Georgia Tech-Clemson Preview
Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said coach Dabo Swinney made sure for the two weeks leading up to last Saturday night's thrilling 24-22 victory the players knew there was much more season to go.
''He was telling them, 'Hey, this is going to be a big moment. But it's only a moment,''' Scott recalled Monday. ''At the end of the day, we're going to be 4-0 or 3-1 and it's not going to mean a lot as far as the whole season.''
The season continues Saturday when the Tigers host Georgia Tech.
Clemson's hopes for a championship season will depend on its ability to leave the past behind and focus on the next game.
''We have a goal and dreams that are set in front of us,'' quarterback Deshaun Watson said.
The Tigers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) stayed perfect and moved into the top 10 by holding off then-No. 6 Notre Dame's late rally in the instant classic played in a rainstorm.
Clemson carried a 21-3 lead into the fourth quarter before the Irish rallied with 19 points and 225 yards in the final period. The game came down to a two-point conversion with Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins stuffing quarterback DeShone Kizer short of the goal line with 7 seconds left.
''This is one of those games in the future we're telling our kids about,'' Watson said Kizer told him.
But that's the past and the Tigers need to remain in the present.
Clemson showed off many strong attributes it hopes it can carry into the game against the Yellow Jackets (2-3, 0-2).
The Tigers rushed for 199 yards against a Notre Dame defense that had allowed 137.8 yards a game on the ground coming in. Wayne Gallman came two run yards shy of a second straight 100-yard game.
Clemson's defense forced four turnovers in the second half, including two in the final seven minutes to prevent Notre Dame's rally. And the defensive line got the push across the line of scrimmage to prevent Kizer from tying the game.
But Clemson knows that lingering in the Notre Dame victory will cost it against Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets were ranked 14th a few weeks back, but have lost three straight games. They haven't dropped four in a row since 1996.
''Nobody expected us to be here,'' quarterback Justin Thomas said. ''I didn't. The team didn't. But we put ourselves in this hole. Now, we've got to dig ourselves out of it.''
Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden said it's about not letting current problems spiral into a lost season and seeing these three defeats ''triple into six or seven losses. We have got to just take into next week, get ready for Clemson and try to get back into the W-column.''
That's where things started to go wrong.
Even breaking in a new starting quarterback, the Fighting Irish pushed out to a commanding lead before holding on for a 30-22 victory, the score much closer than it really was because Georgia Tech scored a pair of touchdowns in the final minute. The following week, the Yellow Jackets fell into another deep hole during the first quarter and lost 34-20 at Duke.
Then, the most discouraging setback of all. The Yellow Jackets frittered away a 21-0 lead at home and fell to North Carolina 38-31 last week.
Now, heading into one of the toughest places to play in the ACC, there is no longer any margin for error if Georgia Tech hopes to remain a contender in the Coastal Division.
''It's still early in the season,'' Thomas said. ''You never know what can happen throughout the season. We've just got to go out there and play as hard as we can and get it turned around.''
If there's a reason for hope, the Yellow Jackets can look back to last season, when they also lost back-to-back games against Duke and North Carolina. They recovered from that slump to win six of the last seven games, the only setback a 37-35 loss to Florida State in the ACC championship game.
''Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves,'' Thomas said. ''We know what we have to do.''
Clemson safety Jayron Kearse insisted the Tigers won't be taking Georgia Tech lightly, especially after what happened a year ago when the Yellow Jackets romped to a 28-6 victory in Atlanta.
''It really doesn't matter they lost three games,'' he said. ''We know they're a good football team. We know what they're capable of and if we don't do our job, we know the end result can be bad for us.''