CLEMSON — Clemson doesn’t need to look far for motivation this week.
A short walk to the Tigers’ film room will suffice. Or just insert a DVD into an available laptop.
Fire up “highlights” from N.C. State 37, Clemson 13, any overconfidence should fade away.
Last November, the then-No.7 Tigers turned in one of their worst performances of the season in Raleigh. They turned the ball over twice inside their own 20. They couldn’t protect quarterback Tajh Boyd. And they lost to the Wolfpack for the first time since 2004.
“We got up there, lost our focus, those guys ended up beating us pretty bad,” said senior tight end Brandon Ford. “Other than Georgia Tech, it was the turning point of our season. We went downhill from there.”
Saturday, No.11 Clemson gets a chance to atone for its mistakes. Just like last fall, the Tigers are 9-1 overall (6-1 in ACC play) when N.C. State (6-4, 3-3) visits for a 3:30 p.m. game televised regionally by ABC.
“You hear, ‘When is Clemson going to pull a Clemson?’” Boyd said. “I’ve heard less and less of that. I think the stigma’s starting to change, the perception is starting to change slowly. People are going to think what they want to but we can control what we can, from the inside out. Just continue to work and play at a high level.”
Clemson does not control its ACC fate – the Tigers must beat the Wolfpack and hope downtrodden Maryland upsets Florida State if they are to claim a second consecutive Atlantic Division title. That question will be answered by the time they take the field; FSU and Maryland kick off at noon.
But Dabo Swinney’s group is very much in the hunt for a BCS bid with wins today and over South Carolina next week – ESPN and CBS Sports have projected the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl.
“We’ve got to take care of business, first and foremost, with N.C. State,” said sophomore defensive tackle Josh Watson. “If we lose to N.C. State, all that’s going away – we’re out of the BCS. So we control what we can control, come out and play to a standard of our best. Hopefully that’ll be enough, I think it will.”
The Tigers have won six consecutive games by at least 14 points, and beat Wake Forest, Duke and Maryland by an average of 33.3 points.
Swinney bristled a bit when asked if he was worried about his team becoming complacent.
“It better set in quick, we’re about to be done here in nine, 10, 11 days or so,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time left. If they were going to get complacent, they already would have. This year’s team has learned to be consistent. Last year’s team learned how to win, but they have the right mentality. They all went through last year and learned how to handle success better and what it takes to be a consistent performer.”
A year ago, State sacked Boyd six times and intercepted him twice. The Wolfpack’s 30 team sacks lead the ACC, and will provide a major test for an improved offensive line.
In addition, State is expected to attempt to limit Clemson’s deep threats, although that’ll be tougher this season with both DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins healthy. Watkins missed last season’s game with a sprained shoulder.
“It’s going to be a challenge for our receivers,” Boyd said. “They’ll be similar to other teams (in bringing pressure). We’ve got to be prepared – they’re going to play disciplined defense. When we get an opportunity, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
State’s defense is led by junior cornerback David Amerson, a 6-3 athlete who pulled down an ACC-record 13 interceptions last season, including one of Boyd. This season, Amerson has slipped somewhat, giving up several big plays; he has four interceptions in 10 games.
“He’s been outstanding,” Swinney said. “People are trying to keep the ball away from him. Last season he was a freak show. It was crazy what he did. People tried to stay away from him as much as possible. He’s a very talented player.”
Equally important will be stopping senior quarterback Mike Glennon, who is second in the ACC behind Boyd in passing yardage (291 ypg) and touchdowns (22). Last year, a strong ‘Pack offensive line protected him well and, in the words of sophomore defensive tackle Josh Watson, “were throwing us around like a rag doll.”
“They have big, athletic guys who can really move,” Watson said. “The way they slide and protect Glennon, it’s going to be difficult to get back there to him, but we’ve got to trust our technique.”
And, of course, there’s the small matter of avenging 37-13.
“This year is going to be important to us,” Ford said. “We feel like we owe them from last year.”