CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney won’t let No. 4 Clemson let down against FCS opponent South Carolina State, not with how far the Tigers have come in the past two seasons.
After the Tigers’ 38-35 victory over No. 11 Georgia last week, the college football world is watching to see if Clemson will do what it’s done several times the past decade – stumble on the road to a bigger things.
That’s not likely to happen Saturday when the Tigers (1-0) take on the Bulldogs (0-1) of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Clemson is 26-0 all-time against teams of the old Division I-AA, including a 54-0 victory over South Carolina State in the teams’ only other meeting in 2008.
Yet, with Clemson’s history of missteps, the questions get asked, even after the Tigers became the first non-Southeastern Conference program to post consecutive victories over top-10 opponents from the league in LSU and Georgia.
Swinney said his program has grown in every facet, including consistency to play and achieve against the best teams in the country.
“At some point, people need to recognize that these players have played at a very high level very consistently,” the coach said. “No, we haven’t won them all and people aren’t going to happy until you win them all. But these players have achieved a lot of things and I think they should be complemented for it. Again, I just get tired of that story line.”
The only way Clemson can rewrite its tale is to take care of business in games it’s favored to win like this one. The Tigers probably won’t be tested again until Oct. 19 when No. 10 Florida State comes to campus.
Swinney spent some time reminding players that several Football Bowl Championship programs like Kansas State and Oregon State have already had season’s upended by losses to FCS schools.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd, who passed for three touchdowns and rushed for two others against Georgia, says Clemson has to play to standard that does not falter simply because the competition level may not be the same.
The intensity “has to be same or even that much more,” Boyd said about South Carolina State. “If you look at it and gauge games off of your opponent, then you’re not becoming that consistent team you want to be.”
Five things to watch when No. 6 South Carolina hosts South Carolina State:
A season ago, Clemson starters like QB Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and WRs Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins got much of the second half off as the Tigers built up big leads. It allowed Swinney to see younger players like Ellington’s backup in Rod McDowell get some experience. That paid off last week when McDowell gained 132 yards rushing against Georgia.
Despite registering four sacks and getting a pair of crucial turnovers, the Tigers allowed Georgia 545 yards, 222 of those coming on the ground. Count on defensive coordinator Brent Venables and his staff getting after Clemson players this week to tighten things up significantly. “It will be a very mentally challenging game as well it will be physically,” Venables said.
South Carolina State’s mindset
The Bulldogs opened at home against Coastal Carolina and led 20-12 in the third quarter after Richard Cue’s 74-yard TD pass to Tyler McDonald. Coastal rallied, though, on a TD off a blocked field goal and a 16-play, 99-yard drive for the goal ahead points in a 27-20 win.
“It was a tough day that way,” Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough said. “We had several instances of guys feeling sorry for themselves. But we just have to push them through it and we should be fine by Saturday.”
Clemson has an average victory margin of 37-7 in its 26 FCS wins. The closest contest was two years ago when Clemson trailed 24-21 in the second half before defeating Wofford 35-27 and setting off alarm bells among Tiger fans. The next three weeks, Clemson defeated defending national champion Auburn, defending ACC Atlantic champion Florida State and defending ACC champion Virginia Tech on the way to an 8-0 start and its own conference title.
There were 83,830 people on hand at Death Valley last Saturday night for the Georgia game and Clemson organizers are expecting another big crowd for South Carolina State after announcing a second-straight sellout. The school says it’s the first time it’s sold out an FCS prior to the contest.