Season winding down, top-10 USC coming up
CLEMSON — Saturday, Clemson gets what Dabo Swinney called “a rare opportunity.”
When No.13 South Carolina visits the No.12 Tigers for a 7 p.m. ESPN-televised kickoff, it’ll mark the first time the two teams are each ranked in the top 15 since 1987. No.12 South Carolina upset No.8 Clemson, 20-7.
“Both teams are top (15) teams, playing each other,” Swinney said, “it’s a great opportunity for our state to showcase this game.”
For Clemson (10-1) to take advantage of the opportunity, it must play its most complete game of the season. Swinney had nothing but praise for the 9-2 Gamecocks on his Sunday teleconference with reporters.
“They’re as good a team as we’ve played,” Swinney said. “Their defense is lights-out, and with the type of personnel they have, they’ve created a lot of pressure, with a lot of guys back from last year (when Clemson had just 153 yards of total offense).
“Their quarterback (Connor Shaw) just killed us, and they’ve got some playmakers outside. … With their kickoff guy, the way we covered (against N.C. State) is a big concern. We’re going to have to execute consistently for four quarters, put it all together on Saturday night.”
Clemson put together one of its best-ever offensive games Saturday, rolling up 62 points (second-most ever against an ACC team) and 754 yards of total offense (second-most in program history). However, Swinney still had quibbles with penalties and “uncharacteristic” drops.
“The good news is we haven’t played our best game,” he said. “We have a lot to challenge our guys with.”
The Wolfpack rolled up 48 points and 597 yards of total offense, and Swinney said he was “very disappointed” with the defense’s first-half play and four one-play touchdown drives, including Mike Glennon touchdown passes of 49 and 77 yards to Tobias Palmer.
“To give up 28 points bam, bam, bam, bam wasn’t good,” he said. “We really came back and played a strong second half and held them to one touchdown that wasn’t on a short field. We competed with great effort all night long.”
It was another strong effort for the offensive line, which held the ACC’s sack leaders sackless for the second consecutive week.
“As a whole our line’s played the best couple games this year against Duke, Maryland and N.C. State, they’ve really played well as a unit,” he said. “It’s a good thing. They’re putting it together as a group which is what you want to see, what you have to have in the offensive line. The guys up front are getting it done. There’s pride taken and they’re trying to get better. The leadership of (senior center) Dalton Freeman has been awesome, and (offensive line coach) Robbie Caldwell has done a fantastic job challenging them.”
They’ll need to continue that trend Saturday night against South Carolina’s defensive line, led by Lombardi and Nagurski Award candidate Jadeveon Clowney (who missed the Gamecocks’ win over Wofford and is questionable for Saturday with a foot injury).
“What you want to do is play the best,” Swinney said. “We’ll find out how our guys respond. I’ve been pleased with how they performed this year but it’s going to take a great effort on their part Saturday night.”
Swinney said his team is as healthy as its has been all season, although a beat-up secondary took another hit when starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland left the game with a groin injury. He’s doubtful for Saturday.
Sunday, Swinney danced around a question about South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the pair’s ongoing verbal feud.
“Whenever I’m around him, the relationship’s always been very cordial,” Swinney said. “I have great respect for him as a football coach, the success he’s had. It’s not about me or coach Spurrier. It’s about guys playing in the game, and that’s where we need to keep the focus.”