No. 11 Clemson expects tougher challenge against Louisville
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - This was a new one for No. 11 Clemson, practicing on a Sunday a day after its blowout victory over Appalachian State.
Despite the unusual timing, left guard Eric Mac Lain saw no drop off in intensity as the Tigers prepped for their toughest task challenge this season at Louisville on Thursday night.
Clemson (2-0) had little trouble with FCS opponent Wofford (a 49-10 victory) in its opener and new FBS member Appalachian State (41-10) last week. Mac Lain said players understand there's more at stake when they open Atlantic Coast Conference play against the Cardinals (0-2).
''At first, I thought kind of playing a game the day before, I thought guys would be tired and a little bit lazy out there,'' Mac Lain said Monday. ''But guys were flying around. It was very exciting to see such a young team respond.''
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney also was pleased with the attitude he saw when the guys showed up for meetings on a Sunday they would've much rather have lounged around watching the NFL.
''I like the mindset of the guys in how they showed up,'' Swinney said.
Perhaps a bigger challenge for the Clemson coaching staff is getting the Tigers to focus on the Cardinals and not their sorry start after losses to Auburn and Houston.
Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott shared the message to Clemson's players: ''A wounded animal is a dangerous animal.''
That was certainly the case last year when these teams met at Death Valley.
The Tigers lost rising quarterback to a hand injury early on and struggled to score points against a Louisville defense that came in ranked No. 1 in the country. But behind backup passer Cole Stoudt and a defense that would supplant the Cardinals as tops in the FBS by season's end, Clemson pulled out a 23-17 victory as part of a 10-3 season.
Elliott said Louisville has not forgotten what happened a year ago and will be looking to rattle the Tigers hopes of an ACC championship and Watson's chances for the Heisman Trophy.
Swinney believes there's little doubt why his team has to lift their games another level this week with Louisville.
''They're just more talented'' than Clemson's early opponents, the coach said. ''It's as simple as that.''
Louisville followed a close loss to highly regarded Auburn with a 34-31 defeat at home to Houston. The Cardinals put in sophomore Kyle Bolin late in the contest to spark the attack.
Bolin is expected to start against the Tigers and won't worry about what came before.
''You just have to put the game in the past, just think about how bad it feels tonight, and when you wake up tomorrow it is a new day and we have a new opponent ahead of us,'' he said.
Clemson guard Mac Lain said his team can't get caught up in Louisville's struggles and must instead look to build on a pair of strong performances.
Watson led five touchdown drives in the opener against Wofford. He led the offense to four more TDs against Appalachian State, the Tigers piling up 925 yards combined in the two victories.
Watson said he's not thinking payback against Louisville for the injury last year that kept him from playing three following games. He believes Clemson has bigger goals to chase than revenge.
''I know that those guys are going to be very prepared and excited to be playing against us,'' he said. ''
Watson has thrown for 442 yards and five touchdowns, playing one series into the third quarter before spending the rest of the two games on the sidelines. The slender, 6-foot-2 sophomore understands Louisville will be another step up in competition for the Tigers along with the chance to display his skills to a larger audience as the showcase game Thursday night.
''This is what I came to Clemson for,'' Watson said. ''I think I'm ready for the moment.''