Undefeated Clemson won its sixth game and slipped from fifth to sixth in The Associated Press’ Top 25. The team shrugged.
“It’s the middle of October. Anything can happen,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said Monday. “There’s a lot more football to play. We don’t concentrate on the polls. We can’t control that. We just go out and control what we can control – and win.”
The early line for Saturday’s game at Miami was 5½, so the philosophy of turning a deaf ear to potential distractions should be tested in Clemson’s first road game in more than a month. With an apathetic fan base, home field isn’t an advantage for the Hurricanes as it can be at Clemson, but the noise in cyberspace can be deafening.
Still there seems to be something unfair about losing ground after running up more than 500 yards on the nation’s No. 1 defense and hanging 34 points on a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 in its first six games.
“The first thing I told them Saturday was our No. 1 goal tonight is to get the win,” said co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. “It’s not going to be pretty.
“We’re going to have some adversity.”
Up by 10 at halftime, Scott said they were frustrated by the inability to bomb the Boston College into submission. “I think we encouraged them to stay in the man coverage in the second half because we didn’t quite connect like we wanted to in the first half,” he said. “We had to keep faith in it.”
And though Watson wound up passing for 420 passing yards and three touchdowns, they weren’t going for style points.
“If we take care of business on our schedule, I don’t think it matters if we got 44 points or 34 points,” Scott said, “as long as we’re winning.”
Conventional wisdom would conclude that Clemson at No. 6 is in a good place. Three of the six teams ahead of them in the two polls are likely to lose at least once:
▪ No. 1 Ohio State must play Michigan State (No. 4 or 7) and rival Michigan in its final two games
▪ No. 2 Baylor faces three nationally ranked teams in TCU (No. 3 or 4), Oklahoma and Oklahoma State
▪ And No. 5 LSU ends its schedule with an SEC West gauntlet of Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M
Not included are potential conference title games.
Neither the staff nor the team dwells on the variables because Coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t encourage it. His philosophy is similar to Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, whose mantra was, “Just win, baby!”
“To be honest, it’s not. It’s not anything that we talk about,” Scott said. “Coach Swinney talks to our guys at the beginning of the year that the polls don’t matter. Now that we’re ranked higher, the polls don’t matter.
“I think as you play the entire season, some of those teams in front of us are going to play each other, so I think there are going to be some opportunities,” he said. “There’s not a great concern on our part that we’re going to get left out.”
And in that context, the notion of accruing “style points,” becomes moot.
“That’s our goal, to be undefeated,” Scott said. “If we continue to win, then I feel like we control the cards for our destiny.”
If anything, Clemson’s biggest concern may be maintaining the status quo. Senior center Ryan Norton returned from injury and could play Saturday, and defensive tackle D.J. Reader returned from a self-imposed hiatus. Swinney said Jay Guillermo, the ACC’s top offensive lineman for the second consecutive week, will continue to start at center.
Most gratifying has been Watson’s durability after two injuries cost him more than half of last season. Watson was named ACC offensive back of the week. BC brought the house on every down and he responded to a pop to the jaw with a big pass to Deon Cain late in the game.
“Pressure is something you feel if you don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say we have pressure. We just have to win the game.”
Tigers vs. Hurricanes
Who: Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) vs. Miami (4-2, 1-1)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Line: 5 1/2