CLEMSON - The formula from Clemson's trip to Carter-Finley Stadium last season is quite simple.
It would be best if the Clemson players and coaches aren't thinking that way. The Tigers don't want a repeat of last year for sure, and using revenge as a motivational factor is a common practice for teams, players and coaches.
But that's not the best way to go about things. Teams are better served when they focus on the game at hand, prepare for what is directly ahead of them and don't get too far ahead of themselves or look back too much at what has happened in the past.
That kind of focus has been a strength of the Clemson team this season, but it will be especially true Saturday against N.C. State. The Tigers, obviously, have a huge game against South Carolina next week. That rivalry game is always important, but it could be especially important this year. The Gamecocks have won three straight in the series, and the Tigers desperately need to stop that streak. But they can't afford to look past the Wolfpack and ahead to that game.
If the Tigers want the game against the Gamecocks to be as important as it could be – imagine a 10-1 Clemson team hosting a 9-2 South Carolina team with ESPN's "College Gameday" crew on campus – they have to first win Saturday's game against N.C. State. If Clemson loses Saturday, that would take some of the steam out of the Tigers-Gamecocks matchup, at least on the national level.
So the focus needs to stay directly on this week, especially for a Clemson defense that has taken big steps forward since the team's loss to Florida State. But that defense could be facing its toughest test since squaring off with the Seminoles.
The defense didn't fare well that night, but it has been much better since, although the Tigers haven't faced great offenses during their six-game winning streak.
Boston College ranks 32nd nationally in passing offense, 122nd in rushing offense and 106th in scoring offense, and the win over the Eagles was followed by wins over Georgia Tech (119/4/19), Virginia Tech (55/70/72), Wake Forest (88/114/108), Duke (39/106/48) and Maryland (105/115/114). Facing those kinds of offenses, the defense should have improved during that stretch.
N.C. State's offense hasn't been great either, ranking 27th in passing, 110th in rushing and 72nd in scoring, but the Wolfpack do have the capability to put up some numbers and will test the Clemson defense.
But if the Tigers play like they have the past six weeks, particularly the past three, they should be able to get their 10th win of the season. Boston College scored 31 points and had 420 yards, while Georgia Tech had 31 points and 483 yards and Virginia Tech had 17 points and 406 yards. Wake Forest was limited to 13 points and 290 yards, while Duke had 20 points and 342 yards, and an admittedly limited Maryland offense had just 10 points and 180 yards.
There are still some issues with tackling and missed assignments, but those haven't come as often as they did the first few weeks of the season, especially in the second half against Florida State.
The young defensive line has improved with the physicality of its play, and the linebackers are making more and more plays. The secondary is still giving up big plays and still has a lot of room for improvement, but overall the defense has gotten better.
Mike Glennon and the Wolfpack offense will test just how much the Tigers have improved. That might not be enough, not with the way the Clemson offense has been playing throughout the season. Tajh Boyd has led the offense to one of the best seasons in program history as the Tigers rank 12th in passing, 38th in rushing and sixth in scoring. The offense has been so good the past three weeks that the Tigers haven't really been challenged. And playing with a lead has helped the defense improve.
If the Tigers can use that same formula, they'll pull off another win and give the fans the revenge they are seeking.
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley
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