The Clemson Tigers still have all of their goals, save the first one: win the opener, within their grasp. The 2021 Tigers can still win the division, win the closer, win the state championship and, yes, even win the conference. But two of those goals, win the division and win the conference, are no longer in their control.
However, if they are going to fight and claw their way back to the top of the league they have owned for the last six seasons, they understand they will have to start playing their best—starting this week at Pittsburgh, where they are currently 3.5-point underdogs.
"We know down the stretch, if we want to end the season the way we want to, yes we’re going to have to figure out how to play our best football," offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "We’re not looking farther ahead than Pittsburgh. We know that Pittsburgh is a really good football team. Playing at their place. We got to do a good job of putting together a great plan for our players. And our players have to do a great job of owning the plan and then mentally and physically prepare themselves for playing their best games of the season. So we’re not looking far ahead."
The Tiger defense is more than likely the only reason that the Panthers, led by Kenny Pickett—currently surging into the Heisman race, are not favored by more than 3.5 points.
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The Panthers currently lead the ACC in scoring (48.3), total offense (530.5) and are second in pass offense, at just under 400 yards per game. On the flip side, the Tigers are dead last in scoring, next-to-last in total offense–10.5 yards ahead of last place–and 12th out of 14 teams in pass offense.
"Yes definitely everybody wants to score more points. Everybody wants to play complementary football with our defense," Elliott said. "We’re going to accept the challenge and go back to work. That’s all we can do. And we’re going to keep believing that each week is going to be the week that it all comes together."
The Tigers have had to lean on their defense four straight weeks, as for the first time since 2008 they have played four consecutive one-score games. Relying on their defense has worked out for the Tigers so far, but ultimately the Tigers will have to score some points—but even they don't know when that will be.
"Again it’s back to the drawing board," Elliott said. "One thing is that the guys still have the will to win. They’re working their butts off. At some point we’re very optimistic that it will turn, we just don’t know what it is."
"And because we're capable, now it's just, it's, it's performance that we got to stop talking about in living on potential," Elliott added.