By William Qualkinbush
All preseason long, there were Clemson fans who spent a good deal of time trying to find games on the schedule that might end up being more difficult than they theoretically should be. These kinds of games are affectionately referred to as trap games, and finding them can be key to correctly predicting the course of a team’s season.
Trap games are good for fans and media members, but not necessarily for players and coaches within programs. So forgive Clemson offensive tackle Brandon Thomas for being particularly sensitive to those who would like to use the moniker to describe Thursday night’s tilt with North Carolina State.
“I just laugh when people say ‘trap game,’” he said. “I don’t really pay attention to that. I just focus like it’s another game.”
The fan perspective seems warranted, given the way the Tigers played the last time they visited Carter-Finley Stadium. In November of 2011, Clemson had just clinched a division title with a last-second win over Wake Forest, and the Tigers sleepwalked into a firestorm. Nothing went right in a 37-13 beatdown at the hands of the Wolfpack—the worst regular season defeat in the Dabo Swinney era.
According to Thomas, what happened in 2011 is now in the past.
“It’s not something we’re focused on going into this game,” he said. “We’re trying to play to our ability right now, because we’re a different team.”
Last season, Clemson spent half the season dispelling rumors of so-called “trap games”. After playing at Florida State, the Tigers went up to play Boston College. Fans and pundits said it would be tough. Clemson struggled early before pulling away for a comfortable 14-point win.
The team headed to Wake Forest on a short week for a Thursday night showdown. Many implored the Tigers to beware the perils of Winston-Salem, but the result was a 42-13 victory that was all but sealed up early in the second quarter.
Clemson’s next game was against Duke. There were rumors of an experienced, confident Blue Devil team and the presence of a lazy atmosphere that the Tigers has struggled with in years past. The result was a 56-20 beatdown.
The week before South Carolina, the Tigers hosted N.C. State. Fans approached with caution due to the Wolfpack’s ability to score points in bunches. But Clemson’s offense responded with an outburst of its own, pacing a 62-48 victory.
In the past, Clemson’s program struggled with trap games. Media members still refer to a team losing a game it should win immediately after an emotional victory as “pulling a Clemson”.
Last season, however, the Tigers put to rest any notion that the program was still susceptible to such a mentality. Thomas and his teammates are committed to continuing the trend of showing up to play, no matter what outsiders may feel about the potential pitfalls of competition.
“Whether they want to note it as a trap game or not, we’ve got to play,” Thomas said. “If we don’t play as well, it’s not that it was a trap game.”
It may just be lip service, but it doesn’t sound likely that anyone traps the Tigers this season—especially the same team that did it most recently.