I think it's safe to say that Clemson still hasn't played its most complete game of the year yet. Perhaps Boston College, where the Tigers racked up 500 yards of offense and held the Eagles to 14 points? It was a solid win, but I don't remember anybody saying that Clemson dominated on both sides of the ball. For most of this year, one side of the ball or the other has carried this team, and for the most part, that's been the offense. Virginia Tech comes to mind as the only game where the defense really stepped and took some pressure off an offense that was struggling early. Saturday is the perfect opportunity for Clemson to play its best game of 2011. These past two weeks have shown this team that they are not invincible, and that they must bring it every week. With two weeks to prepare for Wake Forest and the return of Andre Ellington, we will look for Clemson to play much more consistent on both sides of the ball this weekend.
It's been a good open date. We've gotten healthy, which is really our number one objective. A lot of guys really benefited from some time off. Just looking at them last night in practice, they really had a spring in their step I have not seen in a while. They've given us everything they've got but at some point they needed a break. It was good to get back out there. I'm ready to get back going.
I think Dabo makes a pretty good point. Most of these guys are 18-20 year old kids. They have been practicing and playing almost every day since August. You had to think at some point there wasn't going to be enough in the tank, and that point appears to be the Georgia Tech game where Clemson was whipped on both sides of the ball. And coming off a loss? Even better in my estimation. If you are winning games and on a roll, the last thing you want to do is take a week off.
All eyes this weekend will no doubt be on the Clemson defense. It's no secret this side has been dominated in several games this season and last weekend was no different. This side shouldn't have the same problems getting off the field as they did in Atlanta, because Wake Forest just doesn't have the ability to eat minutes and minutes of clock on the ground like the Yellow Jackets did. Still, this isn't the Clemson brand of defense that this program was built on. Kevin Steele's boys still sit 66th in total defense and 55th in scoring defense, but those aren't even the most alarming statistics. This defense just isn't making plays, and is evident in the fact that they sit 107th in the entire country in tackles for loss. To be fair, Clemson has done significantly better in the forced turnovers department, but it still must improve in the three previously mentioned categories if this is going to be considered anything close to a solid defense by the end of the year.
Defensively we have to play very, very hard...There's a big drop-off for us right now. That's the difference in our football team. It's not talent, but it's experienced depth. We're very talented, but we just don't have quite the experienced depth that we want or that we're going to have. It's a process. It is what it is.
One critical point that Dabo mentioned this morning was that Andre Ellington took every snap in practice last night and looks good. This could potentially be the most critical component of Clemson putting another W on the schedule on Saturday. Clemson started two freshmen in Atlanta, and two critical fumbles showed that the veteran Ellington was severely missed. When he is healthy and playing his best, there are only a handful of defenses in this country that could slow down this offense. If Andre is truly ready to go on Saturday and the offense can open up holes in the running game (a big if) this offense should have no trouble putting up points.
How dangerous is Wake Forest? As mentioned yesterday, Clemson has dominated the Demon Deacons recently in Death Valley and has only really struggled when games have been played in Winston Salem. Certainly, that's no reason for Clemson to take them lightly. This is still a team that sits second in the Atlantic, is fighting for the division, and has knocked off NC State, Boston College on the road, and Florida State at home. In all three of those games, Wake Forest led by 9 or more points at halftime, leads that have been the recipe for success for that team. Clemson has to avoid getting behind. It almost cost them a game at Maryland, and it cost them a game last week in Atlanta. Hopefully playing refreshed and at home will help prevent that.
I know Wake is 5-4, but they are probably capable of winning every one of those games. They compete. What I love about coach Grobe is that his team competes. They compete with all they have. He and his staff do as good a job as anyone in the league. This is a tough out we're getting ready to play. We'll get the very best that they have.
From my perspective, I can't possibly view this as a game where Clemson fails to come to play. The loss last weekend should've lit a fire under this team. Playing in Miami in January is, and always should be the goal of this program. It's been a long time since this program has won this conference. Step one of doing that begins on Saturday. Beat Wake Forest and the Tigers punch their ticket to Charlotte and a birth in the ACC Championship.