Leading up to the start of this year’s college football season the common phrase for the third-ranked Clemson Tigers was, “New team, same dream.” Well the “new team” kept their word in the first game of the season as they easily defeated Kent State this past Saturday in Death Valley.
Although they enjoyed the first win, they now turn their focus toward arguably the toughest opponent on their schedule, the No. 12 Auburn Tigers this Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
On Monday the media spoke with co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott, wide receiver Will Swinney, linebacker Kendall Joseph, defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, cornerback Ryan Carter, right guard Tyrone Crowder and quarterback Kelly Bryant.
Here is what we heard:
“I think the guys will be excited to play, obviously,” said Elliott. “I don’t feel like they will be overwhelmed but they are going to be challenged by the athleticism, how fundamentally sound they are, how they play… it is going to be a good challenge for us.”
Although Auburn is the main focus of this week, head coach Dabo Swinney and his son Will, who is a freshman wide receiver for the Tigers, will always remember a special moment that was shared between the two of them before kickoff against Kent State, the first game Will played under his dad.
“He had told me before, ‘Hey, whenever you come down, come by and give me a hug or whatever.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know. I will probably be so in the moment or probably just, I don’t know. We will see. We will see.’ But when I got down there, I was just jogging and he was right there, so I went up to him and gave him a quick hug. It was just cool. It was a really neat moment,” Will said.
The majority of Monday’s discussions with players were about Auburn’s tough offense, especially their offensive line which consists of five returning players.
“They are the real deal,” said Joseph. “The quarterback is solid…the running game they have, they are just well-rounded. They have a solid defense. So they will be a good matchup.”
“They’re physical upfront. They have some tough guys,” Wilkins said. “Haven’t watched too much of them but just coming from last year they come off the ball well. They’re really good with their hands. I’m ready to see how they will perform this year.”
Lawrence agrees they will be a tough opponent, but he feels that he has personally grown since the last time the two Tiger teams faced each other in the first week of the 2016 season.
“I’m definitely smarter,” he said. “I looked back and I watched some of that game yesterday as well. Looking back, I definitely made mistakes that I probably wouldn’t make now. My maturity has risen, just the film and recognizing little things. I think I have grown a lot as a player.”
Wilkins knows better than almost anyone that there is no reason for added pressure.
“Something I’ve learned from being here is the bigger the game, the smaller you have to make it,” he said. “People always tell you that this is a big game, you have to get ready for them. People are not going to want to talk to you as much during the week because you know you have to get focused.”
Carter feels that this past Saturday’s game with Kent State was a great way to get things running smoothly.
“I feel like it was good for us to get it going against a team we hadn’t been going against,” he said. “We’ve been going against each other so I guess it was good of us to start somewhere, start fresh. I think it definitely makes us more ready, just the fact we got some rustiness off if we had any. I think we learned more about our depth. We had a lot of people play so our depth was good.”
Bryant seemed calm heading into his first big-game as the starting quarterback. Despite his performance against Kent State he’s know the competition will only get harder from here but he can’t focus on any outside negativity.
“People are always going to have something to say, try to find something to talk about,” Bryant said. “So, we’re just going to take it one day at a time. Of course it’s a big game coming up Saturday. We’re just going to keep moving forward.”