Clemson was pretty good in 2015.
The Tigers went 14-1, won the ACC and reached the national championship game.
At the halfway point of 2016, Dabo Swinney believes these No. 3 Tigers are in an even better position.
“I personally think we’re ahead of where we were as a football team (this time last year),” Swinney said. “Hopefully that will prove out in the second half.”
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Clemson is feeling good about itself after wining three games in 15 days. The Tigers played what their coach called their best game of the season Friday in a 56-10 road win over Boston College.
Holding the Eagles to 251 total yards and putting up 499 on offense made Clemson the first 6-0 team in the nation and improved its ACC record an Atlantic Division-leading 3-0.
The Tigers tied a school record with eight consecutive road wins, which Swinney called “hard to do”, and they still haven’t lost a regular season game since November 2014.
“As the season goes, you’re going to get better and better,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “That’s what we’re going to do as a team. Same thing happened last year. We got better and better as the season went. You want to improve each week and I think we’re doing that.”
After a slower start on offense than most people were expecting, Clemson looks to be rounding into form. The defense has been dominant and ranks among the best in the conference and nation.
Special teams, especially kickoff coverage, has shown great improvement from 2015, when it was a real weakness.
“There’s still room to improve,” said Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, who threw for 266 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions Friday, “but it was everyone through all three phases handling their business and doing what they got to do.”
After committing five turnovers and still finding a way to beat Louisville last week, Clemson had just one miscue when Ray-Ray McCloud dropped the ball trying to catch a punt Friday. The Tigers built a 21-3 first-quarter lead with three plays of 50 yards or more and dominated the second half as well.
Moving forward, the challenge changes. Swinney doesn’t think his team was nearly as disciplined as it needed to be down the stretch in 2015.
“Hopefully (the final six regular-season games) will be better than last year,” Swinney said. “I thought we made some of those games harder than they needed to be. It was good to see us put somebody away (Friday).”
Clemson is also trying to avoid comparing itself to last year. While Swinney did Friday night, Scott stayed away from that, saying the Tigers are trying to keep last in the rearview mirror.
For defensive coach Brent Venables, handling success is much more difficult than the adversity of losing.
“When you have success, the tendency is to feel good about yourself, and everybody says ‘Well, it’s all because of me,’ and losing a little bit of focus and guys are being talked about more.
“It’s so easy to lose focus. That’s why it’s hard to win consistently. All the successful teams I’ve been a part of maintaining the edge and focus.”
Venables admits, like Swinney, that some of his players did that last year. The Tigers, who host N.C. State at noon next Saturday, could be favored in every game the rest of the season, including the Oct. 29 showdown at Florida State, which is all but out of the divisional race.
“We’ve got four of our last six games at home and we’re right where we want to be,” Scott said. “It’s really what our message has been to our guys. I think after the first couple of games this year, it’s really important for us to move on and say, ‘Hey, it’s all about 2016.’”
Who: Clemson vs. N.C. State
When: Noon, Oct. 15
Where: Memorial Stadium