COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will walk a fine line this bye week between keeping the third-ranked Tigers sharp and not overworking them.
Clemson moved to 2-0 for the fourth straight season under Swinney after a 52-13 victory over South Carolina State last Saturday. The Tigers get Saturday off before opening the Atlantic Coast Conference season at North Carolina State on Thursday night, Sept. 19.
Swinney knows it’s too early to hold back the fired-up Tigers who reached their highest ranking in 25 years when they moved up a spot to No. 3. But he doesn’t want them exhausted with many critical games remaining.
“This week, you have to have a little balance,” Swinney said Monday. “You’ve got to be careful not to overwork them because we’re coming off a very tough camp.”
The Tigers return to practice Tuesday. They’ll have Friday off and start preparations for the Wolfpack on Saturday.
Swinney said his guys worked harder than ever this summer to prepare for the opener, a 38-35 victory over No. 9 Georgia. He thought the Tigers started somewhat sluggishly against South Carolina State in their second game this past Saturday, but were able to take a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and rest the starters.
“They took care of business early and we had a bunch of guys we were able to rest,” he said.
So far, the Tigers have done what Swinney’s wanted. The Georgia win was Clemson’s second consecutive over a top-10 opponent from the Southeastern Conference – the Tigers are the first non-SEC school to accomplish that – and followed that up with a blowout win over pesky South Carolina State from the FCS.
Heisman Trophy contender Tajh Boyd played less than a half while backup Cole Stoudt threw for three touchdowns and completed 19 of 20 passes, the best-ever single-game performance percentage-wise in Clemson history.
Starting tailback Rod McDowell came out of the game with a concussion, Swinney said, although the fifth-year senior was not likely to miss any time. Swinney said when McDowell was slow to get up in the second quarter, it automatically triggered the medical protocols in place for players suffering concussions.
Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t like what he saw from his offense, particularly the starters. Boyd was 14 of 23 for 169 yards and scored Clemson’s first TD on a 1-yard rush. He was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 17 games since Nov. 19, 2011, in a 37-13 loss at North Carolina State.
Morris was especially disappointed in Clemson’s second possession when McDowell was stood up by the South Carolina State defense on fourth-and-1 with the Tigers driving for points.
“There were a lot of positives out of it,” Morris said. “I’m pretty positive we’re really going to be able to motivate this week, that’s the positive I got out of it.”
Swinney didn’t make much of Clemson’s high ranking behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon, although he did Tweet out Sunday that “Polls count in December, but got to love the pub for the program. The season starts today.”
All Clemson has right now is a better starting spot in the chase for a championship than it’s had in recent seasons, Swinney said.
“It just means that people think we’ve got good potential within our team and that’s great, that’s wonderful,” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s not a game of potential, it’s a game of performance.”
Swinney said the Tigers will need the extra time to prepare for North Carolina State, a team that’s stood toe-to-toe with the Tigers the past two seasons. Besides the Wolfpack’s surprising win two years ago – Clemson came in No. 7 nationally having clinched the ACC Atlantic Division – they held tough in a Death Valley shootout before the Tigers won 62-48.
So he’ll do some “good on good” work at the end of practice between his first-string offense and defense to keep up the competitive juices before easing things back a bit in what Swinney understands is a long season loaded with ups and downs.
“We’ve got a tough task to get to three-and-oh,” Swinney said.