The Tigers wrapped up open-week practice on Thursday, having put in valuable work toward what coach Dabo Swinney described as “self study…working on ourselves.”
Now he wants his players to get away from it all over the weekend, before reassembling on Sunday and turning their attention back to wrapping up the ACC Atlantic Division championship and finishing up a successful season.
“It’s been a good week – the enthusiasm has been good, and now the guys are looking forward to finally getting a break,” Swinney said. “It’s been a long, long grind, and I’m looking forward to a couple of days myself to disengage.
“I’ve encouraged them all to do that. And then when we come back Sunday night, everybody needs to dialed in and recharged and really have their eyes on the prize.”
Now once-beaten, but with all their season goals still intact, Swinney believes the Tigers will learn from their mistakes and “get back to doing the things it takes to win.”
“There’s no lack of optimism – every goal we have, we’re way on track,” he said. “We’ve played nine games and had a bad day. We put the ball on the ground and we couldn’t put together all three phases (against Georgia Tech). We tried hard, tried to overcome it, but just couldn’t ever complement each other at the right time.
“But you grow and you learn from everything, from a win or a loss. I think our players know that and will try to do it. The film don’t lie, and we’ve watched the tape. We know what we’re coaching them to do and we know what we’ve seen. But you have to perform.
“The big lesson this week is consistency of performance, week-in and week-out, if we’re going to be a championship football team.”
Swinney said the Tigers are in the enviable position of controlling their own destiny, without watching the scoreboard for other teams’ results.
“That’s what you want – you don’t want to have to depend on other people,” he said. “To be where we are, in control of our own destiny after nine weeks, is where you want to be. Now it’s up to us to go take care of our business.”
Swinney noted that first-year freshman Joe Gore returned to practice for the first time on Thursday since injuring his knee last July. Gore, an early enrollee in January, worked as an offensive tackle with the scout team.
Swinney also said that Spencer Benton is back at practice and is kicking the ball well, and that he might be cleared to play against Wake Forest next weekend.
Swinney said his gut feeling, however, has him leaning toward holding Benton until the NC State game the following week.
“I don’t know that I’m 100 percent comfortable yet with him going and making a tackle,” said Swinney of Benton, who is Clemson’s all-time leader in tackles on kick coverage by a kickoff man, and who suffered his broken shoulder blade making a stop against Virginia Tech.
“It’s hard enough to cover with 11 – I don’t want to go try and do it with 10. In my mind, I’m thinking NC State. He’s kicking the ball good, but there’s still some soreness and stiffness.”