CLEMSON—The second-ranked Clemson Tigers have been massive favorites in everyone of their games so far in the 2019 season. While they may not have covered the spread in each of their first five games, they have won comfortably in all of them — except one.
The one-point win against the North Carolina Tar Heels was the Tigers' closest game in recent memory, and while many around the nation were left scratching their heads as to what was wrong, one person thinks he knows the answer.
"I didn't think we had a great week of practice leading to North Carolina and it showed too,” Clemson linebacker Jamie Skalski said. “It's just something we have to grow from and learn from. I just think we lost a little bit of focus."
Skalski's point was made further when he expounded on the fact that the Tigers' lack of focus in practice may have had something to do with youth — 80 of the 120 players are either freshmen or sophomores.
But the lessons learned from their close win over the Tar Heels will resonate throughout the rest of the season. Namely: You cannot cheat the game and not be punished.
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"We're a younger team and I think that has something to do with it too. When you have a game that close, and you look back on it and reflect on how you prepared, it's definitely eye-opening," Skalski said. "It just shows that you can't cheat this game and you have to take every week seriously and really prepare to the fullest. Not making the plays you should make. Not making the layups you could say. That's something we pride ourselves on is doing your job and making the layups.”
Not cheating the game began last week, as the Tigers spent a significant portion of their bye working on themselves -- self-scouting, looking at tendencies and learning from their mistakes.
“I think the run game. We've done a great job so far but we have to get our nose bloody every down,” Skalski said. “We've got to be physical every down and I think that's something North Carolina did to us a little bit. They punched us in the mouth and we have to respond when that happens. It's a mentality. You have to attack each rep and each play like it's your last. That's just something that every defense has to bring.”
With all of the Tigers' goals still in front of them, it is now up to them to focus on the things that they can control and not the outside noise.
“You can't really listen to all of that. You have to give a lot of credit to North Carolina,” he said. “They played a hell of a game. I thought they outplayed us on that day. I hope we get a chance to see them again because I think they're a team that could definitely make it to the ACC Championship and we can too, but we still have tests in front of us.”