CLEMSON – As Dabo Swinney says, this year’s Clemson football team isn’t “good enough to roll out there and stink it up” and still emerge with a victory.
The Tigers confirmed that contention a couple of weeks ago when they rolled into Syracuse with an unblemished record and No. 2 ranking and left with a three-point loss and a questionable psyche.
“I’m anxious to see how this group is going to respond,” Swinney said Tuesday.
For much of Swinney’s tenure, the Tigers have responded in a positive fashion.
Clemson is 10-0 following a loss since 2011, having not lost back-to-back games since ending Swinney's third full season with a 37-13 loss at N.C. State and a 34-13 defeat at South Carolina.
Since then, the Tigers have posted a school-record streak of 78 straight games without suffering consecutive losses. Clemson is 67-11 in those 78 games.
“The story is about how you respond,” Swinney said, “how you grow, how you develop.
“Sometimes you’re just not good enough. That’s life; that’s football. This team is good enough, but we have to play well.”
Clemson will get that chance Saturday night when the No. 7 Tigers (6-1, 4-1 in ACC) play host to Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1) at Memorial Stadium.
Clemson and Georgia Tech have split their last 12 meetings, and the Tigers haven’t lost to the Yellow Jackets at home since Swinney’s first game as interim coach in 2008, but Swinney says his team will take nothing for granted.
“Georgia Tech is a football team that’s 4-2, but truly – literally – two plays away from being 6-0,” Swinney said.
The Yellow Jackets lost to Tennessee 42-41 in double-overtime in their season opener, then fell to Miami 25-24 two weeks ago.
The Tigers have refocused during a bye week after the loss at Syracuse, which may serve the team well.
“We were able to disengage from the game a little bit,” Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said. “We realize that we control our destiny. We still control the outcome of our season.”
Swinney likes what he’s seen from his team during the break.
“I think these guys have responded well,” Swinney said. “I’m proud of the consistency we’ve had in our program. We haven’t had an undefeated team yet, but that’s always a goal. Whether you’re Tom Brady or whoever, in the game of football from time to time you get beat.”
Defeats are a part of the game that players on Clemson roster have little experience in dealing with, regardless of their age.
“The makeup of this team is very different,” Swinney said. “There’s only six scholarship seniors. We have a pretty big junior group and all that group has done is played in two national championship games. They ain’t lost very much around here.
“Then you look at our sophomore group, and they’ve just come off a national championship. Our freshmen, they just lost their first game in their careers. They don’t know (about losing). Kids in this program now, they were like 11 seven years ago. Clemson has always been good to them. But they need to know how we got to be good. When you get beat, it’s an awesome opportunity to teach.”
Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News