CLEMSON — Eight out of nine times, Clemson has handed it to North Carolina State. The ninth is a nightmare which still stings Dabo Swinney.
“We went up there last time and got our tails handed to us,” Swinney said. “Our last experience up there was not good. We played one of our worst games of the year that year, and we won the league.”
Solid point made by the No. 3-ranked Tigers’ head coach; blemish or not, Clemson was crowned king of the ACC in 2011.
But the end of that campaign tastes sour, since a 2-4 finish was compounded by a couple of embarrassing efforts, not the least of which was a 37-13 shellacking by the unranked Wolfpack when the Tigers were No. 7.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd, then a sophomore, got picked off twice in the red zone, and also fumbled once inside Clemson’s own 20-yard-line, as did running back Mike Bellamy.
“You can say it doesn’t affect you or whatever, but you remember things,” Boyd said last week. “Life is full of memories, so obviously we’ll remember what happened. When you’re talking about history and things that happened 10-15 years ago, that stuff definitely doesn’t matter. But we were part of something that happened there before, so it will take some weight to it.”
The argument can certainly be made that times have changed in two short years. Led by quarterback Mike Glennon and coach Tom O’Brien (both gone), that 2011 N.C. State team went 8-5, beating budding power Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
Now the Wolfpack are a young, confident yet inexperienced team with a new coach and quarterback, surviving Richmond’s upset bid two Saturdays ago.
Meanwhile, Boyd and Swinney are still at the captain’s wheel, insisting over and over that their program has left its underachieving ways in the past.
That shouldn’t suggest the Tigers are looking past N.C. State, who host the third-ranked team in the country on a Thursday night ESPN game for the second straight year. If the 2011 disaster isn’t enough reminder for Clemson, then N.C. State 17, Florida State 16 ought to do it.
“Really prideful team,” Boyd said. “Especially in the position we’re in — the third-ranked team going to their place — we’re going to get everything they’ve got, all their bullets. We expect that each week.”
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris lacerated Boyd for a lackluster effort in Clemson’s easygoing 52-13 romp over South Carolina State. There will be a total of 19 days that pass in between the Tigers’ 38-35 season-opening triumph over Georgia and the ACC premiere in Raleigh.
Could it take time to rediscover some offensive rhythm?
“I don’t think so. I hope not, anyways,” Boyd said. “It’s the third game of the season, I hope we’re not burned out yet. It just depends on the way we practice. We will have live reps against our defense. If we execute the gameplan against those guys, then we’ll go into the game ready. But if we slack around and take everything in stride, I don’t think we’ll perform how we need to.”
On defense, Clemson’s been fairly stout for the most part, but it’s a pretty simple focus after two games.
“Obviously, limit the big-play touchdowns,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “It’s one thing if people are going to get some big plays, but we’ve got to get people down on the ground.”
The next eight games on Clemson’s schedule are against ACC foes who, at first blush, should be underdogs against the Tigers. But it didn’t take long to find an opponent who puts the preseason ACC darling on its guard.
“They beat us before. They can beat us again,” Boyd said. “But we don’t want that to happen. We’ve just got to go out there and ball.”