Press Top 25.
But the Tigers still have plenty to play for. Florida State’s loss Saturday to North Carolina State means the Tigers are back on track for another ACC title game appearance with one more loss by the Seminoles. And with five wins already, Clemson has a chance to get back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since going 10-2 four straight years from 1987-1990.
Coach Dabo Swinney thinks this year’s Tigers are different from some recent Clemson squads.
“I know there’s a lot of people out there that believe in voodoo or something, we can’t win here – we don’t buy into all that stuff,” Swinney said. “I hear it all the time.”
Clemson’s offense is leading the ACC and is tenth in the nation at nearly 526 yards a game. The Tigers gained 601 yards against Georgia Tech, marking the fourth time in six games they have gained over 500 yards.
Boyd threw for a career-best 397 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, giving him 51 passing TDs for his career, passing Charlie Whitehurst’s Clemson record of 49 scoring passes. DeAndre Hopkins caught seven passes for 173 yards and is ranked fifth in the country at more than 129 yards receiving a game.
Even so, center Dalton Freeman thinks the offense isn’t exactly where it should be. Clemson punted just once against Georgia Tech and converted 13 of 19 third downs. But three of them they missed were on third-and-goal, leading to field goals.
“There was a lot left out there,” Freeman said “Until we score every drive, we’re not going to be satisfied.”
And the Tigers get their open date at an opportune time – right at the middle of the season. Freeman said the team has some nicks and small injuries that should heal up before the Virginia Tech game in two weeks. Swinney said his team has earned some time off next week.
“They don’t let me have any input on the schedule, but the schedule gods are looking down upon us this year,” Swinney said. “Last year, we had about nine games or something before we had an open date. That’s a grind.”
Boyd, who is taking an athletic leadership class this semester, said the bye week provides its own challenges,
“It’s another test for us, “Boyd said. “How do we respond from the bye week. It’s a serious question – how do we practice?”
And Swinney knows there is still more work to do as well. He has been impressed with his offense and thinks his defense is getting better, but there is still a lot more to do to reach the goal of finishing the regular season 10-1.
“We’re not a great team or a great defense or a great offense yet,” Swinney said. “But I think we’ve got a chance to be.”