By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Traps are devices of surprise.
Good, bad or ugly North Carolina State is a very visible obstacle on every Clemson football schedule.
The game with South Carolina State was only a Live Fire Exercise (LFX in military parlance), essentially practice with bullets.
Though they may not see the bullets coming, it’s inconceivable any Clemson player won’t recognize the threat even as a 13-point favorite. The noise Thursday night in sold out Carter-Finley Stadium will be unmistakable, more sonic boom than the staccato of a semi-automatic.
Two years ago in Raleigh, a seventh-ranked Clemson team tripped over its hubris, turning the ball over four times. On reflection that game was a critical step in the growth of the program, a humbling of epic proportions.
Clemson stepped into something it didn’t anticipate that night. It wasn’t a trap.
“They kicked our butts two years ago,” Dabo Swinney said Tuesday. “That was one of the most miserable (games) I’ve been through, didn’t even give ourselves a chance. They played on a 20-yard field. We played on a 100-yard field. Not a good recipe.”
The difference, Swinney believes, is that many players on this team were clueless. Nearly half the Clemson roster that season was comprised of freshmen or redshirt freshmen – 42 in all. “We were a young team. It’s just that simple.”
And, they were two weeks removed from a loss at Georgia Tech that burst their bubble, their heads were down but the eyes closed. “It was like the world was over,” Swinney said, mocking the doomsayers. “Oh my gosh. We’ve blown it.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd admitted the team was not prepared to manage adversity, let alone success. In his first season as the starter, he wasn’t ready as evidenced by his performance that included two interceptions and two fumbles.
“I just don’t think we were a very mature team,” he said. “We went out there, turned the ball over, and that was the story of the game.”
And that’s what comes with raising puppies. They’ll miss the paper every time.
“I think the guys learned through that process that the season always starts tomorrow,” Swinney said. “I think that mentality has kind of crept into our team.”
There are things that could affect them – first road game of the season, Thursday instead of Saturday and a totally new program at N.C. State — if they allow the trap syndrome to creap into their minds.
At No. 3 in the AP poll, they’re higher than any Clemson team in 25 years, and probably won’t see a reasonable threat until Florida State, though N.C. State, Wake Forest and Boston College have all been nemesis at various times.
Boyd smiled when he mentioned that this would be the first plane trip for several players.
“At this point in my career it doesn’t really matter,” he said when asked about the aberrations of a midweek game. “We practiced on Saturday this week. It felt like we were back out in little league Saturday mornings.
“We practiced Sunday and it was a very physical practice. Guys were just ready. I think that’s what is different about this team,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about the situations.
“We’re ready to play on any given day.”
Boyd said linebacker Quandon Christian mentioned it to him on the drive home Monday from practice, out of the blue from his gut. “This team is different.”