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Clemson path gets easier with ‘buy in’

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Clemson path gets easier with ‘buy in’

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after a play during the first half of an NCAA College football game against Miami, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The formula for textbook football focus that led to a near-perfect Clemson pummeling of Miami at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday goes back a few years.

It includes the feel of a 37-13 upset suffered at N.C. State in 2011, the last time the Tigers lost to an unranked opponent, and to Grady Jarrett’s frightening look of disgust just after Clemson’s fifth straight loss to South Carolina in 2013.

Jarrett, an Atlanta Falcons rookie defensive lineman, wasn’t on hand for the 58-0 fun in Miami. But he and a lot of his former teammates deserve props for putting the Tigers on track for a College Football Playoff spot.

The way No. 3 Clemson (7-0) goes beyond simply talking about week-to-week winning is rooted in veteran players transferring energy and trust to younger guys as the train keeps rolling.

“It’s really hard to keep that focus, precision and hunger,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “It’s hard to be great at the end of a season. You set yourself up to get your butt beat if you let your guard down.”

And the difference between theory and execution?

“There’s a collective group of players — and coaches — who believe in that wholeheartedly and buy into that,” Venables said. “They embrace it and they nourish it.”

Clemson has 35 wins in a row over teams unranked in the AP poll, the second-longest active streak behind Alabama’s 57.

While there is no margin for error — the ACC in the wake of Florida State’s loss to Georgia Tech is arguably weaker than the American Athletic Conference — Clemson’s playoff chances got stronger Saturday.

Clemson is a 9½-point favorite Saturday at N.C. State.

Projected pointspreads for the rest of the regular season, using USA Today’s updated Sagarin computer rating, are sunnier than Fort Lauderdale:

Nov. 7 vs. Florida State — 11

Nov. 14 at Syracuse — 23

Nov. 21 vs. Wake Forest — 25

Nov. 28 at South Carolina — 21

The spreads are not likely to actually soar that high.

But it helps to have Deshaun Watson.

“The best quarterback in the country,” head coach Dabo Swinney said.

The offense can showcase Watson for 420 yards passing against Boston College one week and a team-effort 416 yards rushing the next week at Miami.

“We’re a complete offense,” Swinney said.

On defense, Venables’ improving guys just pitched a shutout.

It’s the Seminoles and four trap games from here to the ACC Championship Game, perhaps another trap game.

“Trap game? Did you consider this a trap game?” Venables asked just after Clemson’s rout in Miami. “Was Georgia Tech a trap? The key is not being satisfied and having great leadership. If you have that, there are no trap games.”

The process of handing down leadership goes back to Jarrett and Co. but took a big leap into the future, too.

Freshman Kelly Bryant with touchdown runs of 59 and 10 yards at Miami proved why he is a better answer at backup quarterback than redshirt junior Nick Schuessler.

And what a recruiting bonanza.

Miami officially hosted a dozen or so recruits Clemson is also pursuing. At one point during pregame warmups, Miami staffers had to usher a group of curious recruits away from the Tigers’ side of the field.

A 58-0 victory over Miami will resonate throughout talent-rich Florida, home of 11 Clemson players active for Saturday’s game, including McKensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Jordan Leggett, Ray-Ray McCloud, Artavis Scott and Richard Yeargin.

“This is a big area for us moving forward,” Jeff Scott, Clemson’s offensive co-coordinator and former recruiting coordinator, said of south Florida. “We have a lot of juniors that we’re recruiting in this area. I think that Tiger paw is looking better and better every time we come down here and have success.”

An authentic “buy in” vibe has its benefits. By the time Saturday’s game was over, there might have been more Clemson fans in the stands than Miami fans, and more Clemson recruits than Miami recruits on the Hurricanes sideline.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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