CLEMSON, SC – Dalton Freeman knows the game of football offers few guarantees. And with only 12 games on the schedule at the start of each season, taking advantage of every opportunity is of the utmost importance.
But the Clemson center says if any of his teammates think they can take Saturday’s game against Furman for granted, last season’s scare against the Paladins’ SoCon brethren, Wofford, can serve as a reminder of the consequences.
“You can’t overlook anybody, and this is another FCS opponent, just as Wofford was. …I swear up and down that was one of the best teams we played all year, as far as knowing what to do and doing their jobs and being well-coached,” Freeman said.
Even with next weekend’s ACC Atlantic Division showdown at Florida State looming, the senior says this week the team’s attention is focused fully on Furman.
“That’s part of the leadership on the team to stress the importance to these younger guys that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing…if it’s Furman or Florida State, we should go out there and play Clemson football,” Freeman said.
And with the No. 11 Tigers set to host their oldest rival – the teams played the first game in Clemson football history in 1896 – they do so off a pair of impressive wins to start the season, over SEC foe Auburn and last week’s 52-27 win over Ball State.
Clemson raced out to a 45-10 lead over the Cardinals and had the game well in hand by halftime, allowing head coach Dabo Swinney to get a total of 80 of his players action in the contest.
“It was a good opportunity to grow our team,” Swinney said, “and I think we’ve got another opportunity this week to hopefully grow our team a little more.”
One of the areas Swinney is most hoping to see that growth is in defending the run, as Clemson allowed 252 yards on 40 carries on the ground to Ball State.
“The big thing is we’ve got to fit things right defensively,” he said. “When you’ve got teams that are really running power football at you, you have to be in the right gaps… This is a young group of football players on the defensive side, and they’re just going to get better.”
The Tigers’ defensive coordinator Brent Venables said he was encouraged by some of the things he saw from his unit against Ball State, as the Clemson defense allowed four yards or fewer on 27 of the Cardinals’ 40 rushing attempts.
And while Venables noted that the mistakes that led to longer gains on the other 13 rushes were made by a variety of different defenders, he said correcting some of those mistakes was often as simple as getting lined up “two or three inches away.”
“To me, if you can do it once, you ought to be able to do it over and over and over,” Venables said. “It’s not a lack of talent. That’s our job and responsibility as coaches to get our guys to play at a consistent level every single down.”
Furman, meanwhile, enters Saturday’s game off two difficult losses to the open its season – a 24-21 defeat to Samford and last week’s 47-45, triple-overtime loss to Coastal Carolina.
“I’m very impressed with Furman from watching them on tape,” Swinney said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Coach (Bruce) Fowler. He’s a really good guy, and they’re playing very hard. I know they are 0-2, but if you really watched the games they could very easily be 2-0.”
The Paladins’ offense has had no trouble moving the football either, averaging 33 points and 399 yards in its two games. Furman’s ground game is led by Jerodis Williams, who has 183 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
“They do want to run the ball,” Swinney said. “And that’s an area of improvement that’s much needed on our team, so I look forward to that matchup and challenge.”
Clemson enters the game with a 29-game winning streak against Furman dating to 1936, only the second 29-game win streak for the program against any opponent, along with Virginia from 1955-89.
Still, Swinney said he’s preached to his players the importance of not assuming that their 30th straight win in the series is a foregone conclusion.
“We talk to them a lot about not looking ahead,” Swinney said. “When you do that, you falter. And great teams don’t do that. Great teams show up, and they take care of their business. Great teams play to a standard, not an opponent.
“I’m sure there were a lot of people that expected us to be flat last week or struggle. But this team and the culture of our program, I think we’ve matured in a lot of those ways.”
And echoing the sentiment of his senior center, Swinney concluded, “You only get 12 Saturdays.”
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