CLEMSON – With ESPN’s Sportscenter and College GameDay programs coming to town Saturday – oh yeah, as well as Notre Dame’s unbeaten and highly ranked football team – one might wonder what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has up his sleeve this week to prepare his team for the showdown.
How about nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s just the same – my message (to the team) is not any different than it was for Wofford or Appalachian or Louisville,” Swinney said Sunday evening. “That’s just the way it is. We don’t really change what we do. We don’t all of a sudden start practicing differently because we’re playing Notre Dame.”
That strategy, which is known in “Swinneyspeak” as the “nameless, faceless opponent” approach, has served the Tigers’ eighth-year coach quite well, thank you.
Swinney is 64-26 overall, with a glittering 41-6 record in Memorial Stadium.
But this year’s Fighting Irish – 4-0 and the latest incarnation of the program that boasts the highest winning percentage in Football Bowl Subdivision history (.732) – will roll into Clemson intent on halting an 11-game home winning streak for the Tigers that dates back to a 51-14 demolition at the hands of Florida State on Oct. 19, 2013, which happened to be College GameDay’s last visit to Tigertown.
“Some games come with extra pizazz, and certainly this game against Notre Dame brings that,” Swinney said. “Everybody want to have an opportunity to play in a game like this.”
“There are 120-something Division I schools out there and when GameDay chooses to come to your place, that’s a huge positive. It’s great exposure for our university and our program. We look forward to the challenge of playing Notre Dame, and we’ll have to play our best to have a chance in this type of game. There’s not a lot of weaknesses with them, they’re talented all across the board.”
Clemson (3-0) hasn’t played since a Thursday night game at Louisville on Sept. 17, and the inactivity, as well as impressive wins by teams previously ranked below the Tigers, has caused Swinney’s team to slip to No. 11 in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll and No. 12 in The Associated Press rankings.
Notre Dame will enter Saturday’s showdown ranked sixth in the AP poll and seventh in the coaches’ ranking.
Swinney is hopeful that the Tigers’ 16-day layoff – the longest in program history since 1918 – will pay dividends.
“I don’t ever recall having two Saturdays in a row that we didn’t play,” Swinney said.
Swinney gave the team off Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and on Sunday took his family to Charlotte to watch some of his former players in the Panthers vs. Saints NFL game.
“We got a chance to see those guys before the game and after the game,” Swinney said. “I’m proud of Stephone (Anthony), Tavaris (Barnes) and C.J. (Spiller) – it’s fun to see those guys achieve their dreams.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been to a pro game during the college season.”
But on Monday, it’ll be back to the season closest at hand.
“Our guys will be excited to get back at it on Monday,” Swinney said. “Death Valley has become a very difficult place for people to come into and win. Our guys have played a lot of great teams, but they’ve done a good job of being consistent week in and week out.
“When we’ve had some failures, it hasn’t caused the team to lose focus, and when we’ve had big success, that hasn’t caused the team to be distracted. We celebrate wins and learn from losses, but every week we have the same mentality, and we’ll live with whatever result we get.”