With the Auburn game in the books, and Florida State week upon us, all eyes will be on a confident Clemson squad and whether they can put on a similar show as they did last Saturday. We shouldn't have to worry about this team playing uninspired football. This isn't Wofford or Troy, this is Florida State, a huge inter-division rival that will march into Death Valley wounded, but ultimately bent on proving that they are still the National Title contenders and ACC favorites they were dubbed by the preseason media. Despite the Noles' injuries on offense, their defense is one of the best in the country, and no doubt the best Clemson will face so far in its early season. The Mark Stoops led defense ranks 5th in the nation in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. There is little doubt that this is the game where Chad Morris will earn his paycheck.
Their defense is very good. They create a lot of tackles for loss. This is a big, big challenge for us offensively. Their d-line is typical Florida State. They're long, athletic, physical and can run. They have quality depth up front. Their linebackers are big and they can all run. They're very active. They'll challenge us. Their secondary is experienced. Their corners are special. Special teams, in a game like this, could be the difference. And it was the difference in the game last year. They whipped us in special teams. We'll have to have a great week in special teams. Their return men are dangerous. Field position will be critical in this game.
What Chad Morris will have at his disposal to attack this defense is Sammy Watkins. He was brought up several times in Dabo's press conference today and for good reason. He, much like a guy like CJ Spiller when he was here, is someone defense coordinators will have to scheme around. If you forgot about where #2 is on the field, he will burn you, just ask Auburn. The freshman is very quickly making a name for himself in college football, and you would think with this early publicity he is getting you'd worry about him getting a big head. That doesn't seem to be the case.
He just needs to stay like he is and he'll be just fine. I don't know how to answer that. He's just going to get better. He's still learning but he gets it. He understands the defense. You tell him something one time and he's got it. You correct it and he's incredibly coachable. He's got a burning desire to learn. He's very, very humble. He's as hard a worker as there is on the field. He's always taking notes in a meeting. He's a very serious, very focused guy.
Here at STS, we like the approach Dabo has taken so far this season. Focus on motivating the troops, drilling into them the importance of games like Auburn and Florida State, and let your coordinators worry about putting together their gameplans for the week. It's worked out so far. Now, it's likely Dabo has some input on what his coordinators are doing to prepare each week, but for the most part we get the sense that he is allowing Morris and Steele to run their respective sides of the ball. This Florida State game is huge, Dabo knows it, and the fans know it. It's Coach Swinney's job to make sure that the players know it. The Auburn game has passed, it's time to focus on winning this conference.
Auburn was the national champs until someone beat them, as far as I was concerned. We had our shot and it worked out. Same thing this week. FSU has the belt and they're the division champs until someone beats them. This is a big game. It's not the season. If we win it, we have to keep playing. Every game counts in this conference. Every game. It's not decided until the end of the season. But the winner of this game has his hands on the steering wheel. The loser is still in the car but he ain't driving. That the reality of it. We don't have an easy road. Nobody made it easy for us.
Lots of talk has been made of Dabo's post game interview with ESPN following the win against Auburn last Saturday. At this point, I don't have a problem with it. It was a big win for Dabo no doubt, and it will hopefully help build momentum heading into the Florida State game. I could care less what opposing fans think of it, for me, I just want to win. If it takes wild and maybe over the top post game sound bytes or emotional locker room speeches to get his troops ready for teams like Auburn and Florida State, then by all means go for it. Just win.
I will say this: You play that noon game and not only was it a big win, but it was who we beat that they really wanted to talk about. So it was like a commercial for Clemson all day and night. It was great to see Clemson in such a positive light.
Listen, I'm an emotional guy. I like to win. That's what you do it for. We put a lot into this. To be quite honest with you, I don't even remember that whole deal. I was trying to figure out when the alma mater was going to be played. I never even heard it. People stick a mic in front of your face at an emotional time and it's fun. I told our team before the game you're either going to end the streak or be victim #18. I was fired up. Not many teams have beaten those guys. It was a big win and a lot of fun.
Going into this season the offensive line was considered the strength of this Clemson team. In week one and two, they didn't live up to that billing. They played soft and flat and didn't assert themselves against two smaller and less talented defensive fronts. Last Saturday was much better. Guys like Brandon Thomas stepped up, when teammates David Smith and Mason Cloy were out due to injury. Still, Clemson faces a much stronger defensive front this weekend. It's going to be critical that both David Smith and Cloy be ready to go this weekend if we are going to have continued success moving the football.
[Brandon Thomas] had an excellent week of practice. I met with him on-on-one last week. I asked him, 'Do you have any idea how good a player you could be if you'll just commit to what we're trying to do with you?' He prepared well and then he was thrown into a situation where he played 89 snaps. He got better as it went. You can see his confidence. It's like he needed a shot of confidence. He now knows he can help us. That's what we've got to have. David Smith was back out there last night, too and practiced every snap. Mason Cloy was back out there, too.
The Auburn win last weekend was big for a Clemson program that has earned the reputation in the college football world as a team that loses big games down the stretch. It was big for the fanbase and the players. We want our players to play with confidence and a swagger. But, this is only one win. Dabo was ultimately hired to do what Bowden could not, win an ACC title. Win on Saturday against Florida State, and the Tigers will take a critical early step towards achieving that goal.