CLEMSON | THIS IS HOW Clemson was supposed to play against Maryland.
For everyone perplexed by how the Tigers found a way to lose to the Terps, they must be equally puzzled by the turnaround against a respectable Wake Forest team.
Guess that week off did some good.
According to the players and the coaches, two weeks of practice did make perfect. For all the lack of execution that had plagued the Tigers in a 2-3 start, they could not have played better in pounding the Deacons 38-3.
Coach Dabo Swinney said his team quit worrying about the weather, the opponent and the uniforms and focused on what it could control.
"It's really about us and how we play the game," he said.
The improved focus resulted in fewer of the things that have held the Tigers back - penalties, turnovers and dropped balls - and more on the things - big first-down gains - that they needed.
"When Clemson plays together as one, we've got a chance to win a lot of games," Swinney said.
Or maybe he should make chewing out offensive coordinator Billy Napier and quarterback Kyle Parker part of his weekly practice routine. Parker's 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that boosted the lead to 17-0 exhibited the type of toughness he wanted to see.
Parker knew many fans were down after the Maryland loss, and he said the players were determined to resurrect the season.
"We didn't give up. We knew we had a lot of football left to play," Parker said. "This is how we're capable of playing."
The Tigers were so dominating it was hard to imagine how Wake Forest, which led the ACC Atlantic Division coming in, had managed to beat four other teams this season.
C.J. Spiller ripped off a pair of electric touchdown runs. Jacoby Ford both caught and completed a long pass. DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall made key interceptions. Malliciah Goodman and Kavell Conner racked up big sacks.
By halftime, when Clemson led 31-3, the only suspense left was how many snaps backup quarterback Willy Korn would get in the second half.
Spiller insisted the team that played Saturday is the real Clemson, not the imposters who went to College Park. He cited the team's preparation as the reason for the dramatic change in persona.
"We have a lot of pride burning down inside us," Spiller said.
This type of performance is what Clemson fans envisioned this season. But they haven't seen it, except for a second-half explosion in a close loss to Georgia Tech. Even the wins, a blowout against Middle Tennessee and a pedestrian victory against Boston College, didn't get anyone's blood flowing.
The loss to Maryland had Clemson backers wondering if their team was capable of playing a complete game on both sides of the ball. Tight end Michael Palmer, who led the receivers with four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, said his teammates were plenty motivated by the embarrassing defeat.
"We never lost confidence in each other," he said. "We're not going to listen to the negativity. We know there's a lot of it."
This win was desperately needed heading into a road game against the team that looks to be their toughest opponent - No. 9 Miami (Fla). Oddly, for a team that appeared to be in a death spiral two weeks ago, Clemson's 2-2 conference record has it pointing to an Atlantic Division title.
"We're in control of where we're going," Parker said.
But for them to get there, the Tigers must have a Wake-like game against the Hurricanes. This time they have one week to prepare. Swinney said sustaining success each week is "what good teams do."
He hopes this week represents a new beginning. He called winning the fun part and hopes his players remember how good this one felt as they get ready for Miami. He understands how quickly things can change if the preparation slips and the execution falters.
"It's all about blocking, tackling, throwing, catching," he said. "It's not about the plays. It's about the players."
Now he has to make sure those guys who played against Wake go to Miami instead of the ones who played against Maryland.