SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — Everyone has a bad day. Whether it is at work, at home, with kids or with parents.

Everyone has a bad day — even football players. That is exactly what Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins believes the Tigers had the last time the stepped on the field — a Friday night loss at Syracuse.

"The morale has been pretty good. As a team, we're just looking at it as one bad night,” Wilkins said. “Everyone has a bad day at the office and you just looking at it as a learning experience. Stop looking at it as a failure, just an opportunity to get better and learn from our mistakes.

“Even before the loss, there were a lot of mistakes we made throughout games and we just got exposed on those mistakes in that game. Now we've had more time off to correct those and hopefully, we'll be better going forward."

The Tigers’ will need to be better over the final five games of the season if they hope to repeat last season’s magical run that ultimately ended with a victory over Alabama in the national championship.

After giving up 28 first downs, allowing a Syracuse offense to convert 8-of-19 third downs and 2-of-2 fourth downs and being dominated on the time of possession by more than nine minutes, the Tigers are using the shocking loss as proof that they can be beaten.

"It was obvious that we had a bad week - -a bad performance,” Wilkins said. “Not up to our standard and just really it puts us even more on edge if weren't already before. It's really up to the leaders and the other guys to make that decision."

But following a bitter sweet bye week, the Tigers are ready to play with an edge.

"Bye week to me is always a little bittersweet, because I enjoy playing, love playing. I hate sitting at home watching the other teams play -- especially after a loss when there's so much time between the game,” Wilkins said. “Obviously, you want to hurry up and get out there, but it's good because we needed it. It came at a good time, almost right directly in the middle of the season. Guys get rejuvenated or get a little healthy and a little extra time to get ready for a triple-option team which is going to be tough to stop.

The triple-option team that the Tiger defense will be tasked with stopping Saturday (8 p.m., ABC) comes in the form of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The Tigers have experienced success in recent years when facing the Yellow Jackets — allowing only 95 yards rushing a year ago and 71 yards in 2015 — which Wilkins believes is a result of players doing their job and defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ scheme.

"(Success comes from) guys buying into the scheme that Coach V presents for us and just guys buying in and working hard in practice. Obviously, there's a lot of things going on,” Venables said. “If you don't do your 1/11th, then it's going to be a long night. But if everyone does their one job and doesn't get tired of it and does it each and every play, then you can get a good result.

"Coach V's always on edge. He's always intense, crazy and you can't tell the difference whether you’re playing the triple-option or something like we see every day in practice. He's always on edge, always getting after us, always passionate about his job and putting us in the best position possible."

With the Tigers facing the prospect of back-to-back losses for the first time since the 2011 season, when they lost to N.C. State and South Carolina to end the regular season, Wilkins and the rest of the Tigers have not wasted a moment thinking about that possibility occurring Saturday.

Because, as he said, it was one bad night for the Tigers at Syracuse and now the job is to go out and prove that they belong back in the national championship conversation.

"We're not thinking about that. Like I said, one bad night,” Wilkins said. “Looking forward to playing this game and seeing how we respond. It's easy for a lot of people to judge us for a loss and everything like that, but judge us by how we respond and that's what we're looking forward to doing on Saturday.

"You always want to play your best. You always want to prove your worthy. You always want to prove your worth and everything. It's really just another game -- that's really just the mentality. You don't want to make anything bigger, anything smaller. You don't want to put any more pressure on you than you need to. If you have the same approach for every game you'll be fine."

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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