Consider Clemson on high alert this week.
Not because the Tigers have had any close calls – Clemson’s average margin of victory through two games is nearly four touchdowns – but they’re once again a heavy favorite against Louisiana Tech, which will visit Memorial Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff. So were Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Wisconsin a week ago before they suffered losses that resonated well beyond College Station, South Bend and Madison.
Upsets aren’t anything new in college football. But those three teams, all ranked in the top 20 this time last week, losing to Appalachian State, Marshall and Washington State served as a stark reminder for Clemson that no one can be taken for granted.
“I think each and every week, no matter who you play, there’s always a chance of getting upset. It’s college football,” quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei said. “You see stuff like that happen all the time. I think it just makes sure that each and every play, we all know that this week, if we don’t come out and prepare the right way, we could come out and take an L. It definitely brings awareness to us.”
While those upsets were happening, Clemson (2-0) was polishing off a workmanlike 35-12 victory over Furman to move to 2-0 on the young season. The Tigers opened as a 36-point favorite over Louisiana Tech (1-1), which began its season with a lopsided loss at Missouri before handling Stephen F. Austin a week ago.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney viewed last week’s chaos around the college football landscape as a well-timed jolt for teams like his who hear from those outside the program how easy a time they’re supposed to have with what’s perceived to be inferior competition.
“You’re dealing with young people. These are 17- to 22-year-olds, right?” Swinney said. “They get told about how great they are. That’s what I hate about the recruiting process, all the rankings and all that mess. You’ve got to play the game. This game has never been played on paper. We wouldn’t be who we are right now if it was all about that. You’ve got to play, you’ve got to show up and you’ve got to compete.”
A common thread in those three upsets last week? A lot of help given to the victors.
Wisconsin forced three turnovers but committed three of their own. The Badgers also missed a pair of field goals and were flagged for 11 penalties in a three-point loss. Texas A&M finished minus-2 in the turnover margin in a three-point loss. Notre Dame? Minus-3 in that department in a five-point setback.
None of that was lost on Swinney or his team, which has yet to lose a turnover battle but coughed it up twice a week ago against Furman.
“Marshall was plus-3 (in turnovers),” Swinney said. “That’s a recipe for getting beat. App State was plus-3 in the margin. Next thing you know, it’s a tight game and you lose. Talent only gets you so far.”
While Louisiana Tech wasn’t all that competitive in its lone game against a Power Five opponent to this point, the Bulldogs have proven capable in some areas, particularly on offense. Operating components of the Air Raid under first-year coach Sonny Cumbie, the Bulldogs scored 24 points at Missouri despite turning it over three times and ran for 300 yards a week ago in their rout of Stephen F. Austin.
Louisiana Tech has plenty of experience, too. The Bulldogs have 17 starters back from last season and added 24 transfers to the mix during the offseason. Starting quarterback Parker McNeil, a transfer from Texas Tech, is one of them. His backup, former Georgia and TCU signal caller Matthew Downing, is another.
“This will be a big challenge for us this week,” Swinney said. “This is a team that’s got some dudes.”
Of course, some recent Clemson teams know what bitter losses taste like. There was that double-overtime loss to an unranked N.C. State team last season. And the last time the Tigers lost at home, they were a heavy favorite over a four-loss Pitt team in 2016.
What happened around the country a week ago only further grabbed the Tigers’ attention heading into tonight’s game.
“I think, especially experiencing that last year, we know that anybody can get beat on any given day,” senior offensive lineman Jordan McFadden said. “We’re just trying to make sure we do what we can do to make sure that’s not us.”