CLEMSON — Every coach has that one player on the opposing sidelines who seems to be a proverbial “thorn in their side.”
For Clemson the past few years, it has been Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who head coach Dabo Swinney said prior to the start of last season, “Feel free to take a weekend off. Go on a fishing trip to Bermuda or something. They’ve got discount cruises out of Fort Lauderdale. Take the weekend off.”
And Cook finally did, choosing to head to the NFL after his junior season — but not before amassing 185 total yards against the Tigers last season.
For Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, he probably wishes Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel would take the weekend off. The Tiger linebacker has had the three best games of his career against the Yellow Jackets.
"I believe it's my instincts (that have helped him play so well against Georgia Tech). After the first game, I really got to get in when B.J. Goodson went down my redshirt year. Then just to come in and just play the game,” O’Daniel said. “Coming in, I was kind of cool with the game plan and then just come in and let my instincts take over. I think that helped me take over. But going forward in years after that, me applying my concepts, my details, my technique and everything like that--I believe that helped me even more than the first year or maybe even the second year.
"I think that if everyone does their job, then you have a chance of being successful. And for me personally, I feel like I'm at an advantage because I can showcase my sideline-to-sideline movement and defending the run.”
And defending the run, more specifically the triple option of Georgia Tech, is where O’Daniel has had the most success.
In the 2014 season, when O’Daniel first played against Georgia Tech, he amassed 10 tackles, including a sack. He added eight tackles, including three tackles for loss in 2015, and finally eight tackles and two tackles for loss last season.
In his career, O’Daniel has 26 tackles in 140 career plays with six tackles for loss and two sacks in three games against Georgia Tech.
But even with his impressive numbers, O’Daniel is not concerning himself with the individual accolades that come with playing a team like Georgia Tech — especially not when the Tigers are coming off a loss.
"If you played good, it doesn't matter if you played good because football is a team sport,” O’Daniel said. “No one cares about your accolades as an individual whenever the whole team loses, so losing definitely sucks more than it does winning."
The loss for the Tigers their last time out to Syracuse could not have come at a better time, as Clemson had a bye week to not only lick its wounds but to also allow extra time for the magnitude of what happened Oct. 13 at Syracuse to sink in.
"It was definitely needed -- one for the loss to resonate with the team and every one get their mind right,” O’Daniel said. “I think the week off was beneficial too, just to be able to disengage from the game a little bit, watch some other teams, just kind of refocus for this last final stretch of the season.
“That wasn't the first time that this team has faced adversity, but I think for the young guys it was beneficial to understand that you can lose, and it's all about how you respond to those losses and what you learn from them and moving forward. Because … the narrative isn't how Clemson lost. It is going to be how we respond this upcoming weekend. So I think guys taking into account that and how they play and prepare is definitely going to be helpful."
The Tigers will hope to change the storyline this weekend against Georgia Tech. And while the nation will be looking to see how the Tigers respond after their first loss of the season, O’Daniel and the rest of the Tigers are focused on doing their job and letting the chips fall where they may.
“This game's going to come down to everyone doing their assignment, because if I try to make a tackle that's not necessarily my tackle to make, it opens up running lanes and then another guy gets cut off, then you have big gains,” O’Daniel said. “I think everyone just locking into their job and their assignment is going to be critical for the success of this game."