Battle-tested Tigers prepare for "just another game" in Blacksburg


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Clemson players celebrate the win over Louisville
Clemson players celebrate the win over Louisville

CLEMSON – Another week, and another opponent is gearing up for what they feel could be a program-defining game. For Clemson, a battle-tested group, it’s simply the next game on the schedule.

Two weeks ago, there were some that considered Clemson’s game at Louisville to be one of, if not the most, important games in Louisville football history. For Clemson, a team that has thrived in big game situations the last three seasons, it was the next game on the schedule and the Tigers waltzed out with a 47-21 victory.

Next up is No. 12 Virginia Tech, a program that won the ACC Coastal Division last season but is still looking to regain the national identity it had under Frank Beamer. On the flip side, Clemson has seen Notre Dame in the rain, knocked off Oklahoma and Ohio St. in playoff games and defeated Alabama for last season’s National Championship.

Big games are the environment in which these Tigers thrive, and they’ve been tested this season.

“We’re battle-tested,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday. “We’ve played two top-15 teams — one of them at their place. And then we played a tough Boston College team — physical. So we’ve had our noses bloodied. We’ve had to respond to some adversity. It hasn’t been just all rosy. They’ve had some emotional moments. They’ve had big plays go against them. We’ve had some physical matchups. We played against an unbelievable quarterback in Lamar (Jackson). We played against great defenses.”

Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow says the Tigers familiarity with big games is a bonus, but what makes them successful in those games is the consistency shown on the practice field.

“Auburn and Louisville were both really, really good teams,” Renfrow said. “We feel like we’re battle-tested and we have some confidence. “This is like our third prime-time game in five weeks. For us, it’s just another game. But the experience of the older players is what helps.

“We know what it takes in the game and we know what it takes in practice. That is where it starts. We won’t change anything from last week, we just go out there and practice and try and get better. If we do that then we won’t be overwhelmed by the moment.”

Swinney said the experience of playing at Louisville will also help.

“Anytime you can draw from experience, it can kind of give you an understanding of what to expect,” Swinney said. “When you take a team on the road to Louisville early in the season, [with] a bunch of new guys that haven’t played on the road, that’s really good experience.

“So now those young guys have been in that and they can hopefully draw a little bit from it.”

ESPN’s GameDay crew will be on hand, and the game will be nationally televised by ABC on Saturday night. It’s something the Clemson program has grown used to - the Auburn game aired on ESPN on a Saturday night, while the game at Louisville aired on ABC on a Saturday night after GameDay made an appearance.

“We’ve played in an environment where it’s been loud, it’s been GameDay, it’s been 8 o’clock prime time. And our guys didn’t flinch,” linebacker Dorian O’Daniel said. “It’s kind of our identity as a program, showing up to games like that and playing at a high level.”

Clemson has played in division-deciding games against Florida St., played in and won two consecutive ACC Championships, they’ve won on the road at Auburn and beat both Ohio St. and Alabama in the playoffs last season.

“We feel like our best is better than everybody else’s best if we play to that standard,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “That’s why we feel like we’re not overwhelmed with any stage.”

The Clemson and Louisville series produced three consecutive thrillers, and the Tigers went into Louisville hoping to make a “leave no doubt” statement. Clemson defeated Virginia Tech 42-35 in Orland last December, and many of the players feel like the score was closer than it should have been.

For Ferrell and the battle-tested Tigers, it’s time to once again leave no doubt.

“We left a lot on the table last year with it being a close game. I feel like we kind of left some doubt,” Ferrell said. “We want to go out and leave no doubt this year.”


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