CLEMSON - Tajh Boyd admits Saturday’s game with The Citadel may have been an issue not that long ago.
For one, the No. 7 Tigers (9-1) have wrapped up ACC play and 10 games in - they’re stepping out to host an FCS-level team.
And then, of course, there’s a rivalry game with BCS bowl implications at South Carolina next week.
“We’re a pretty focused team,” said the senior quarterback, who will run down The Hill for one last time in the noon kickoff. “We’re always down here and engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish and trying to do. That’s the difference with this team.
“Maybe early in my career, that’s something that we literally had to call a meeting and sit down, but now we’re just trying to compete to the best we possibly can. We’re still looking for that game that we can break every record we can on offense.”
Boyd anchors one of the more successful senior classes in Clemson history, which is currently on a 17-game double-digit win streak over unranked opponents.
A victory over the Bulldogs (5-6) can move the group of 19 - seven left from Dabo Swinney’s first “dandy dozen” class - into a tie for the fourth-most wins in school history (37) and the most at home in a four-year span (24).
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“I have talks with the dandy dozen crew and we feel like we’ve have an impact for sure,” Boyd said, “but there’s been more measures and things to correlate with that. We feel like we’ve been a big part of it, but at the same time, it’s been a total effort from a community of people. We’re just glad to be a part of it.”
The two combined for 280 of Clemson’s 383 receiving yards last week, accounting for three scores. Watkins leads the ACC with 1,086 yards and nine touchdowns, while Bryant has already doubled his career-high in yards (698) with four scores. Bryant, a T.L. Hanna product, leads the ACC in yards per reception (20.5).
Watkins says they feed off of each other.
“They can’t double-team me or him,” said Watkins. “You got to be honest on defense. Both of us push each other every practice. If he sees me lagging or loafing, he gets on me, and if I see the same or he’s not finishing the catch, I tell him to give me more.
“That’s the whole wide receiver corps. We have a standard to we play to every day and the coaches coach. We all hold each other accountable.”
The Fort Myers (Fla.) native is having the year he set out for, proving some doubters wrong after an up-and-down sophomore campaign.
“I took pride to go into this season and dominating every team,” said Watkins, “and putting my face back on Clemson and letting everybody know I can be that same guy from my freshman year. I came in this summer and worked as hard as I’ve ever worked. It’s showing out on the field.”
His head coach says consistent playing time has been the real key.
“I wasn’t in that crowd that thought he had a bad year last year,” Dabo Swinney said. “I just think he was very productive for when he was on the field. He really only played in about seven games, so the continuity and the consistency and the rhythm was never there.
“But this year, he’s been on the field every week and all of those things have been there, the consistency, the continuity, the rhythm, all of that. He has been the best receiver in the country. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it in my mind.”
The focus this week is maintaining offensive momentum into the season finale at South Carolina. In the last three games, Clemson has averaged 571 yards, 51 points and a 24-point margin of victory.
“As a (first-team) offense, we should go out there and play two or three quarters,” Watkins said. “Just to show that we can stay on the gas and make plays...We have to go out with a mindset of playing and finishing the game with The Citadel.”
After their fair share of defensive woes, the Tigers are as complete as they’ve been under Swinney, however.
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The offense lands 16 ranked units or players in the top-25 nationally, but on the defensive side, they have 15, including a No. 1 mark in tackles for loss (9.5 per game). Clemson is third in the ACC, but 26th in the nation in scoring defense (21.6).
On special teams, they are one of 29 teams to miss two or less field goals. Sophomore punter Bradley Pinion has landed 22 punts inside the 20, without a touchback yet. And they are 17th nationally in kickoff coverage (18.24 yards per return).
“We’re getting back to being not just a team that people say, ‘Well, they’re a good offense,’” said Swinney. “Because I don’t believe you win a championship on defense or on offense. You win a championship being a great team.
“You have a great defense and somebody’s got to daggum score on offense. You can have great offense, but somebody has to stop somebody. You can have great offense and great defense, but you better have good special teams. You better be able to make key plays that are critical in the kicking game.”
With a victory Saturday, Clemson can put together three consecutive, double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1988-90, and the Tigers’ coach, in his fifth full-year, believes they are just getting started in one phase.
“We’re not what we’re going to be defensively,” Swinney said. “We’ve only got three seniors on this whole defensive roster. This is a good defense that’s in the progress of becoming really, really good.”
Hitting the final stretch, he’s confident in the commitment of his team whatever else this season has in store.
“Our goal is to be the best that we can be and be committed to that standard,” he said. “That’s it. I know the work ethic and the commitment level of our team. I know how they practice and how they prepare and their attention to details.
“As long as we have all those things in place, then I can live with whatever result we get at the end of the year.”