SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — If the No. 2 Clemson Tigers are going to continue their perfect season, along with hopes of winning a third straight ACC Atlantic Division championship, they will have to find a way to deal with a dangerous defense for a second straight week at No. 14 Louisville (8 p.m. Saturday, ABC).

While the Tigers escaped Saturday with a 14-6 victory over then-No. 13 Auburn, co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said the game should be a learning experience for the Tigers.

"I’m really excited that we found a way to win, especially offensively. We didn't do a great job of … complementing the defense,” Elliott said. “We put them in some tough situations early. We never really got in a rhythm, but when it counted they dug deep, bonded together and they found a way to win.

“What we told them in the locker room was, 'Hey enjoy the win, but we have a great team. We have an opportunity to be special, but we've got to bring it every single week.’

“That was one of the best defenses that we're going to face this year, and they really challenged us to let us know that we've got to come and bring it and we've got to be on the same page in everything that we do,” Elliott said.

With the Tigers having notched the first of their five season goals in week one — win the opener — their sites are now set on the second goal of winning the division. Defeating Louisville would be an important step.

If the Tigers are going to go under the lights in a hostile Papa John’s Stadium and emerge victorious, there are two things they have to improve.

"The biggest thing is short yardage and turnovers,’” Elliott said. “Obviously, we knew that we were playing against a great defensive front. We let them get to the quarterback a little bit early -- earlier than we wanted to -- so on short yardage we got the quarterback hit, and short yardage is an area where we've got to improve. We didn't have the right communication on a couple of calls, and then the biggest thing is taking care of the football."

But even with a “disappointing” offensive performance, Elliott still believes the team and the offense learned a lot about each other.

"We learned the grit, the heart and the love that they have for each other -- that's what you saw Saturday night,” Elliott said. “The other thing, too, is it just demonstrates that we can win football games many different ways. Not every single game are we going to come out and have a performance like we had against Kent State.

“But you don't know until you get into a dogfight like that, where it's a defensive battle, where running the ball is tough and you've got to make the competitive plays. So we learned a lot about our team -- the character they have, the grit that they have and, also, we learned that we had a lot of mistakes that could have cost us the game.”

ESPN’s College GameDay is on the horizon, and a matchup between Lamar Jackson and the dynamic Louisville offense taking on a Clemson defense that could be one of the best in the nation. But for Elliott, the message to his offensive unit is that it needs to be the best it can be ahead of this week’s divisional matchup.

"It will give us an opportunity to go and coach these guys hard and show them that if we don't correct these mistakes, we're not always going to be fortunate,” Elliott said. “We know who we're going against. Obviously, everybody knows about Lamar Jackson and what he's capable of, but their defense challenged us last year …

“So the challenge is let's go out and execute and stay in rhythm and if we need to put together long drives that we had a history of doing last year. We need to be able to do that. If we have to have the explosive plays, we need to be able to do that; or if we need to be able to control the clock. Let's focus on being the best that we can be, so we can be a complete offense to do whatever the game dictates to us."

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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