What happens in September and October matters, but not nearly as much as what happens in November. The 11th month of the year is the month in college football which separates the pretenders from the contenders.
“The biggest focus for us and we tell the guys, and Coach (Dabo) Swinney has been preaching it since he started this program, ‘People remember what you do in November.’ We want to peak at the right time so we challenge our guys to play championship football going down the stretch,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said on Monday.
Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) looked like it was playing championship caliber football in its 54-0 victory over Syracuse last Saturday in Death Valley. Even with Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson standing on the sideline in the second half with a shoulder bruise, the second-ranked Tigers still managed 565 yards of offense, while holding Syracuse’s explosive attack to 277 yards.
It was the first time a Dino Babers coached team was shut out.
“We had an opportunity coming out of an open week to see if we could get ahead in the turnover margin. Obviously, we had two turnovers down at Florida State, but we were able to take care of the ball against Syracuse,” Elliott said. “Now we are just focusing on taking care of the football and playing our best football as we get into the month of November.”
From an offensive standpoint, Clemson looks like it is on its way. The offense played perhaps its best game of the season. Watson looked like the Deshaun Watson of 2015, while the running game finally showed some consistency.
As Elliott mentioned, though, the biggest number was the “0” in the turnover column. It marked just the second time this year the Tigers did not turn the football over. Coincidently, they won that game 59-0 over S.C. State.
“I think it might not feel that way, but when you look at the numbers, we remind ourselves that we are not far off from where we were last year,” Elliott said.
Actually, the Tigers are right where they were last year through nine games. According to ESPN’s David Hale, only three yards and one point separate the two seasons at this point.
“I think it is a little bit different because of the turnovers. I think if we took care of the ball better in a couple of situations it might feel a little bit different, but the biggest thing is having the guys focus on what we can control,” Elliott said. “So week in and week out it is about getting back to our formula for success. We treat Monday as Monday and we treat Tuesday as Tuesday.
“I’m not a big numbers guy, but sometimes you do have to stick your head up and say, ‘Okay, we are not far off from last year. From what we had coming back, there were great expectations on what we could do offensively. I think defenses have spent a good amount of time in the off-season preparing for us. We have had some more challenges this year from the defenses we have been playing.”
Clemson, who has won seven straight games in the month of November, appears to have managed the storm as it hits the last three weeks of the regular with a chance to something it has already done before – make college football fans remember what they did in November.