Last week’s results:
No. 7 Clemson (9-1, 7-1 ACC) beat Georgia Tech 55-31.
The Citadel (5-6, 4-4 Southern Conference) beat VMI 31-10.
Will Clemson look ahead to South Carolina?
This game comes at a good time on the schedule for Clemson: For the first time in Dabo Swinney’s five-year tenure, Clemson has scheduled an FCS opponent the week before its rivalry showdown with South Carolina. Just like Georgia Tech, The Citadel runs a triple-option offense. But it begs the question: Will the Tigers, a 42.5-point favorite come out flat or think about their looming rivalry game this week?
Swinney doesn’t think so.
“We don’t have time to peek ahead. We have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday preparation to go through, we have a preparation process to deal with each day, regardless of the opponent. We believe in it very much. It’s very proven and very productive on game day. That’s what we do. If the game turns out where guys can get a little rest, that’s great. The objective is to win a football game.”
Swinney first became aware of The Citadel as a University of Alabama senior receiver in September 1992. The Crimson Tide faced Arkansas, which was guided by interim head coach Joe Kines. Why? Because head coach Jack Crowe had been fired a week earlier after losing to The Citadel.
A side note: Clemson legend Danny Ford was brought in as a consultant by Kines later that season and took over as Arkansas’ head coach in 1993.
“I didn’t know who The Citadel was in 1992. That was literally the first time I’d heard of The Citadel. They beat Arkansas,” Swinney said. “You better be ready each and every week. You don’t play with great passion, toughness, attention to detail, can’t do the things you need to do to win games, you’ll get beat. I don’t care what sport it is, what level it is, how much discrepancy it is, you’ll get beat.”
How will Clemson send off its seniors?
When Swinney took over for Tommy Bowden in December 2008, Clemson’s recruiting was struggling. The Tigers’ Class of 2009 had suffered defections due to Bowden’s resignation under pressure in October 2008 and the subsequent uncertainty over who would be Clemson’s next head coach. So Swinney made the decision to sign a 12-man 2009 class (which he dubbed “The Dandy Dozen”) and carry over scholarships to the following season.
Seven players remain from that class: quarterback Tajh Boyd, linebacker Quandon Christian, tailback Rod McDowell, guard Tyler Shatley, linebacker Spencer Shuey, tight end Darrell Smith and offensive tackle Brandon Thomas. Saturday, they’ll play their final home game alongside four other scholarship seniors in kicker Chandler Catanzaro, long snapper Phillip Fajgenbaum, cornerback Darius Robinson and corner Jerrodd Williams.
It is a small but decorated class. Boyd, Christian, McDowell, Shatley, Shuey, Thomas, Catanzaro and Fajgenbaum are starters. Boyd owns more than 50 Clemson single-season and career passing records and owns the ACC’s career passing touchdown record. And a win Saturday would give this class the most wins over a four-year period by a Clemson senior class since 1984. With three more wins, it will reach 39 and tie the 1991 team for second-most by a class in Clemson history.
The class has won an ACC title and won or shared two ACC Atlantic Division titles. As Swinney’s first Clemson recruiting class, they hold a special place in his heart.
“They transformed Clemson. Changed the culture at Clemson. They set the standard and made it realistic to achieve that standard,” he said. “They’ve done things that have never been done. They have a ton of records, a ton of (firsts), did a lot of things that have not been done in a long time here on their resume.
“This group came here at a time of total change and no guarantees, and took a leap of faith with me as a head coach and in Clemson. What a journey it’s been. They’re part of the bricks and mortar and have laid a foundation for our future success.”
Is this Sammy Watkins’ final game in Memorial Stadium?
Watkins won’t be honored alongside Clemson’s seniors, but the odds are good that this is his final home game in a Clemson uniform. The standout junior wide receiver has recovered from a down sophomore season in a big way, piling up 71 receptions for 1,086 yards and nine touchdowns. He is projected as a top-15 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, and Swinney himself has said that Watkins is a top-10 pick and has “a big decision to make” at season’s end.
Watkins is a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s top receiver. He is seven yards behind DeAndre Hopkins for the program’s career receiving-yardage record and 22 receptions behind Aaron Kelly for the program’s all-time receptions mark (which took Kelly four years to accomplish).
“Coming into this season it was about dominating every team, putting my face back on Clemson and letting everyone know I can play and be that same guy from my freshman year,” he said. “I came in this summer, worked the hardest I’ve ever worked, and it’s showing on the field. I’m practicing hard every day, doing the little things right, and coach can’t ask for more from me than me.”
Watkins says he’ll evaluate his draft status following the season but admitted he is getting a lot of contacts from potential agents and financial advisers, which he is ignoring for now. Clemson fans would be wise to get a look at him while they can.
Time: Noon, Saturday.
Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
TV: ESPN3.com (online only)
Radio: Clemson and The Citadel radio networks (regional).
Spread: Clemson -42.5 via vegasinsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.