CLEMSON — – Late Saturday night, Clemson got a major gift from another ACC land-grant university.
N.C. State rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun No.4 Florida State 17-16, giving the Tigers new life in the ACC Atlantic Division race.
After falling 49-37 at FSU two weeks ago, Clemson needed to win the rest of its ACC games and have the Seminoles lose twice. Now, winning a second consecutive division title – and taking a trip to Charlotte for the ACC title game – is a real possibility.
“It certainly gets you one step closer to being back in the hunt,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said on his weekly teleconference with reporters. “But our optimism (as a team) was always very positive.”
As Clemson enters its only open week of the season, Swinney says his team’s mindset won’t be about scoreboard watching. It’ll be focused on self-improvement. The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 ACC) dropped one spot, from No.15 to No.16, in this week’s Associated Press top 25.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t win that game, but it’s not about guys not thinking they couldn’t have a great year,” he said. “We all know it’s a long season and we’re going to focus on controlling what we can control. If it works out, great. We lost a game and that’s the situation we put ourselves in. We can’t control our destiny. We need help, but it won’t matter if we don’t control what we can control.”
Swinney praised his team’s focus in following the FSU loss with a 45-31 win at Boston College and a 47-31 win over Georgia Tech.
“The mentality of our team is that it’s all irrelevant if we don’t stay focused on what we’re doing, “ he said. “I’m proud of our team. We went to Boston and won, came back and got a crucial win. There are a lot of things we have to do, we have to have help from a conference standpoint. We still have a chance to have a great season no matter what happens.”
Saturday, the Tigers scored the game’s final 17 points, rallying from a 31-30 fourth-quarter deficit.
“We weren’t pretty the whole game,” he said. “We took advantage of opportunities and had critical errors as well. There were a lot of positives in this game on both sides and this team put a complete game together. It took all three phases making big plays to win this game.”
Swinney said a “lot of guys are beat up,” but the only player who would be questionable if Clemson had to play this weekend would be senior tight end Brandon Ford, who left with an ankle injury and wore a walking boot afterward. He is expected to be ready for Oct. 20’s date with Virginia Tech.
Defense will be a major focal point this week. Clemson is allowing 202.6 rushing yards per game, 102nd nationally. Its 445 yards per game allowed stands 96th nationally. Its 27.3 points per game allowed ranks 71st nationally.
When asked what areas the defense would focus on this week, Swinney replied, “Everything.”
“We’ve got to continue to get better with our recognition, eyes, tackling, playing and defeating blocks, everything,” he said. “Fundamentals… we’re a long way from being anywhere near a finished product. We have a lot of work to do in every area. There’s nothing off the shelf, nothing where we’ve arrived in a particular area.”
Swinney said this week will be devoted to teaching and learning from the first half.
“We’ll continue to teach,” he said. “We want this to become a defense that can grow in its knowledge and take advantage of looking back over the first half. There’s a lot we can learn from and apply to the second half.”