Going into this season, we wanted to see significant progress from the disastrous 6-7 campaign that marked the 2010 season. It's safe to say we've seen such progress. Going into each season we have four goals:
1) Win the division
2) Beat South Carolina
3) Win 10 games
4) Win the ACC
Mission one is accomplished.
Back to Saturday. It's no secret that Saturday was ugly. Tajh Boyd was off, throwing two picks (and several more that should have been picked), the defense gave up 145 yards on the ground at 4.6 yards a clip, and Clemson got behind big. Somehow, someway, Clemson was once again able to mount an incredible comeback, beat Wake Forest on a field goal as time expired, all without their starting left tackle and best playmaker.
Those tickets you already bought for the ACC championship game? Feel free to keep them, Clemson fans.
The Tigers escaped a season-defining scare from Wake Forest in Death Valley, and in a game in which missed field goals were costly, Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro got redemption with the game-winner as time expired. The 31-28 win over Wake Forest assured No. 9 Clemson of its second appearance in the ACC title game in three years. It was a gutsy, impressive performance by the Demon Deacons, but two missed field goals will continue to haunt them. Wake Forest had a 21-point third quarter lead and led 28-21 entering the fourth quarter, but couldn't hang onto the lead.
A question I have seen around message board in the past 24 hours has been a fair one I think.
Has Clemson peaked?
Coming off a bye week, most Clemson fans figured the Tigers would come out with a chip on its shoulder, ready to pound a far less talented Wake Forest team, on senior day, in Death Valley. Instead the Tigers had to scrape and claw for a win. Two weeks before Clemson was thoroughly dominated against Georgia Tech. Two games. One ending in a pretty bad loss and the other ending in a win. Maybe I'm grasping at straws here, but I've seen little out of this defense that makes me think they've progressed at all this season, and can stop any team for that matter. When the offense isn't clicking, like they weren't for a large part of this game, Clemson seems to find itself in some deep holes on the scoreboard.
The Demon Deacons scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes in the third quarter to take a 28-14 lead. Michael Campanaro had a 50-yard punt return, then Brandon Pendergrass followed with scoring runs of 19 and 33 yards on Wake Forest’s next two possessions to quiet the 80,000 at Death Valley. The sluggish Tigers appeared to be stunned. They responded with fiery play on offense and defense. "I looked at the clock and it’s like ‘Man, we worked too long to go out here and lose again,’" Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "In my mind, it is just not going to happen."
Still, maybe Clemson has finally turned a corner. For the last twenty years, Clemson fans have suffered through last second losses, miserable seasons, and years and years of underachieving. This year Clemson has won games in the fourth quarter against Auburn, FSU, Maryland, and Wake Forest. The 7-6, 6-7, and 8-5 campaigns were always marked by close losses, this year those have all been wins.
With their star player (Sammy Watkins) going doing down in the third quarter and facing a 14-point deficit, the Tigers didn’t fold with the entire season on the line on Saturday. It seems that Clemson has squandered opportunity after opportunity to turn their program around during the past 10 years or so. The Tigers had become college football’s version of the "lovable losers." Virtually in every big game during that span, Clemson would lay a big fat egg and break the hearts of their dedicated fans. Not this time. Some past demons were buried.
With a huge win on Saturday and the Atlantic Division wrapped up, Clemson now turns its attention to NC State. One of the goals each year should be to get to 10 wins. Win Saturday and Mission #2 is accomplished. As for Saturday itself? It isn't a great spot for the Tigers. This game is sandwiched between a game that won the division and two huge games against a hated rival and an ACC title game. Clemson must focus on this week, and this week alone. The Tigers have dominated the Wolfpack in its last several meetings. Do the same on Saturday and Clemson will have done what they haven't been able to accomplish since 1990.