By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — This time last year, No. 9 Clemson was sitting in about this same position as it hit the road for a key ACC matchup with rival Georgia Tech.
The Tigers were 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings. Things were going great, and then reality set in. The Yellow Jackets, behind 383 rushing yards and four Clemson turnovers, drilled the Tigers, 38-10, as a once magical season spiraled out of control. Clemson won just two of its final six games and though it won its first ACC Championship in 20 years and advanced to the Orange Bowl, players and coaches alike felt as if the season ended with a level of disappointed.
They have made a vow this year not to let history repeat itself.
“We talk all the time that November is a time to remember,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “You are going to be remembered for what you do in November and we are going to preach that. If you maintain your focus for the final 26 or 27 days that we are here, we will get this done.”
Fast forward to this week, and the Tigers find themselves sitting at 7-1 and ranked No. 13 in the latest BCS standings. Like last year, Clemson still has a lot to play for when it heads to Durham. N.C., Saturday to play Coastal Division leader Duke.
The Tigers are a half-game behind Florida State in the ACC Atlantic Division race and are very much in the conversation for an at-large bid in the BCS should they not win the ACC’s automatic bid.
“I think right now, when you go look at our players, a year ago at this time, we were just battling for an open week,” Morris said. “We were mentally drained for this one week that we were fixing to get off, which would have been next week.
“It was a mental challenge for everybody, especially our young players. Now, there is a sense of freshness about them and there is a little pep in their step. They are excited. They had the day off Saturday and got a chance to watch everybody else. They are ready for this final four. That has helped us a bunch.”
In the last three weeks, Clemson has had an open date following its 47-31 win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 6 and then got this past weekend off after taking down Wake Forest on the previous Thursday night. All that rest should give the Tigers an advantage over a Duke team that will not have its first week off until after Saturday’s game.
The Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2 ACC) are already banged up, especially following Saturday’s 48-7 loss at Florida State, where quarterback Sean Renfree and running back Juwan Thompson both sustained head injuries and are listed as questionable for this Saturday’s game.
“We were there last year,” Morris said. “We know what those guys have been going through. You just keep grinding and pushing towards it, but with us being able to have an open week and come back and play a game, that’s helped.
“Now, if you asked me a week ago, where we were playing two games in 12 days, that was straining on everybody, but knowing we were going to get that day off for our players was huge. I’m really excited, and I know our players and coaches are too. We are ready to get in this and meet this great challenge that we have head of us at Duke this Saturday night.”