This coming Saturday when the Tigers stand at the top of the hill before facing Wake Forest it will be a special one. Not because of the number one ranking that the team will hold. Not because of a chance to secure the program's third 11-win season in the past four years. It will be a special one because for the seniors it will be their last time to play in Death Valley—something that Dabo Swinney understands is very special.
"We're glad to be home," Swinney said. "I remember my last game in high school like it was yesterday playing the Thompson Warriors and I'll never forget walking off the field and going to the field house. You're in there in the locker room with your teammates and you are like,'Man...'. You put all that work into something and there's a finality to it. You gotta move on to the next thing and it's the same thing for these guys."
"Some will get an opportunity to play after their time at Clemson—most of them won't. There's an appreciation, I think, that the older you get—whether in life or a freshman that's now a senior—you just smell the roses a little. It's always a special time to honor our seniors. Especially a group, that we talk about all the time to leave the place better than you found it and leave a legacy, and they have."
This group of seniors has been a special one for Swinney and the Tiger program having a chance to win their 43rd game of their career this Saturday—a win that would set the school record for most wins over a four year span. Combined with a school record overall winning percentage of .857 and a record 27 ACC victories, also the best in school history, this Tiger team has been a part of some of the biggest wins in Clemson history including top-10 victories over LSU, Ohio State, Georgia, and Notre Dame.
While this week's opponent, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-7, 1-5 ACC), has struggled this season offensively in part because of youth and in part due to injuries, the Demon Deacon defense has been a constant force through the 2015 campaign.
Ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense entering this week's match-up with the Tigers, the Demon Deacons are coming off an impressive performance against number four ranked Notre Dame last week in which the Demon Deacons held the Fighting Irish to only 282 yards of offense—their lowest output of the season by 150 yards.
"These guys are a bunch of veterans," Swinney said. "They're top-20 in the country in five different categories defensively. They just went to Notre Dame, on Notre Dame's senior day, and held Notre Dame to 282 yards and shut (Will) Fuller down...We all know how good Fuller is and how good of a team Notre Dame, and they really did a good job at Notre Dame. So this is going to be a big challenge for our guys offensively. These guys are incredibly well coached and they know exactly what they are doing.
However, the task for this Tiger team this week is the same as always—prepare for another opponent that will undoubtedly give the Tigers their best shot in hopes of knocking off the number one team in the land. And with each passing week the pressure of being number one gets bigger as the stakes rise—or do they?
"I just got off the phone last night with my best friend and his mama, Sweet Mama as we used to call her, and found out that she's got very advanced lung cancer. And they don't really know what they are going to be able to do," Swinney said. "And his job has just shut down, so he's looking for a new job. That's pressure."
"Do I feel pressure about a football game? No, man. Turn the TV on. You've got 150 people killed, slaughtered in Paris. You got problems in this world. Football is not pressure. I mean this is a game and that's the message that I try to instill in our players. First of all, enjoy this brief, brief moment in your life that you get to play a game—that your body's not going to allow you to play forever. Enjoy this brief moment of the relationships that you have and your time at Clemson. But, also understand that through this game you have a chance to bring some joy to people who really have pressure in their life. Who really have problems."
"What kind of pressure do I have? Give me a break. I love what I do and it's important, but when you have the cross as the foundation of your life football ain't gonna bring no pressure. I promise you that. None whatsoever—Zero. That's why it's fun."
MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY
Saturday's game with Wake Forest will be Military Appreciation Day. The proud military history of what we know as Clemson University really began in 1917, when the entire senior class of Clemson Agricultural College volunteered for service in World War I. A total of 1,549 Clemson cadets saw service in World War I, 25 of which died in battle. Two soldiers from Clemson received the Congressional Medal of Honor: Ensign Daniel Sullivan and Sergeant Erans Foster.
World War II saw Clemson cadets answer the call to arms just as they had for World War I. Only Texas A&M and Army provided more Army officers for World War II than Clemson. A total of 6,475 Clemson alums faced battle in one theater or another, and 370 died in the name of freedom. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to LTC Jimmy Dyess.
The significance of the day and what it means to the Clemson family is not lost on head coach Dabo Swinney
"It's always a special time...No body does Military Appreciation Day better than Clemson University," Swinney said. "There is a deep, rich tradition. It's more than checking a box"
MIKE WILLIAMS INJURY UPDATE
With the season winding down, questions have begun circling regarding former Vance wide receiver Mike Williams' status for the remainder of the year. Swinney addressed Williams' progression Tuesday stating:
"I'm not the judge and the jury here. I don't have anything to do with that (Williams' status). You need to talk to God about that. I get the report that says who can play and that's who we get ready. I don't get involved in all of that. If they ever tell me he can play that's great. I don't make those decisions. You'd have to ask the doctors."
"As I've said, about five times, my personal opinion is that he won't be back (this season). That's just an opinion, I don't know. I've also said in Mike's mind he's playing in the National Championship game. I know he's doing great. They're getting ready to take him out of his soft cast. They've cut him loose to start running and things like that. My biggest thing is somebody would have to sign off in blood that he's okay before I would put him out there. I wouldn't tell him, 'No.' But, somebody would have to come to me—one of the doctors—and say this kid is 100 percent fine. You just want to make sure because he's got so much football in front of him
Williams suffered a fractured neck in the first game of the season.
COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS
Eighteen days is all that is left for the Tigers to officially punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff, and with the end in sight Swinney is finally ready to talk with his team about the significance of where they stand.
"The thing that I'm excited about is that we've got 18 days left with a chance to punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff. And that's really what it comes down to. I mean, you wanna talk about a fun time. Something that at this point in the season you've just got to embrace it. You can just smell it. You work all year long and now you're right here...But where we are right now, 18 days away, we've just got to maximize each day. We got to have a great day today...when you've got 18 days you can't afford to waste a day. We need to put the hammer down and put our best foot forward each day. It's not a time to grow weary; it's a time grow stronger."