CLEMSON - College football coaches face a universal dilemma as season opener's approach.
After a long offseason, followed by an intense preseason watching your own players beat on one another, it's usually past time to hit someone in a different colored jersey. On the other hand, ask any coach if he wants or needs more time to prepare for the first (or any) opponent, and the answer is a resounding "yes."
So which is more important?
"I think it’s a combination of both," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said.
"You're anxious to play someone else because you have gone against each other so long. (But then you) have a staff meeting, going over the last minute details offensively like certain situations that are your preferred calls. Some of the anxiety is have you covered everything?
"You're ready to play, but it's always, 'Boy I wish I had one more day to go over this one more time.'"
For better or worse, there is no other day.
Clemson, ranked No. 15 in the preseason poll, entertains Wake Forest at 3:30 p.m. today (ABC) at Death Valley. And not one of the more than 80,000 expected to be in attendance has forgotten what happened the last time these teams met?
How could they? The Deacs' 45-17 shocker in Winston-Salem a year ago set off a firestorm of controversy over Tommy Bowden's job status that wasn't doused until after the Tigers capped off a remarkable four game stretch by clubbing Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.
Wake Forest rushed for 321 yards with its misdirection, option-oriented offense. The Deacons capitalized on Clemson turnovers and - there's no other way to put it - thoroughly embarrassed the Tigers in what was the low point of Bowden's coaching tenure.
Obviously, then, revenge comes into play for Tiger fans. But Bowden said coaches and players can't think that way.
"Everybody's well aware of what happened last year," he said. "Our players are aware of it. They're not naive to the fact. But again, we have a lot of respect for (Wake Forest). To somehow put in our player's heads that Wake Forest might be fearing us because of the revenge motive, I don't want that in their head.
"Our players should be thinking about going out and executing and playing to the best of their ability. If they go out there thinking about revenge we might get beat by 30 again."
Of all the storylines and subplots - and there are many which have been discussed ad nauseum over the last 10 months - the latest to develop may be the most critical, at least from a Clemson standpoint.
With Wake's unique blocking style and the aforementioned misdirection aspect of its offense, missing a veteran such as senior middle linebacker and All-ACC performer Leroy Hill would be disastrous. Yet Hill, who suffered a sprained ankle on Monday, could be a game-time decision for Bowden and Co.
Officially Hill is listed as probably on the injury chart. But what's even more uncertain is how safe is it to gamble with Hill's injury? Another turn in the wrong direction, and suddenly you're looking at a player being out for a month.
"We'll weigh heavily on the doctor’s prognosis and their recommendation on whether that is a scenario that could possibly happen: 'Could play, but if he does this then he could be out three more weeks.'
"Those are the things we talk to the doctors (about) to see if that's a situation that might apply to this (injury)."
Dan's Key to the Game
1. Stop the Wake Forest running game
The Demon Deacons rushed for 321 yards in last year's 45-17 victory over the Tigers, dominating the line of scrimmage with their unique style of offense. Much like defending the option, Clemson defenders must correctly read keys and not be fooled by Wake Forest's motion and misdirection. They also can't get caught up in a psychological battle over the Deacs' cut blocking. They do it. They will as long as Jim Grobe is coach. Complaining about it in the papers doesn't do any good.
2. Avoid Turnovers/Take Advantage of Opportunities
Ill-timed interceptions, including one returned 85 yards for a touchdown, played a significant role in Clemson's downfall a year ago. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst has said a number of times this preseason his biggest objective is to make better decisions with the football. Wake Forest is dangerous enough because of their funky offensive style. No need to give it extra possessions.
3. Start Fast, Finish Strong
Opening Day. 85,000 plus in the stands. Regional TV audience on board. The last thing Tommy Bowden needs is to see Wake Forest take an early lead and suck the life out of the capacity crowd. Clemson needs to make an early statement, preferably with its defense, and use that to turn the tables on Grobe's team. If Clemson scores a touchdown on its first possession, it likely wins by double digits.