Tigers ready to hit home stretch

Tigers ready to hit home stretch

Football

Tigers ready to hit home stretch

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By Will Vandervort.

By Will Vandervort

CLEMSON — There is one benefit from playing a football game on a Thursday night, you get an extra few days to heal from all the hitting.

That’s exactly what the Clemson Tigers did this weekend following their 42-13 victory at Wake Forest. Clemson, which moved up four spots to No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll Sunday, used the extra week to heal some old wounds and get ready for a stretch run that will determine its postseason fate.

Right now, the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 ACC) are in position to contend for a BCS at-large berth should they win out. Clemson also has a chance to win the ACC Atlantic Division, though it will need one more loss from Florida State to do that.

The ACC Champion gets an automatic bid to the BCS and will play in the Orange Bowl.

“It was good to have a little break,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during his teleconference Sunday night. “That is going to be big for our guys. For them to be able to have a Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to heal their bodies up is big, especially coming off that short week.

“Hopefully we can get ready for a good stretch run these last four weeks.”

That stretch run starts this coming Saturday against Duke, who could be without starting quarterback Sean Renfree, who suffered a head injury in the Blue Devils’ 48-7 loss to Florida State Saturday. Duke could also be without running back Juwan Thompson, who had a CAT scan on Sunday.

Clemson on the other hand has its own problems with injuries, especially at cornerback where Garry Peters, who was starting in place of the injured Darius Robinson, left the Wake Forest game banged up in the third quarter. The Tigers were also without cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who sat out the Wake game due to an abdominal strain.

“I think we are in pretty good shape,” Swinney said. “From the game the other night there was really nothing there that should keep anybody out of a game or anything like that. Garry Peters could have come back. But he is hurt on his side. We will find out more on him in the morning. I think he is okay.

“I will know a little bit more tomorrow as well on Breeland. Hopefully he will be back with us in practice tomorrow but I can’t confirm that right now.”

As for the Duke game itself, Swinney is excited to get back on the field next week and see just how much the extra time off will help his football team against a Duke team that is 6-3 and is playing for a division title itself on the Coastal side of the ACC.

“I am excited about going up to Duke.  It has been a while since I have been up there,” he said. “So I look forward to going up there. Hopefully, we can continue to get better and play our best football at the most important time of the year.

“This is the stretch run of November. This is what we have talked about all year long. We need to keep finding a way to win and give ourselves a chance in November to have a strong finish.”

To finish strong, the Tigers will have to take care of the football. In last year’s 2-4 close to the season, Clemson became its worst enemy. The Tigers turned the football over 16 times in the final six games after turning it over eight times in the first eight games.

Through eight games this year, Clemson has committed only eight turnovers and leads the ACC in turnover margin with a plus-8.

“The biggest thing is lets don’t turn it over 16 times in six games,” Swinney said. “That is the biggest thing. It is just a matter of staying focused. I think that’s the one thing they do remember from last year. I think they gained some experience so certainly they understand that you have to stay committed to doing things the right way.

“It doesn’t come easy and you have to finish the race. You can’t just look up and say ole boy and get all fat and happy. Every single day is a challenge and you have to try to just win that day and keep getting better.”

The Tigers’ mentally this year has been “the season starts tomorrow.” They can’t focus on what lays ahead in the ACC race or in the BCS standings. All they can do is focus on the now, and that focus is squarely on the Duke Blue Devils.

“They have embraced that and if they continue to do that, I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a strong finish,” Swinney said. “The reasons we were 8-0 last year are the same reasons we are 7-1 right now. We have done a great job of taking care of the ball. We have improved as a team.

“Last year, down the stretch, we became a turnover machine. That was really the number one critical factor in not having a great finish. Now having said that, we still finished with 10 wins and won the ACC and did some great things, but we have a lot of guys that were on that team and I know they are just focused on having the best finish they can.

“We don’t control our conference, but if we do keep controlling what we do control then we will be available to take advantage of the opportunity,” he continued. “Again there is a lot of opportunity out there for this team both in the conference and outside the conference.”

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