DALLAS — A year ago, Clemson prepped for a Sugar Bowl matchup with Alabama that it eventually lost in a lackluster performance. But, the Tigers learned a lot about themselves after that game.
This season the Clemson coaches and players feel better prepared for the semifinal game because their preparation has been ongoing since Week 1. They are deeper, more experienced and as a result are more confident.
The second-ranked Tigers are set to face No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl Classic at 4 p.m. EST Saturday in AT&T Stadium, a battle of undefeated teams. They feel that depth gives them an advantage against a talented Irish squad.
Clemson is beating opponents by an average of 31.7 points per game, the best in school history since John Heisman’s 1900 team. Wide margins allowed for mass participation and nearly every player on the roster has participated in at least one snap this year.
This has built significant depth for the Tigers, which it did not have a year ago. Last season the team entered the Sugar Bowl with a few injuries and a squad that was battered from a long season. This season there is a new freshness in the locker room.
Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott knows it is a huge benefit to his team, he told the media in the Omni Hotel on Wednesday, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Last year three wide receivers had played over 500 snaps before the ACC Championship win over Miami and this season ony one has reached that mark with one additional game played.
“I think that is a huge benefit, playing a lot of guys,” Scott said. “Amari Rodgers (is the only WR with 500 snaps) because of his special teams snaps as a punt returner. A lot of guys have played and given us fresher legs.”
Building depth over the course of the season is a lesson the Clemson coaches have learned over their successful run entering their fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance. It is something that evolved to a point of emphasis for the coaching staff in practice, games and recruiting.
“A couple years ago was our first experience with that playing 15 games,” he said. “Now we have seen that and try to be smart with our reps when we can. Another part of it is recruiting more talented players like Justyn Ross, he deserves more snaps.”
While the Tigers remained focused on each individual matchup and winning each game from week to week, they almost naturally began to gain experience for younger players in mop up time and in meaningful snaps early in games.
“We need a focus each week of the one game season but in the back of our minds as coaches, we are repping our players,” Scott said. “Coach Swinney holds us accountable and looks at the snap totals so we are getting everybody involved and it helps this time of year.”
Clemson finds out how much their improved depth will affect its veteran team in the CFP Semifinal game on Saturday.