By Will Vandervort.
When 22nd-ranked Clemson takes on Georgia State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Death Valley, it will be all about getting better.
Ever since last week’s loss at Georgia Tech, the Tigers have been trying to ride the ship of emotions that have come with losing their starting quarterback, the questions surrounding their backup quarterback to the reports about the head coach being a candidate for a prominent job elsewhere.
It’s been a taxing week for the Clemson football program to say the least. But on Saturday, for at least three hours anyway, it can put all of those things on the shelf. The Tigers focus will be totally on Georgia State as they try to heal their wounds while regaining the confidence of their backup quarterback.
“From a team standpoint, we are just trying to regroup and have a great finish,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “That is what we’re one-hundred percent focused on.”
On a day in which the football program will be honoring its seniors as well as all the U.S. Armed Forces veterans in the crowd as part of Military Appreciation Day, Clemson should get healthy from a confidence standpoint against Georgia State.
The Tigers (7-3) enter the game as 40-point favorites against a Panthers team that has lost nine straight, including the last three by an average of 22 points.
“Georgia State is a team that has had some tough losses. This group is a young program,” Swinney said. “They have a second-year head coach in Trent Miles. They have got some guys that can make some plays on both sides of the ball.”
But to be fair, Saturday is more about Clemson than anything the Panthers will throw at them. In the last three games, the Tigers have turned the football over seven times and when Deshaun Watson is not on the field—as will be the case on Saturday as he nurses an LCL injury in his left knee—the offense is inconsistent.
In the loss to Georgia Tech, the Tigers failed to score a touchdown, the second time in the last five games the offense did not get into the end zone.
“We have to play well, especially with some of the mistakes we have made offensively the last couple ball games,” Swinney said. “If we go out there and continue the trend of turning the ball over, anything can happen. It is really about us trying to improve as a team.”
It’s also about improving the confidence of quarterback Cole Stoudt. The senior has had a rough week with all the stories about his play against Georgia Tech and what it could mean for next week’s game against South Carolina if he is needed. But Swinney says their concentration has been about making Stoudt feel better about himself and understanding his coaches and teammates still trust him.
“He gives us the best chance to win and it is important that we come out of this week with some confidence with Cole,” Swinney said.
Georgia State (1-9) might be the cure-all Clemson is looking for. The Panthers are yielding 500.1 yards per game overall, including 309.2 yards on the ground. Their 43.8 points allowed per game, ranks last among all FBS teams.
“It is my hope that Cole will finish this thing out great,” Swinney said. “We have won six out of the last seven. We have not lost the last four in a row. We had a bad day offensively at Georgia Tech. We played well enough on defense and special teams to win that game. We had a really bad day offensively.
“The one thing that I have learned in my life and the one thing that I try to instill in our players here is that when adversity comes in your life, you have a choice. You can let that moment or bad decision or mistake define you for the rest of your life, let it destroy your life or let it develop you.
“What I try to teach our guys through the game of football is to allow the bad and the good things to develop them into the person that God has created them to be. That is just my opinion and my beliefs.”