CLEMSON -- Clemson is wearing what they call a collar.
A 7-0 record includes a 0 - a collar many teams would like to be wearing
this time of the year.
But like any collar, it gets tighter the longer you have to wear it.
"We're getting closer and closer - to the point where everything counts,"
said Clemson wide receiver Rod Gardner.
Everything includes, well, everything. From the tape on the players' ankles
to making sure not one person gets lost in the defensive backfield. That's a
lot to think about, especially when you factor in the fact that there are
plenty of people watching.
"Every missed assignment, every poor snap, every fumble is more costly,"
said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. "If the team can understand that and play
loose and with emotion, then we'll be successful."
Easier said than done, but Clemson seems to have its share of players that
seem to relish the pressure that being 7-0 brings with it.
Gardner, for one, thrives on being the key receiver on fourth down for
Clemson. His 29-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-10 late in the fourth
quarter gave Clemson a 31-21 win over South Carolina last year. During the
Maryland game last Saturday, he caught a 10-yard pass on fourth-and-6 at the
Maryland 30 in the second quarter.
"Big receivers make big plays," said Gardner. "If they call my number, I'm
going to make the play. You've got to make the plays."
Clemson's final four games - its toughest stretch of the season - will
likely come down to a few plays in the fourth quarter. That's fine with
Gardner. "I love being in pressure situations where we have to make a first
Gardner spends most of the game preparing for the big play by talking to the
defensive back that covers him. "I'm always messing with the defensive
backs, you know what I'm saying," he said.
He isn't the only one that spends most of the game talking. Defensive
lineman Terry Jolly is another chatty player. He went out of his way last
season talk to Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick. But he knows that
it comes down to making plays - especially when facing a quarterback like
North Carolina's Ronald Curry.
"You have to be more fundamentally sound," he said. "You take your shot and
if you miss, it could be your fault if he has a big play."
Clemson travels to North Carolina this Saturday. The Tar Heels are 3-3, but
Curry is slippery like Clemson's Woody Dantzler.
Curry is the kind of player that keeps coaches up late - especially when the
coach's team is undefeated.
"Mistakes at this point in time are most costly," said Bowden. "The team
that understands that practices with that in mind so on game day you won't
feel uncomfortable. If we don't, then we're not ready. You better be serious
today, tomorrow and the next day, but don't play tight on Saturday."