Three weeks is all that stand between the Clemson Tigers and their date with the Oklahoma Sooners in the College Football Playoffs. After a season which saw the media use the phrase "biggest game ever" before the Notre Dame, Florida State, South Carolina, and last weekends North Carolina gameâall of which were the biggest game for one reason or another-- the game December 31 at 4 pm is truly the biggest game ever for Clemson.
The Tigers will reconvene next Sunday to begin work on the Sooners of Oklahoma, but the theme of this week is rest. Rest desperately needed after playing 11 straight weeks of football. Rest that for offense may come at the wrong time.
Much like the golfer who is in "the zone" or the baseball player who is on a hot streak the thing that both dread like the plague is rest. Time off. Time to get sloppy or lose the "groove" that you were in. For the defense, however, the rest is a different story.
Ever since reaching as high as number three in total defense this season the Tigers have slipped to number seven during the course of the last seven weeks. In part, because of the second half of games which have seen the Tigers struggle to close out opponents.
For defensive coordinator Brent Venables these next three weeks are not necessarily "off" but it will certainly go a long way toward getting healthy and recharging the batteries of his defense for, hopefully, a final eight quarters of football.
"I don't know if it's off, but it's going to help for sure," Venables said early Sunday morning following the Tigers ACC Championship victory. "I hope so. I think it (the rest) will (help). We all need a little bit of time. That treadmill has been 15 for 15 for a long time. It's exciting what we have sitting in front of us and the opportunity. But we need a few days to really take a deep breath and heal up a little bit and get ready to go here down the home stretch."
The time to heal up a little will be maybe most useful to one of the leaders of Tigers defenseâjunior linebacker Ben Boulware who has been playing the last two games with what he describes as a "bad stinger" suffered against Wake Forest.
"Personally, my shoulder is killing me. I've been playing with one arm the last two games," Boulware told the media Sunday morning. "The way he hit me, the lineman from Wake Forest just hit the crap out of me. He kind of blindsided me. He hit me right on top of the shoulder. It's not really my AC joint. It's on the side and my collarbone. There's not really a diagnosis. It just hurts. It sucks
"I honestly have no strength in it all..If I can have two weeks I can probably get back to where I was," he continued. "I get to, like, 75 percent then I hurt it again during the game. This next month is going to be big."
With the tiredness the defense is experiencing Venables is seeing his defense make uncharacteristic mistakes. Mistakes that are making the game more difficult for the Tigers defense than needs be.
"We do some of the most bonehead things, but that's a reflection of coaching. Right there at the end, most of the guys are playing to win and a couple of guys are playing not to lose and it shows. We've got to be better than that. That's the most discouraging part, that we make it so hard on ourselves at the most inopportune times.
"For as well as we played for a good portion of games, I know the ultimate goal is to win, but that was disappointing. It's one thing if they take three or four minutes, and they're (the Tigers) making some really good, competitive plays, but I can't stand non-competitive plays at all. We've got to get better."
WATSON ON THE COVER...AGAIN:
For the second time this year Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson is the cover boy of Sport Illustrated. After a 34 year gap from the first Tiger to grace the cover of the publicationâthe first being Perry Tuttle who was on the cover following the Tigers National Championship victory in 1981âWatson is back on the cover of the magazine.
Earlier this season Watson was on a southeast regional cover following the Tigers division clinching win over Florida Stateâthis week he is going national. The Heisman frontrunnerâaccording to Sports Illustrated and CBSsports.com
"Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is all smiles on the cover of this week's College Football Playoff issue of Sports Illustrated. With a conference title in hand the Clemson Tigers have their eyes set on a national championship," Sports Illustrated's Ryan Asselta said. "Pete Thamel takes a look at the Heisman Trophy finalist who has Clemson ranked number one in the country with it's eyes set on Oklahoma in the College football playoff."
The magazine hits the newsstands nationwide Wednesday, December 9th