CLEMSON — One game away. That is all that stands between the No. 2 Clemson Tigers and a well-deserved open date next week.
But before the Tigers can enjoy a week free of the rigors of game prep, they must first take on a Syracuse Orange team that is sure to give the Tigers their best shot.
“I just feel like the mentality of the team this week is that it’s the biggest game of the year,” Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “Obviously, we want to sprint into the bye week. Guys are excited for the break, but we’ve got to take care of business first.”
Taking care of business is exactly what the Tigers have done through the first six games of the season, amassing a perfect 6-0 record. However, it is the way in which they have accomplished the mark that has many pundits naming the Tigers as the best team in the nation.
The Tigers have been dominant though their first six games, knocking off three top-15 teams — including two on the road.
The goal for Clemson this week is to continue the level of play heading into a bye week because it will be the Tigers' last opportunity to impress the nation for 15 days.
"Definitely want to go into our bye week sending a message and playing a complete game,” Wilkins said. “After this game, no one is going to see us play for two weeks. So, you really want to send a message to everyone and just play a complete game.
“I feel like we haven’t played our most complete game yet as a team, and what better way to do it on the road right before our bye week.”
Part of playing that complete game will be not having a letdown when the second and third team enters the game.
In last week’s game against Wake Forest, the first-team defense handed the backups a shutout that was blown as they allowed 14 points in the fourth quarter.
But Wilkins sees the fault being with the starters as much as the backups.
“We were pretty upset about (blowing the shutout) because we know how hard we work. The older guys and leaders of the team, we just put in a lot of work and take pride in what we do,” Wilkins said. “We play to a standard no matter who’s in the game and if we do a good job of keeping them to zero all game ... Why did we let them score?
“Guys who don’t get as much of an opportunity to play... as leaders, we’ve got to do a better job of making sure everybody’s ready to play and preparing like a starter, so there’s no drop-off.”
The last thing Wilkins wants to see this week is a drop-off, because the Tiger defense is facing a Syracuse offense that is capable of beating them.
And because of last week, he is taking the job of making sure the defense is focused personally.
“Syracuse is a good team and are not going to be an easy team to beat, especially at their place,” Wilkins said. “We’ve got to have the mindset to have preparation and focus and that sort of thing and it’s up to the leaders on the team like myself to make sure guys are focusing and putting their best feet forward.”