So far, so good

Much more has gone right than wrong for Clemson, which went from unranked in the preseason to as high as No. 6 before suffering its first loss of the season at Georgia Tech on Oct. 29.

Hopes for an unbeaten season and national championship are gone, but plenty of opportunity remains for a memorable season. The Tigers (8-1, 5-1) can wrap up their second ACC Atlantic Division title in three years with a win over Wake Forest on Nov. 12.

A win in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 3 would guarantee the Tigers a berth in the Orange Bowl.

"All of our goals are still there, and we're four quarters from another Atlantic Division title," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

Clemson's offense has been prolific, producing points and yardage at a school-record rate through nine games while also generating plenty of excitement.

It's the team's defense that been victimized time and again.

"In a nutshell, we've got a lot of work to do," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "We're a very, very average defense. A huge percentage of our plays we've been very effective, but we still have the ability at very inopportune times to give up big plays."

The defense surrendered 383 yards in the loss to Georgia Tech, so that unit will be seeking dramatic improvement, particularly given that the Tigers could be destined for a rematch with the Yellow Jackets in the ACC title game.

Swinney hopes the team learned a lot from its first defeat.

"It was a great lesson for our team," Swinney said. "We've got to learn from it and grow from it. We're a good team, but anybody can beat us and we're capable of beating anybody."

WEDNESDAY NOTES: After opening the season by playing on nine straight Saturdays, the Tigers are welcoming the bye week. Coach Dabo Swinney said his team needs the break "both mentally and physically," and expects the team to emerge with a rejuvenated spirit.

The Tigers will practice four days this week, then enjoy a three-day weekend off before returning to practice on Nov. 7.

* The week off will enable several players to "get well" -- most notably running back Andre Ellington, who's nursing a sprained ankle, and tight end Dwayne Allen, who's been hampered by a "turf toe."

* Clemson has a chance to post an 11-win season for just the fourth time in school history and a 12-win season for the second time.

BYE WEEK MISSION: Clemson's intensity in practice may be dialed back a bit during the bye week as the Tigers hope to get everyone healthy again.


A healthy Andre Ellington will be critical during Clemson's upcoming three-game stretch. (Roy Philpott)
"This is the 13th week for us and the last thing we want to do is go out there and beat these guys up," Swinney said. "They've battled hard for us all year long."

The team also can expect a return to basics.

"We're going to really get dialed in on what we do best and get back to some fundamental stuff," Swinney said.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Tigers' primary goal is to get rejuvenated for a key stretch run that includes ACC games against Wake Forest and N.C. State and a season-ending rivalry game at South Carolina. Win out, and Clemson will take an 11-1 record into the ACC Championship game on Dec. 3. That's considerably better than most fans' and prognosticator's predictions -- the Tigers were tabbed for a second-place division finish and were unranked in preseason polls.

If coach Dabo Swinney's team win the ACC Championship game, an Orange Bowl bid will be forthcoming.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The bye week always comes at a good time. If you're 8-1 it's probably coming at a good time; if you're 1-8 it's probably coming at a good time." -- Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd has exceeded all expectations, emerging as the catalyst in a potent Clemson offense. Boyd's ball security has been nothing short of outstanding, with 25 touchdown passes against only five interceptions. It helps the redshirt sophomore has a full contingent of talented targets, led by freshman Sammy Watkins and sophomore DeAndre Hopkins, both of whom are All-ACC caliber receivers.

Running back Andre Ellington is the Tigers' top running threat, and when he's been healthy, he's been quite productive. Unfortunately, he's battled a hamstring injury and a sprained ankle, which has limited his effectiveness. The Tigers are going to need a healthy Ellington and more consistent play from a veteran offensive line to continue to notch wins down the season's homestretch.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Clemson's defensive front has been drawing rave reviews -- particularly tackles Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore. Thompson is an NFL prospect and has been playing like one, often taking on multiple blockers. His play has cleared the way for ends Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman to make more plays off the edge. Clemson's linebackers are gaining experience, with Stephone Anthony joining Tig Willard and Quandon Christian as primary playmakers, but there's plenty of work to be done here.

But the Tigers' secondary continues to be suspect. The secondary has given up big plays at crucial times, with each taking turns at being victimized. Younger players such as Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson have talent, but are learning on the job. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele says no positions are secure, particularly in the secondary.

"We're always looking for our best 11," Steele said. "That can change from week to week."

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