on December 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Tigers’ focus on ACC title, not USC loss

CLEMSON — Unlike much of the Clemson fan base, Dabo Swinney doesn’t have the luxury of wallowing in the sorrow of his team’s loss to rival South Carolina: the Tiger head coach has bigger fish to fry.

“We’ve beaten Carolina around here many, many times,” Swinney said during a teleconference Sunday. “Many times. They haven’t won many times over the last 10 or 15 years — so we’ve done that. We haven’t won a conference here in 18 years, so these kids have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time.”

That opportunity will come Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPN) for the No. 25 Tigers (8-4), as they look to avenge an early season loss against No. 12 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game in Tampa, Fla.

But while the need is clearly there to turn the page on last Saturday’s game, the Tigers’ performance at Williams-Brice Stadium might have led one to believe they’d done so before it even kicked off.

Even Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who knows a thing or two about conference title games, said afterward his team caught Clemson “at the right time” between their division-clinching win over Virginia a week earlier and the upcoming ACC title game.

Perhaps the most troubling development from the loss to USC, given that Georgia Tech’s high-powered option attack ranks second nationally in rushing offense (305 yards per game), is that the Tigers were gouged for a whopping 223 yards by a Gamecock ground attack that entered the contest ranked dead last in the SEC. It was the highest rushing total the Tigers have allowed since their first meeting with Georgia Tech on Sept. 10.

Clemson’s struggles on Saturday weren’t limited to its defense, however. Two first-half turnovers — a fumble by Jamie Harper and an interception by Kyle Parker — led directly to Gamecock touchdowns, and C.J. Spiller and the ground game were held to just 48 yards rushing on 19 carries. Clemson’s 17 points ended a school-record six-game streak of scoring at least 34 points in each game.

But while Swinney said the team would review “the good, the bad and the ugly” from the loss, he also noted the poor performance had been the exception rather than the rule of late and it was important for the players to put it behind them.

“Certainly we’ll correct the mistakes, but we’ve got to turn the page,” he said. “Again, the season is over now, and we’re in postseason play. Everybody else is at home. We’re in postseason play because of what these guys earned on the field, so it’s important that we refocus them on what got us here, and we’ll do that.”

Clemson won’t be the only team in Tampa coming off a rivalry loss to a middle-of-the-road SEC team, though. Georgia Tech also fell to in-state rival Georgia on Saturday, as the Bulldogs ran roughshod for 339 yards and built a 17-3 halftime lead that the Jackets could not overcome in a 30-24 loss.

Some might suggest that those outcomes would put a damper on the prestige at stake for the winner of Saturday’s ACC title game, as just further evidence of the league’s inadequacy compared to the powerful SEC.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, however, doesn’t buy that idea for a second.

“You can make of it what you want,” Johnson said. “A year ago, we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina and nobody made a big deal about the SEC being diminished. … I can tell you Clemson has got players every bit as good as Georgia. Don’t think for one minute they don’t.”

Swinney, for his part, also scoffed at the notion.

“I don’t worry about that all,” said Swinney, who played in the SEC as a walk-on receiver for Alabama’s 1992 national championship team. “The SEC’s a great conference, so is the ACC. I can assure you, if you line up to play an SEC team or an ACC team, you better bring your ‘A’ game. Because if you don’t, you’re going to get beat.”

As for whether his team would have trouble bouncing back after such a dreadful effort, Swinney pointed out his squad had been in this position before — specifically, after an Oct. 3 loss at Maryland, which failed to win another game all season — and had responded to win six straight games prior to Saturday.

“I think that we’ve had a group of guys that have chosen to come together and respond to whatever circumstances come their way, to keep playing, to handle adversity,” he said. “You know, and they are where they are. … We were a couple games away from a great season. But we still have the opportunity to really, really finish strong.”