CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wants his team focused on Furman – and not peeking ahead to its Atlantic Coast Conference showdown with No. 5 Florida State in two weeks.
The 11th-ranked Tigers (2-0) are not expected to have much trouble with the Paladins (0-2), a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that has lost 29 consecutive in the series. It won’t hurt Clemson’s chances getting star receiver Sammy Watkins back after his two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest.
Swinney cautioned things might not be as easy as some expect this week.
Last year the Tigers were tied at the half against FCS opponent Wofford and rallied late for a 35-27 victory. Wofford plays in the Southern Conference like Furman.
“We thought we were going to rest some players against Wofford,” Swinney said Tuesday. “We all remember that. It was all we wanted and then some.”
Tigers center Dalton Freeman, a senior, said the team’s upperclassmen won’t allow a drop-off at practice this week or a letdown in the game.
“For us it doesn’t matter who we’re playing if its Furman or Florida State, we should go out there and play Clemson football,” he said.
The Tigers should get an immediate boost of energy from Watkins. The All-American receiver and kick returner sat out wins over Auburn and Ball State because of his arrest.
He has been itching to get back and is ready to go, Swinney said.
Not that Clemson has suffered without him. DeAndre Hopkins has led receivers with 19 catches and four TDs through two games.
In all, 12 players caught passes in the victory over Ball State a week ago.
Swinney shut things down for most offensive starters near the end of the opening half. He’s not worried the players will take a cue they can ease into this one, despite the fact Clemson is 25-0 since 1982 against FCS teams.
Swinney said he and his coaches have spent plenty of time since last year ended about looking too far down the schedule to the bigger games ahead. What’s most important, he said, is Clemson players identifying their mistakes and working to fix them. “I’m really anxious to see them maturing as a program,” he said.
There’s no looking anywhere but the next game for Clemson’s defense, which is dead last in the Atlantic Coast Conference at stopping the run. The Tigers gave up an awful 180 yards rushing against Auburn and were even worse in surrendering 252 yards to Ball State, including TD runs of 54 and 21 yards by Horactio Banks.
It was not the showing first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables was looking for. Venables said if his players struggle to hold down Furman, it might be difficult when the ACC season cranks up against the Seminoles in two weeks.
“I think it’s important that you continue to improve,” Venables said, “because the competition is only going to get better.”
Defensive lineman Josh Watson felt a bit empty after last week’s 52-27 win because of Ball State’s strong rushing game. The defense wouldn’t take any opponent lightly this week. “It’s a test of your manhood when somebody’s running right up the middle on you,” Watson said. “That’s unacceptable.”