Swinney pleased with No. 3 Clemson’s balance
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows what it means when he sees a complete effort on all sides of the ball like the third-ranked Tigers displayed against Wake Forest.
“In my experiences, when you’re like that you’re hard to beat when you complement each other,” Venables said.
Right now, Clemson (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) looks awfully hard to beat.
The Tigers led 21-0 less than 8 minutes in, 35-7 at the half and the backups closed out their fifth straight win over the Demon Deacons. Clemson held Wake Forest to 222 yards, just 80 of that in the second half.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday he’s grateful for victory whether it’s by a point or seven touchdowns. Swinney also is happy to have a game tape where he can prove to players, ”‘Hey, when you put it all together, we can be a really good football team guys,’” the coach said.
“It’s how they execute from week to week,” Swinney continued. “That consistency is what all coaches are looking for.”
The Tigers will need that same stepped-up level of play to continue on a schedule with several road bumps. They travel to Syracuse and its imposing Carrier Dome for the first time this week. There’s a home game with Boston College on Oct. 12 before consecutive showdowns with undefeated, ranked ACC teams — No. 8 Florida State on Oct. 19 and No. 25 Maryland a week later.
“I do think we’ve improved from the first game as a team,” Swinney said. “When we look back over the next month, we’d like to say, ‘Hey, we’ve improved even more.’”
Clemson was playing at peak efficiency against Wake Forest. Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth to give him 102 TDs in his career — and join former North Carolina State star Phillip Rivers as the only ACC passers to reach the century mark.
Boyd also set a Clemson record for total offense in a career, surpassing former Tigers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in that category.
And it didn’t take Boyd long to get going. On Clemson’s third play he found Sammy Watkins for a 64-yard scoring throw that got the rout underway. Unlike Clemson’s previous two games, Boyd’s level of play didn’t sag. He kept on firing and the Tigers kept scoring.
“I think all we needed was that spark,” said Watkins, who appears back to his freshman All-American form with his second 100-yard receiving game this year.
Venables, the second-year defensive coordinator hired after 13 successful seasons at Oklahoma, was pleased his players got going quickly with early stops and Clemson’s offense made it stand up with touchdowns.
Wake Forest briefly got some traction with its lone touchdown and a subsequent drive that threatened to cut things to 21-14, but Clemson’s defense forced Demon Deacons quarterback Tanner Price into a third-down fumble and the Tigers regained momentum.
Boyd was glad to get the offense back on track. He was even happier, he said, with the defensive showing that he knows Clemson will need to fulfill its championship hopes.
“Those guys went out and competed every play,” Boyd said. “I’m really proud of them.”
Linebacker Spencer Shuey had lived the past two years with the Tigers defense in fans’ cross-hairs for its shortcomings. Game after game, Shuey said Clemson’s defenders are playing with higher intensity and skill, making it a unit people can take pride in instead of being looked at harshly.
“We’ve got work ahead of us,” he said. “But we’re getting there.”
Swinney was satisfied with Clemson’s backups and their showings, too.
Starting receiver Martavis Bryant didn’t play the first half because of a throat-slash gesture he made after a touchdown catch at North Carolina State on Sept. 19. Freshman Mike Williams stepped in and caught the last of Boyd’s touchdown throws, a sliding 14-yard grab to put the Tigers ahead by 28 points.
With starting tailback Rod McDowell limited to three carries after turning an ankle, reserves D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson kept things moving with four touchdowns.
And an offensive line depleted by Isaiah Battle’s suspension for punching a North Carolina State player and Gifford Timothy’s injury held firm and mostly kept Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock off Boyd’s back.
“I kind of thought it was a very complete performance from our team,” Swinney said. “Our most complete game of the season.”