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Monday Notes: Clemson Establishes Some Swagger

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The 2011 Clemson Tigers are 4-0.  Outside of the folks in Pickens County, not many people envisioned such a dynamic start for Dabo's football team.  This was the school that had earned the reputation as mass underachiever, a team that couldn't win games down the stretch when they needed to.  This Clemson team has seemed to take that personally, winning two critical games against ranked teams, coming up with explosive and desperate stops when it was necessary.  Many pundits and opposing fans pointed to a depleted Seminole team that was missing key players at key positions as the reason for the loss on Saturday.  Well guess what, Clemson had its own string of injuries with Smith, Cloy, Price, Ellington, and Howard all hampered by problems, and yet this team still found a way to prevail.  Perhaps that is what will separate this Clemson team from years past.  No excuses, just find a way to win.  

It seems like Clemson has been the most erratic, up-and-down, flip-floppingest college football team in the country over the past 10 years or so. During that stretch, the Tigers would have a monumental victory only to lose to a lower-tier team the next week, or vice versa. But when Rennie Moore sacked Florida State’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Clint Trickett, with 1:37 left, the Clemson faithful at Death Valley went into a frenzy.

Clemson had just sealed a 35-30 victory over No. 11 Florida State. And with last week’s win over No. 21 Auburn, the Tigers have now won back-to-back home games over top-25 ranked teams for the first time.

Anytime you beat Florida State it's a big win.  It's a division game, against a conference rival, against a school and opposing fanbase that views Clemson almost like a little brother, led by a coach that they deem as a clown.  Perhaps they should re-evaluate their stance on this Clemson team, and a program that hasn't lost to the Seminoles at home in more than a decade.  With this win Saturday, Clemson now sits atop an Atlantic Division that at this point only has two real contenders.   

"We believe in ourselves so much as a team," Boyd said. "We're watching ESPN and all three people say we're not going to win the game. We feed off of that."

The Seminoles were ranked fifth in the country two weeks ago and considered a national championship contender. Now, they're not even tops in the ACC Atlantic after their second straight defeat.

Heading into Saturday's game, most observers expected the Clemson offense to be slowed down by a Seminole defense that was considered one of the best in the country.  Led by a sophomore quarterback, a future NFL tight end, and one of the best freshman in the entire country, the Chad Morris attack did everything and anything it wanted, slicing the Seminole defense for 450 plus yards and 35 points.  It was one of the most impressive performances by a Clemson offense in a long time as they did it against a quality defense.  Chad Morris and his playmakers proved they were the better side of the ball.

In January, offensive coordinator Chad Morris was hired. In February, Clemson signed one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. In March, an offensive overhaul began. And this past summer, quarterback Tajh Boyd said, some veterans on Clemson’s roster got together and decided this season would be different.

With its 35-30 win over No. 11 Florida State on Saturday, Clemson proved it is. "We hear Clemson can’t win two games back-to-back, Clemson can’t do this, Clemson can’t do that," Boyd said. "It’s really fine because we have everything we need in this stadium right here."

With Florida State in the books, and week five upon us, Clemson now must face its most difficult task of the year thus far.  Blacksburg, Virginia has been a house of horrors for visiting teams especially in night games where the Hokies are especially tough.  I was there in 2006 and watched a Tommy Bowden team look overwhelmed in the mountains of Virginia.  Clemson, much like in 2011, was coming off an emotional win at home against Georgia Tech, and had to quickly turn around and take on a Virginia Tech team that kicked the Tigers' teeth in.  Let's hope the extra two days to prepare this year, as opposed to 2006 will serve Clemson well.  Not many teams go into Blacksburg and come out with a win, but if Clemson is to continue this magical run in 2011, it must find a way prevent turnovers, move the football, and play sound on special teams.

But to open ACC play, Virginia Tech will face its toughest opponent yet in Clemson, which beat then-No. 11 Florida State 35-30 on Saturday. The Tigers are averaging 38 points and 506 yards of offense per game, led by former Phoebus High quarterback Tajh Boyd, a redshirt sophomore.

Clemson leads the all-time series 17-12-1, but Virginia Tech has won five in a row, including the two times they've met since the Hokies joined the ACC (2006 and 2007).

This weekend, all eyes again will be focused on the Chad Morris offense, and how his players respond to a deafening crowd and a defense led by one of the best minds in college football in Bud Foster.  The Clemson offense has proven it can put up video game numbers at home.  We'll soon find out if it can march down the field and score points in a place where opposing touchdowns are hard to come by.  

The unbeaten Hokies have held each of their first four opponents to 13 points or less. "Our point is to bring the defense back," said defensive end James Gayle, who had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks. "Last year we didn't do too well."

Marshall (1-3) did not offer the challenge that Clemson will. In fact, none of Tech's first four foes did. But Taylor is optimistic. "We're ready for Clemson," he said. "A lot of people are saying that our schedule's kind of weak, so we're ready to get out there and prove we can play against the big boys."

The Florida State win on Saturday was critical for a program that has struggled to win important games, especially early in the season.  The Chad Morris offense is clicking, the Kevin Steele defense has found ways to come up with big stops when the team has needed them, and Saturday we find out whether this Clemson team is for real.  Beat a quality Virginia Tech team, in a fiercely hostile environment, and look out, this could be the year Clemson fans have dreamed of for 20 years.