Tigers Hope to Maintain Focus Against Winless Duke


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - The biggest challenge posed this week to Clemson's undefeated football team won't come from its opponent.

The biggest challenge for the No. 7 Tigers (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be the ability to maintain their focus against the lowly Duke Blue Devils (0-4, 0-2) in Durham, N.C. on Saturday, with a showdown against undefeated N.C. State looming on the horizon.

"It's tough to get a team up for 11 straight, consecutive Saturdays," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden on Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "But so far (this season) we have. We've pretty much come to play every Saturday. Now, can we going up to Duke? I don't know."

What Bowden does know is that recent history isn't on Clemson's side.

In the previous five meetings between the two teams at Duke, the Blue Devils hold a 3-2 advantage, with Clemson averaging a paltry 16 points-per-game during that stretch. In 1998 - the Tigers last trip to Durham - Clemson came away with a disappointing 28-23 loss, a loss running back Travis Zachery remembers well.

"(Duke) just came out and beat us in every aspect of the game," Zachery said of the '98 debacle. "We felt real bad after that Duke game. We don't want to feel that feeling anymore."


PRESS CONFERENCE AUDIO
Tommy Bowden Press Conference (38:46) Rich Rodriguez on Woody Dantzler and the formation of the Tiger offense 10 years ago. Keith Adams on Duke and prospects of leaving school for the draft. Will Merritt on blocking for a Heisman Trophy candidate. John McDermott on Duke. Travis Zachery on fumbles at UVA, splitting time at WR, and Woody Dantzler. Bob Bradley on attending his 500th straight Clemson football game this weekend and his three year fight with illness.

The formula for Zachery to avoid that feeling is simple.

"I know that you've got to show up every game," he said. "Because any team can beat you on any given Saturday. If we don't come to play, then we'll get embarrassed."

A loss to Duke not only would be embarrassing, but it would destroy the nationwide credibility Clemson has built through its first four games. With the Tigers cracking the Top 10 in both major polls this week (No. 8 in the ESPN/USAToday Coaches Poll), they have put themselves in a position to make a run at a Bowl Championship Series berth and a possible national title shot. But lose to a Duke team that has been outscored 128-22 thus far in 2000, and that all comes crashing down - in a hurry.

So, maybe more so than in any other game the Tigers will play this year, maintaining focus is amplified.

"It's a game that we have to understand is the next piece in the puzzle," said Keith Adams, Clemson's All-American linebacker. "It's a whole puzzle that you try to put together each and every Saturday you go out. You only get 11 games in the regular season, so you have to respect all your opponents and just go out there and play."

Indeed, if Clemson approaches this game as it has the previous four, there's no reason the fifth piece of its BCS puzzle can't be fitted into place. But, if the Tigers come out flat and lacking focus in an environment conducive to such, Bowden knows anything can happen.

"If we have the same (intensity) we've had in the last four weeks, we'll be all right," he said. "If we don't, it will be one of those averaging-16-points-a-game games."


Brad Davis is the asst sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.

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