After avoiding an upset bid from Syracuse at Death Valley last season, Clemson came together as a team and tore through the rest of its schedule, outscoring opponents 474-113 over the next 10 games en route to a national championship.
Defensive tackle Jordan Williams hopes to see a similar response from this year’s Clemson squad moving forward after the second-ranked Tigers survived a scare in Chapel Hill last Saturday and escaped with a narrow 21-20 win over unranked North Carolina.
In a way, Williams believes the wake-up call from the Tar Heels could be beneficial for the Tigers as they keep trying to defend their title.
“Most definitely,” the redshirt sophomore said this week. “Last year, we had that close win versus Syracuse that definitely helped us out, opened our eyes that we’ve got a lot of things to work on and other teams are going to throw their best shots at us just because everybody’s preparing for Clemson and wants to play Clemson.
“So, honestly it could help us out a lot. We’ve seen a lot of mistakes that we made and a lot that we need to learn from, from this film.”
UNC threw the initial punch, opening the game with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, and the Tigers never led until Trevor Lawrence connected with Tee Higgins for a 38-yard touchdown pass that made the score 21-14 with 9:54 to play.
Clemson subsequently allowed the Tar Heels to drive 75 yards in 16 plays over the next 8:32 and score on a touchdown run with 1:17 remaining. However, the Tigers thwarted UNC’s two-point conversion attempt and held on for the one-point victory.
“I really think they just came out, UNC, and they gave us their best shot,” Williams said. “They’re actually a talented team, regardless of who they lost to, regardless of their record. They’re actually a very talented team. They have a lot of weapons, and I feel like they just came out and they were executing on their end, and we just didn’t execute some of the time on our end.”
The Tigers were nearly a four-touchdown favorite against the Tar Heels, but helped UNC keep the game close with a laundry list of mistakes, including six pre-snap penalties, a missed field goal and a fumble.
“I feel like everybody expects us to win by 40-plus,” Williams said. “If a team’s good, we’re going to struggle a little bit. But they’re a very good team. They came out, gave us their best shot and we had to handle it.”
At the end of the day, Clemson took care of business to remain a perfect 5-0 (3-0 ACC) on the season.
The Tigers dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in both the AP and Coaches Poll, though Williams says that is not something the team is concerned with.
“It’s not really a thing that we really focus on,” he said. “Everybody obviously wants to see us lose and not do well, but we’re just going to use it as motivation and keep going. We’re not going to really focus on everything on the outside. I’d rather us just focus on what’s going on, on the field with us.”
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