CLEMSON, S.C. -- Letdowns? Those are for teams a whole lot more successful than Clemson is right now, Tigers cornerback Kevin Johnson says.
"There are a lot of other teams out there getting the respect, Miami, Tennessee," Johnson said Tuesday. "And we're not out there yet."
They might be with a few more efforts like last Saturday's 24-19 win over Georgia Tech.
In a Death Valley packed despite steady, heavy rains from Tropical Storm Hanna, the Tigers (2-1) outlasted a Yellow Jackets team expected by some to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Tigers go against Ball State (1-1) of the Mid-American Conference this week.
After last year and all those disheartening losses at home - remember Virginia? North Carolina? Florida State? - Johnson says one victory doesn't prove much.
"We got to keep playing like they way we played, we got to play against Ball State like they were Florida State," Johnson said.
That talk brings a satisfied smile to coach Tommy Bowden's face.
He has said how much he likes his club's chemistry and attitude this season. He barely flinched when asked about watching for any bigheaded Tigers this week.
"I would have to maybe with some past teams," said Bowden, in his fourth season at Clemson. "I wouldn't think with this team I would have to. They're sitting there 2-1 and unranked? There's a lot of business to take care of Saturday."
Can they maintain their edge even with the celebrated fourth renewal of the Bowden Bowl - father Bobby's FSU Seminoles versus son Tommy's Tigers - coming up on Oct. 3?
"I'd be surprised if this team were looking forward to anybody," the younger Bowden said.
The Tigers have done a good job of beating the teams they're expected to beat during Bowden's seasons. They are 8-6 against non-ACC opponents, but 5-1 against schools from outside the major football power leagues like the Southeastern Conference, the Big East and the Big 12.
The one loss in those games came in Bowden's first contest three years ago, 13-10 to a powerful Marshall team led by future New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington.
The Tigers showed their get-the-job-done focus two weeks back in a 33-13 defeat of Louisiana Tech.
Tech had a hot quarterback in Luke McCown, a productive offense and a revenge factor after Clemson's win over the Bulldogs in last season's Humanitarian Bowl.
But Clemson quarterback Willie Simmons stuck with safe, short passes and the defense shut down Tech in the second half for the solid win.
"You respect every man like he can do the job," Clemson receiver Jackie Robinson said. "If you start thinking they can't, that's when you lose games."
Robinson says this season's attitude comes from the sting of last year's home losses, from fans and students discussing problems instead of victories, from media speculation that Bowden's seat could get pretty hot with a season similar to the last year's 7-5 effort.
"We know we have no call to be overconfident," Robinson said.
And Clemson certainly has not reached what Bowden thinks is peak efficiency.
Big plays have been slow to show themselves so far, although they hit big-time against Georgia Tech.
Receiver Derrick Hamilton scored on a 77-yard run, had a 79-yard punt return and 256 total yards. Quarterback Willie Simmons displayed his growing confidence and maturity when he held the ball on a fourth-and-goal from Georgia Tech's 2. Just before he stepped out of bounds, he flipped a shovel pass to freshman tight end Bobby Williamson for a touchdown.
The Tigers carried a 17-6 lead and the momentum into the end zone.
Bowden says his players have peaked each week at game time.
"I think they've got a pretty good mindset of one week at a time," he said. "I expect that to continue."
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