Refocused effort is underway

Refocused effort is underway

CLEMSON – Typically, football teams get 24 hours to celebrate a win or stew over a defeat.

Either way, you get some time to stew. To reflect. To enjoy. Or mope.

Clemson was having none of that Saturday night. Following a dispiriting 51-14 loss to Florida State, the time to move on was immediate. As in, right inside the Tigers' locker room.

"Right then and there, we needed to let the young guys know that the season's not over," said senior left tackle Brandon Thomas. "Don't put your head down. Keep your head up. You fought hard, just didn't go your way. The season's not over."

At No. 9 in the initial BCS rankings, the Tigers are 6-1, 4-1 in ACC play and should be favored over at least four of their final five opponents, starting with Saturday's 3:30 p.m. trip to Maryland.

A national title shot is likely gone, as is any hope of an Atlantic Division crown or an ACC championship.

However, there is, Thomas said, still plenty to play for.

"It's got to be a focus thing," he said. "Us seniors have to tell the younger guys to stay focused, the season is not over. We can go to a BCS game, who knows. Anything can happen. We have five, six weeks left."

Changing the focus immediately, junior defensive end Corey Crawford said, was crucial.

"I think it was important for us to do that," he said. "We have to show our young guys, they'll be here longer than our older guys who are getting ready to leave out or whatnot. Show them things happen, things don't always fall the way you've planned them to happen. We have to learn from it and keep going."

Gnashing of teeth aside, the Tigers are in solid position for their second BCS berth in three years. An ACC title is unlikely (Florida State must lose twice to the group of Miami, Wake Forest, N.C. State and Syracuse, while Clemson must win out against Maryland, Virginia and Georgia Tech).

But an at-large berth is a very real possibility. The Tigers have three teams ahead of them in the initial BCS rankings that wouldn't be considered their league's automatic BCS qualifier at this point of the season: Miami (Fla.) (6-0), Missouri (7-0) and Stanford (6-1).

And if the Tigers take care of their business, attrition should allow them to move upward.

Stanford travels to unbeaten and No.2 Oregon for a crucial Thursday night clash on Nov. 7. Miami travels to No.3 Florida State on Nov. 2 for what could be a top-five matchup with BCS implications of its own. And Missouri will host South Carolina Saturday night, then travels to Ole Miss on Nov. 23 and hosts Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M on Nov.30.

And of course, if Mizzou survives its end-of-season tests, it would likely get No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Two years ago, a team that featured many current juniors and seniors in prominent roles wilted after Georgia Tech ruined an 8-0 start, finishing the season 2-4 with the Orange Bowl debacle against West Virginia.

Now, those players who experienced the slide are in a position of leadership.

"We've got to move on. You can't dwell on it," said junior safety Robert Smith. "You have to learn from it the hard way, that it makes you better. That's what we're going to accept it is." That started immediately, he said.

"Yeah, definitely," Smith said. "After the game we talked about it. No one was happy about it. Coaches were saying, we lost, accept it, but we can't let it affect the next game."

Saturday marked the highest point total by an opponent in Memorial Stadium history, an ignominious feat for certain. Junior linebacker Stephone Anthony said the Tigers "didn't execute well," but that the mistakes were handled in the defensive meeting room "and we're going to move on."

"It's really just correcting the mistakes. That's the biggest thing," said junior cornerback Martin Jenkins. "The game, it got out of hand quick, they took advantage of where we made the mistakes and we made too many of them. In a game like that, the margin for error is very little. Coach Swinney harps on that every day. We're trying to get the younger guys along and the focus is really correcting the mistakes."

Against a Maryland offense that lost its top two receivers to broken legs, improvement might show quickly this week.

And the quicker the Tigers can refocus, the better for them.

"Right now it's all about adversity, about how we're going to get back up," Anthony said. "We've got to come in today, get ready for Maryland, do the best we can with Maryland. Keep moving forward."

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