Before heading into last week’s game against Wake Forest, the coaching staff’s message to their players was a simple one.
“Don’t take anything for granted.”
That was something No. 4 Clemson did last season before heading into its open date. The Tigers took Syracuse for granted. They took their teammates for granted and, as individuals, they took themselves for granted.
It was a mistake that cost the Tigers a game they more than likely should have won. It was a lesson learned and it was a mistake they were not going to make again before this year’s open date.
Clemson’s offense racked up 698 total yards, including 471 on the ground, while the defense smothered the Demon Deacons’ offense for much of the day last Saturday, limiting it to a season low 249 total yards in a 63-3 victory.
Wake, who was one the ACC’s best offenses coming into the game, averaged a season low 3.2 yards per play and really, it was much worse than that. A lot of those yards came in mop up time against the Tigers’ backups.
Until backup quarterback Kendall Hinton broke off a 53-yard run nearly midway through the third quarter, the Demon Deacons had just 92 total yards, including just 18 on the ground. Clemson held them to 3 rushing yards in the first half and 77 total yards.
“The days are ticking. We are not going to get this time back,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “There are a lot of guys that are playing their last year and the last opportunity for a lot of these other guys to play with these guys, so this year will be the last time that this team is together. So, you really do not take any of it for granted. That was kind of our message (last) week.”
As the Tigers (6-0, 3-0 ACC) now take the weekend off and head home for a little rest and relaxation with their families, they can look back at what has been a pretty solid start to the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Though it is still developing and is still trying to find its rhythm, Clemson’s defense has been pretty consistent all year.
The Tigers lead the ACC and rank seventh nationally in points allowed at 14.5 per game. They are second in the ACC and third nationally in yards allowed, giving up just 261.2 per outing.
Clemson is tied for third in sacks nationally with 20 and ranks second in tackles for loss with 57. It also ranks seventh nationally in passing defense and 17th in rushing defense.
But as dominated as the defensive unit has been at times, they’re still not where they want to be, and that is a good thing.
“I have been on teams that peaked too early and then we fell on our face,” Venables said. “I have been on teams that were the model of disfunction early and then we really became something.
“Sometimes it takes a while. It is a developmental game and every year is different. I know that is something we say all the time, but this is a great example of that. We are just developing the cohesion and the chemistry and kind of developing an identity, whatever it is.”
What the Tigers want to be first is division champions and then they will go on from there.
“In order to have a chance to be the team that can compete for a league championship, this is when everybody has to turn up their intensity, commitment and just have passion for playing good football,” Venables said. “It’s about just being really relentless in their commitment to each other.”
It is about not taking any second for granted.