If recent history tells us anything about this Clemson team, especially the 2009 campaign, having this week off to regroup and get back to the drawing board could prove to be critical to finishing this season strong, and by strong I mean 11-1 and a spot in Charlotte.
In 2009, Clemson was coming off back to back losses to TCU at home and Maryland on the road and was in desperate need of a week off. And they got it. The Tigers sat at 2-3 and it looked as though the season was almost shot. The bye week came at a pivotal time, and the Tigers used the time to get healthy, regroup, and get ready for Wake Forest the following week. Sound familiar? In hindsight, it's hard to downplay just how important that bye week really was. From 2-3, Clemson went on a pretty incredible run, winning six straight games against Wake Forest, Miami, Coastal, FSU, NC State, and then Virginia to capture the Atlantic Division. Do the Tigers get to the title game in Tampa without the bye week after a bad Maryland loss? Hard to say. But you can't argue that whatever happened during that week sparked a great run and led to Clemson's first real shot at the ACC in a long time.
This Clemson team is stronger than the 2009 version. The 2011 Tigers have the luxury of not having to battle out of a 2-3 hole. This version only has to win one game from here on out to get to Charlotte, not five or six like they had to do in 2009. And yet this team is no doubt still frustrated. They walked into Atlanta as favorites and were dominated for most of the game. The remaining three games are very winnable, and Clemson will be favored in two of them. What must the Tigers do in the next two weeks to get ready for the final stretch of the season?
1) Get guys healthy. Andre Ellington watched Saturday's game from the sidelines. Dwayne Allen, nursing the dreaded turf toe that CJ Spiller battled through much of 2009, caught only 4 balls for 32 yards on Saturday, his lowest output of the year outside of the Wofford game. These guys are staples of the Chad Morris offense. When Andre Ellington is on, this offense is virtually unstoppable. Look at the Maryland game where Andre gashed the Maryland defense all night. For this offense to truly be clicking, it must establish the running game, and Ellington is a critical part of that. We must get him back for the last stretch of the season. A healthy Allen is also important. It's no secret that the future NFL tight end creates matchup nightmares for teams, and he is going to be relied upon in November and December to make big plays for this offense. How healthy can these guys get in just two weeks? No way of knowing at this point, but the bye certainly cannot come at a better time for these two guys.
2) Put together a solid plan for Wake Forest and spend the extra time perfecting it. Next weekend is a huge game for Clemson. The Tigers will no doubt be heavy favorites, but they were also favorites last week against the Yellow Jackets. There is no excuse for not coming into this game and throttling the Demon Deacons. One of the goals for this program every year should be an Atlantic Division title. That is well within reach. There shouldn't be a lack of motivation problem over the next 7-10 days in preparing for Jim Grobe's club. If you want to get to Charlotte and want a shot at playing in the Orange bowl, this team must work on cutting down on mental mistakes on defense, stop turning the ball over on offense, and capitalizing on opportunities in the red zone.
Anything else fans would like to see the team work on over the next two weeks? It's not likely Clemson sees many zone read plays until they face the Gamecocks in the last game of the season, so it's not likely the staff will spend too much time addressing those glaring issues this week in practice, but it would be nice if some attention was devoted to it.
This bye week could to be critical for this team. They are frustrated and coming off their first loss of the season. It's time to put Georgia Tech behind them and use this loss as an opportunity to light a fire under this team, get key players healthy, and work on avoiding mistakes that helped cost this team a win in Atlanta on Saturday.