CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney expects the seventh-ranked Tigers to remain focused on FCS opponent Citadel this week even with the season finale against rival South Carolina looming down the road.
Swinney said Tuesday his players understand that losing their focus can lead to the loss, regardless of the opponent. The Tigers (9-1) are 27-0 all-time against Football Championship Subdivision programs. That record includes a 52-13 victory over South Carolina State back in September.
After Citadel (5-6) comes the annual contest with the Gamecocks on Nov. 30. South Carolina has won four straight in the series.
But Swinney said that’s for next week. Right now, the Tigers are all about trying to slow down the Citadel’s triple-option offense, which is fourth in the FCS at more than 284 yards a game.
“This is college football. Crazy things happen. Balls hit off pads and ricochet and guys catch balls and run for touchdowns,” Swinney said, referring to Auburn’s late touchdown pass to defeat Georgia last Saturday.
“I’m not trying to act like Citadel is a team we shouldn’t beat, but to act like they can’t beat us? That’s crazy,” Swinney continued.
It’s happened to several other FBS schools earlier this fall. There were eight FCS upsets of FBS programs, including North Dakota State’s win at Kansas State and Eastern Washington’s upset at then 25th-ranked Oregon State.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said he and his fellow seniors have some extra motivation this week as they play in Death Valley for the final time.
“There’s not a lot we have to say,” Boyd said.
Boyd’s status looked in doubt when he took a hit on his left collarbone last Thursday night against Georgia Tech and took longer than the large crowd at Memorial Stadium would’ve liked before getting up. Boyd went to the locker room for X-rays, then bounded out in good spirits and without any broken bones.
Boyd tried to talk his way back into the game, but Swinney said there was no need to take any risks with Clemson up big and on the way to a 55-31 victory.
Boyd will practice this week and be ready for his pregame solo run down the hill onto the playing field, an honor that goes to Clemson’s seniors. He’s also not worried about the team sneaking a peek past Citadel and onto the Gamecocks.
“Guys are playing really comfortable, really confident, just having a lot of fun,” the senior quarterback said.
Citadel closed Southern Conference play with three straight victories and will be chasing a chance at .500 – and a monumental upset – at Clemson. The Tigers have won the past 15 games in the series, dating to 1931 when the Bulldogs won 6-0. After that defeat, Tigers coach Jess Neely to meet with Clemson administrators about improving the program’s infrastructure which began the formation of Clemson’s ground-breaking athletic booster group, IPTAY.
And Citadel’s caused shake-ups more recently, too. The Bulldogs’ 10-3 win at Arkansas in 1992 led to Razorbacks coach Jack Crowe quitting a day later.
“This is their bowl game,” Swinney said of Citadel.
Don’t expect similar upheaval after this one. Clemson’s offense has averaged 154 points its past three games while Boyd has thrown for 1,021 yards and eight TDs in that 3-0 stretch.
Citadel has played well on defense, standing third overall in SoCon defense. Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins has no illusions about what his team is up against.
“We’re going to have to do everything we can to slow them down,” he said. “They’ve putting a lot of points on the board. They are a fast-tempo offense.”
Citadel’s receiving a guarantee of $275,000 and 3,000 tickets for the game, same as South Carolina State did two months ago.
Clemson’s chance at the national and Atlantic Coast Conference championships ended with a 51-14 bashing by Florida State a month ago. Swinney was proud of his team’s response since then and is counting on that to continue.
“You’re never going to be a great program if you lose a game and your season’s over and you act like the world’s coming to an end, none of the other games matter,” Swinney said. “That’s a bad attitude and you’re probably going to live a miserable life.”