By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- With defending National Champions Auburn coming into town Saturday, Clemson’s starting center Dalton Freeman cannot help but think about last year’s meeting between the two Tigers and how Clemson was very close to defeating the soon to be champions.
“It was a disheartening experience last year losing a game I thought we had won,” Freeman said. “Obviously at that point we knew that they were a very good team, we didn’t know how good they were going to be but it gave us confidence too because we were up 17-0 at halftime, made us think that we could compete with anyone, but we’ve got to learn how to finish games strong.”
Revenge however is not a factor in this weekend’s rematch according to Freeman; he’s just focusing on getting better and improving as a team.
“I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind that we’d love to beat this team, but we’re really just focusing on getting better,” Freeman said. “They’re the defending national champions, they’ve won 17 in a row and we’ve struggled to win two, so right now it’s all on us and we’re just trying to get better.”
Although Freeman believes that he and his teammates have improved over the past two weeks on learning Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris’s new offense, he knows that they still have a long way to go.
“Obviously we’re not where we want to be, we have left a lot out on the field during the past two games,” Freeman said. “But we really had over 500 yards of offense last week, we had a few sacks that we weren’t happy about but they are correctable, it’s not like we’re getting beat, we’re hoping to correct our mistakes this week and get better.”
The aggressiveness of the offensive line has been a cause of concern so far this season, and even Freeman has noticed a difference in the offensive line’s preparation so far this season compared to last season.
“It hasn’t been how we want, I think everyone’s been disappointed in us and they should be, we’re supposed to be the core group on this team, with the most experience, most maturity coming back and we haven’t performed the way we want to. I think a lot of it has to do with preparation, I don’t know if it’s guys getting complacent or what, last year we’d be up here 24/7 in the film room watching on our own, so we’d always know what to expect out of teams. But this year, I hate to use the word complacent, I don’t think we’ve gotten complacent but we’re just doing what we have to do to get by and it’s starting to catch up to us. I think everyone’s going to be a lot more focused this week.”
Even though there have been problems so far with the offensive line playing physically, Freeman has seen improvement so far this week in the preparation of the line for the Auburn Tigers.
“The good thing about our group is we’re pretty mature,” Freeman said. “You don’t have to call anybody out they understand and know what’s at stake. And this week being the Auburn game, and as much hype as it’s getting they understand how big of a deal is and know that what we’ve done during the past two weeks is unacceptable.”
Freeman agrees with Offensive Coordinator Morris who said on Monday that the offensive line was thinking too much on the field and that is the reason why they haven’t been as physical as he’d like.
“I think that’s a huge part of it,” Freeman said. “And it’s another reason why guys have to get into the film room more, watch more film and take more of an ownership role. The NCAA only allows us 20 hours a week of practice, and if we only do that then we’re not going to be very good, you have to spend a lot of time to be great. Last year like I said we were very prepared, and that may have been because we were so used to our system, and this year is a completely different ball game, different blocking assignments, pass protections, so we have to come in here and familiarize ourselves with it because it changes every week.”
With a new offensive coordinator, the Tigers have adapted to his new system and his “Nothing’s good enough,” mentality. Although the Tigers were close to 500 all purpose yards versus both Troy and Wofford, Freeman knows that they could have done better and that the team will continue to improve every week.