Workman-like approach needed again

One road trip to North Carolina turned into another positive step in the right direction for this Clemson team, and the program in general. The Tigers are hoping to repeat this week.

Clemson blew out Wake Forest almost from the very start Thursday as it won a game in a fashion we haven't always seen from a Clemson team. Based on the two programs' talent and resources, that was a game the Tigers should have won easily. And they did.

They face a similar situation Saturday night at Duke. It's probably a good thing, for the energy level at Wallace Wade Stadium, that it's a night game.

The Blue Devils certainly are improved this season, and David Cutcliffe is building a respectable program (on a side note, Mississippi never should have fired him, and Tennessee should have hired him twice), but looking at it realistically, this is another game Clemson should win easily. Duke just doesn't have the talent or the depth of that talent to match up. The Blue Devils' program doesn't have the resources to stack up with Clemson in the long run, and that should play out in most seasons when these teams play, and it should be evident Saturday.

With an emphasis on the word should.

Duke is 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC but came back to earth a little bit with a 48-7 loss to Florida State last week. The Seminoles took care of business and made the most of their advantages in that game to win easily in a game they should win easily.

Duke really never had a chance in a game that matched the ACC's division leaders, and it was clear that the Blue Devils have a long way to go to compete with the Seminoles. Beating North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest is one thing, but Duke showed Saturday it isn't on Florida State's level just yet (and it was also blown out by Virginia Tech earlier in the season).

If Clemson is focused, it should be able to show Duke isn't on its level just yet, either. If the Tigers can play the way they have the past four weeks, that shouldn't be too difficult.

After losing to Florida State in disheartening fashion – blowing a two-touchdown second-half lead – Clemson's season could have gone one of two ways; Tigers fans have seen Clemson seasons go downhill after losses like that before. But that hasn't been the case the past four weeks.

Clemson has rolled through Boston College, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, winning all four games by at least 14 points and winning them by a combined 80 points. That's exactly the way a team as talented as Clemson – although a lot of that talent is young – should win those games. This group has been focused on the next game and what to do to win that game. It hasn't gotten down on itself because of the loss to Florida State or gotten overwhelmed by worrying about what it has to do to catch the Seminoles in the Atlantic Division race.

That shows a lot of maturity for such a young team and a program, in general, that is heading in the right direction. Dabo Swinney was 19-15 in his first 34 games as the team's head coach, including the interim half-season in 2008, but he is 17-5 the past two seasons. There were some well-document struggles at the end of last season, but there aren't the wild swings in level of play that were evident early in his tenure or when Tommy Bowden was the head coach.

There is a more solid, steady approach, and there isn't a lot of talk about big picture goals or boasts about what the team can accomplish (again, unlike the Bowden years). That straight-ahead focus has led to wins like last week.

Last week, there was a lot of talk about things Clemson hadn't been able to do in the past: win at Wake Forest, win on Thursday night, etc. But the Tigers silenced that with a businesslike performance against a team they should be able to handle.

That same approach will be needed this week – and really the next two weeks, as well – if the Tigers want to have the kind of season they hope for.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley Top Stories