As they head to Durham for their final road game of the season, Clemson’s Tigers aren’t in all that different a place than they found themselves a year ago: 7-1 as opposed to 8-0, but apparently well on their way to a special season.
As November approaches, Dabo Swinney is hoping for a better stretch run this time around.
“I think this group is more focused and more experienced,” said Swinney Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Hopefully, that experience will pay off for us.
“Last year we got a little distracted and lost some of our attention to detail. All of a sudden, the things we’d been doing well we weren’t doing well any more. We became a turnover machine, and it’s hard to win when you turn the ball over 16 times in six games.
“Hopefully this group understands that we have to do it one game at a time. You can’t do it all at once.”
Swinney said the Tigers will again be tested by the Blue Devils, who bring a 6-3 record and bowl-eligibility into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Wallace-Wade Stadium.
“Duke is having a great year, and Coach (David) Cutcliffe and his staff and players have done a tremendous job. Football’s not an easy game. Everybody works hard, and the fun’s in the winning. It’s good to see them having some fun up there.”
Swinney said the Blue Devils are capable at quarterback whether or not Sean Renfree plays. Renfree, the ACC’s leading career passer, suffered a head injury against Florida State and his status for this week is uncertain.
“Their third-team guy, their wildcat guy, is leading the team in scoring,” Swinney noted. “They play a lot of running backs and they’re very talented at wide receiver. They do a great job of getting rid of the ball and creating space situations. We’ll need our best effort tackling in space.”
Defensively, Swinney said the Blue Devils like to force the action.
“They make you make plays,” he said. “If you make plays, you can have some success. But they force it by bringing one more than you can block.
“And their special teams are solid. Their punter leads the ACC, and their punt returner is fifth in the nation.”
The Tigers, said Swinney, “will have to play well.”
“We’ve talked all year ago it being about us and how we play the game and execute our plan to win,” he said. “Let’s go play our game. What matters is winning today, and then hopefully at the end of November, we’ll be a relative team nationally.”
Swinney said finishing the season with a 4-1 road record would be another step toward the consistency he’s trying to build in his program.
“We’ve talked about the next step being to become a consistent winner,” he said. “We’re headed in that direction. This would be another positive step.”