This time last year, Clemson was not feeling too good.
The Tigers were coming off an unexplainable loss at Syracuse and went into the open date with questions and more importantly a blow to their confidence.
However, Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff found a way to pick up the pieces and make another run to the College Football Playoff. When the regular season was done, Clemson ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the country and after dismantling No. 7 Miami in the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers were 12-1 and earned the No. 1 seed in the CFP.
When No. 4 Clemson returns to the playing field on Oct. 20, to host No. 20 NC State at Death Valley (3:30 p.m.), Swinney and his coaching staff will have a different approach than a year ago. Now, they have to keep it going.
Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) will be coming off its best overall performance of the year thanks to a 63-3 victory at Wake Forest last Saturday. The Tigers did very little wrong while racking up 471 rushing yards and 698 yards of total offense.
The defensive starters did not allow Wake to have positive rushing yards or even 100 yards of total offense through the first two-plus quarters. As a collective group, they held a Wake Forest team that was averaging close to 500 yards a game coming in to 249 total yards.
“I felt like this was one of those games where we could make a statement, and I felt like we did that,” Swinney said. “It was what we needed as far momentum and confidence going into this open date. Last year, we lost this game and came back and won the rest of them. This year we won so either way you have to come back, and you have another half of football to play.
“But, I definitely think this will serve our team well.”
Clemson enters the open week playing well in almost every phase of the game. The Tigers are just one of two teams nationally to have more than 1,500 yards rushing and passing. They rank in the top five nationally in five of the combined eight major categories on offense and defense, plus they are the only team to rank in the top 10 in total offense (8th) and total defense (3rd).
Clemson leads the ACC in scoring defense (14.5 ppg) and total offense (531.0 ypg). It ranks second in scoring offense (42.2), rushing offense (280.1), passing defense (152.8) and total defense (261.2). It ranks fourth in passing offense (250.2) and fifth in rushing defense (108.3).
“We have a good football team,” Swinney said. “We are not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination right now, but we are a team that is getting better. We are a team that is growing up. We are a team that really, really likes each other. We are a team that can play good defense. We are a team that can hit some big plays in special teams. We are a team that is one of the most explosive teams in the country.”
The Tigers rank 5th nationally in plays of 30 yards or more (24), first in 40 yards or more (17), first in 50 yards or more (12) and third in 60 yards or more (6). They also lead the ACC in explosive plays of 10 (101), 20 (39), 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson is tied for third nationally and for the ACC lead with 20 sacks, while their 57 tackles for loss are ranked second nationally.
“We are a growing team and I like this bunch,” Swinney said. “I would not trade them for anybody. None of them. I would not trade this team for anybody. I like the guys we got and we will see if we can get it done with them one way or another.”