By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Dabo Swinney has often talked about treating each week’s opposition as a nameless, faceless opponent. He says winning and losing is largely about Clemson playing its best and handling its business. Players like Grady Jarrett and Travis Blanks have used the same expression to describe the way the team puts the spotlight on itself to determine the outcome of a particular game.
Such a sentiment is rather easy to plant within a player’s mind against an opponent from the FCS ranks, or even from a downtrodden program from the Atlantic Coast Conference. It becomes a more difficult task when the opponent is a top ten team in Georgia, the nation is watching, and the highest hopes for the season perhaps rest on the shoulders of a win or a loss.
But that won’t stop Brent Venables from trying.
“The key is to keep perspective and keep focus and keep poise and say, ‘What do we need to do to have an opportunity to win the game?’” Venables said. “Then next week, against South Carolina State, it’s going to be the same thing.”
By no means is Venables suggesting Georgia isn’t a worthy adversary for his defense to face off against in the season opener. On the contrary, he says he would prefer an easier opponent so he could afford to play more players further down his depth chart. He did this as he lavished praise on Aaron Murray, Gurshall, and the cast of characters he will struggle to stop on Saturday night.
For Venables, it is less about disrespecting an opponent than recognizing the long-term goals Clemson has. Weighting games unevenly can allow emotion and focus to fluctuate, which Venables finds unacceptable.
“You can’t cheat the game,” he said. “Cheating the game is buying into all the hype and putting it on a bigger stage, per se, than you need to. The teams that don’t have good focus and the right kind of purpose are the teams that don’t play well.”
Much of the preseason talk surrounding the Clemson football team has centered around the idea that a win over Georgia would vault the Tigers into the national championship picture. Venables agrees with the importance of the opener, but he also realizes how important the next game against South Carolina State, and the game after that against North Carolina State, and so on and so forth, are in the grand scheme of things.
“When you call a game a big game, it’s when you’ve got a championship on the line,” Venables said. “This is one of many. This is a long season.”
Venables knows how good Georgia is. He also knows how hard his players have worked in a grueling preseason camp in order to be better equipped to deal with the challenge by developing a tougher mentality.
If players respond to the coaching and teaching—which have been offered at a high level of intensity ever since Venables arrived on staff—the Tigers should be prepared to match Georgia’s presumed physical nature by the time the first of many games commences.