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Tigers are loose, having fun

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After No. 3 Clemson’s win over South Carolina this past Saturday, defensive coordinator Brent Venables indicated the Tigers as a whole where perhaps more loose and playing better than they were at this time last year. He indicated since the loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 12, the attitude of the entire team has been different.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson admitted on Monday he can sense a different kind of energy around the team, especially when they go good-on-good in practice.

“I can really see that. Like I said, the attitude has been the same, the work ethic has been the same, but I can see that once we go good-on-good, it is a lot more intense,” he said.

There is no doubting there is something different about the way Clemson (11-1) played in blowout victories over Wake Forest and South Carolina to close out the regular season. The Tigers scored on their first four possessions against the Demon Deacons and then cruised to a 35-13 victory. The game against South Carolina was over once they ran down the hill and into Death Valley.

Clemson scored on three of its first four possessions against the Gamecocks and led 35-0 at halftime on its way to the most lopsided victory in the rivalry in 116 years.

In the two games, the Tigers averaged 539 yards and 45.5 points, while holding their opponents to 207.5 yards and 10.0 points per game.

The most impressive part from an offensive standpoint are Clemson’s numbers in the red zone the last two weeks, an area the Tigers struggled in the previous 10 games. Against Wake Forest and South Carolina, two of the nation’s best red zone defenses, Clemson converted on 7-of-8 attempts. The one miss was a blocked field goal by the Gamecocks.

By the way, all seven conversions were touchdowns and six were touchdown passes from Watson, who admits he has improved as the season has gone along.

“I feel like I grow each and every week and grow as the season goes,” the junior said. “I just felt that way since high school. As the season progresses, I just continue to get better throughout the year and right now I’m just playing my best football and all the guys around me are playing their best football.

“We just have to continue to do that and improve each and every week, and have that confidence in knowing that we are really improving and are playing our best ball now.”

Watson tied his own Clemson and ACC record with six touchdown passes, while throwing for 347 yards on 26-of-32 passing against South Carolina. For the month, Watson completed 113 of 151 passes (.748) for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns. Granted, he has thrown four interceptions, but three came in the Tigers’ loss to Pitt when he also completed 52-of-70 passes (.743) for 580 yards and three touchdowns.

“We have been loose and everyone is playing together and is playing on the same page,” the junior said. “We have been capable of doing that all year. It’s just here and there when we have not been on the same page in all three phases. Once we are, we are a hard team to beat.”

The Tigers will try to beat Virginia Tech this Saturday in the ACC Championship Game in Orlando, Florida. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.

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