From the moment they got back from Arizona, following last year’s loss to Arizona in the College Football Playoff Championship Game, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has praised his leaders on the 2016 team.
And despite last week’s stunning loss to an unranked Pittsburgh team at home, the Tigers first regular-season loss in 24 games, that leadership has not changed. In fact, Swinney credits the leadership for the amount of focus and resolve he has seen from his team in practice this week.
“I think the best leadership definitely comes from within and we have that,” Swinney said following Wednesday’s practice. “It is on the coaches, too. We have a job to do, but I have always said the best leadership comes from within. That’s what this team is special about.
“From Day One, the leadership has been awesome. From the time the game was over from where we are right now, they have done a great job.”
How that carries over into the game, everyone will find out on Saturday when No. 4 Clemson visits Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Tigers (9-1, 6-1 ACC) are playing for the ACC’s Atlantic Division Title and a chance to earn a berth in next month’s ACC Championship Game in Orlando, Florida.
Clemson is looking to win back-to-back ACC Championships for the first time since it won three in a row from 1986-’88.
Swinney knows if the Tigers are to accomplish those goals, they have to start playing better on game days.
“At the end of the day, you have to play well. The best team does not always win. It is the team that plays the best,” he said. “The team that played the best last week was Pittsburgh, bottom line. So if we want to win the game, we just can’t be the best team on paper, we have to play well.”
It can be argued Clemson, who is a 22.5-point favorite at Wake Forest, has underachieved in that area all year. Clemson survived a scare from Troy in Week 2 and won the game by six points. It needed a missed field goal by NC State as time expired to avoid losing on Oct. 15, and then of course living on the edge finally caught up with the Tigers in their last second-loss to Pitt.
“Our guys know (they have to earn it) and they are eager to get back to playing,” Swinney said. “That’s why I have said all week we don’t have to wait all year to play again. We get to play in a couple of more days. We are anxious to go play and try to play well.
“We have a lot of respect for Wake. This is not going to be easy. This is going to be a hard fought game. If you have watched their film, they have battled everybody because they have a good team.”