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Sunday, November 8, 2009
Clemson a different team under Swinney

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- It was a fleeting thought that lasted approximately “a few hours.” That’s how long Clemson receiver Xavier Dye quit the team earlier this season.

It lasted until coach Dabo Swinney sat Dye down in his office and told him he needed to work harder, not walk away. The result was a hungrier Dye who has since added something to Clemson’s offense -- including a 43-yard touchdown reception in the Tigers’ 40-24 win over the Seminoles on Saturday -- instead of taking a piece way.

“I put a lot of hard work into this program, and they’ve been good to me,” Dye said. “I couldn’t just walk out and leave all the guys I’ve been working with, bleeding with and all that stuff. I was able to stick around, man-up, keep working hard and help the team out as much as I can.”

He’s not the only one.

Dye is a small example of the big picture here at Clemson. Unlike recent teams of the Tommy Bowden era, this team does not quit under Swinney. It didn’t fold after a 1-2 start in conference play that included an embarrassing loss to now last-place Maryland, and it didn’t concede anything to Florida State despite trailing 17-6 in the first quarter. Clemson fans have been conditioned to expect impending doom, but with each win over the past three weeks, the Tigers have taken steps to convince doubters they’re capable of more this year. The reward -- a trip to the ACC championship game in Tampa -- is now just two wins away. Clemson needs only to beat NC State and Virginia -- two teams that have combined for three conference wins -- in order to win the division.
 
 Sam Sharpe/US Presswire
 Clemson's C.J. Spiller rolled up a school-record 312 all-purpose yards.

“It’s a new group of coaches, it’s a new message,” said offensive coordinator Billy Napier, whose group has now scored at least 38 points in four straight games for the first time in the history of the program. “We recognize the fact that our preparation is going to impact how we play on Saturdays. It’s a new Clemson. It’s an overhaul. The message is different, and our players more than anything see the opportunity that’s been there in the past. They believe in the message that’s being given to them every week.”

It was the program’s biggest step towards winning the Atlantic Division, and it’s been a long time coming for a program in search of its first ACC title since 1991.

“Our fans deserve this win, our players deserve this win, and the administration deserves this win,” said Swinney. “Championship teams find a way to win games, and that’s what we’ve been teaching these guys. And they found a win to win, despite many obstacles. That team rose up in the fourth quarter and refused to lose.”

Not that they didn’t try a few times.

The Tigers missed three extra points and two field goals. They scored four times in seven trips to the red zone. And they had two turnovers and seven penalties.

At halftime, with his team trailing, 17-14, Swinney asked his players, “Why the long faces?” He reminded them they had an entire half yet to play, and they responded to him.

C.J. Spiller looked Heisman worthy as he finished with a school-record 312 all-purpose yards, and the defense came up with four interceptions for 82 yards. The Tigers finished with a season-high 483 yards of total offense, and quarterback Kyle Parker tied a single-game freshman record with four touchdown passes.

“We did take a big step today,” said wide receiver Jacoby Ford said. “It just feels good to get over that hump. It’s something we haven’t been able to do the past few years. This is a team that really wanted it. We knew what was at hand. We just wanted to go out there and play to the best of our abilities and get the job done.

“It’s definitely not over until it’s over,” he said. “Our goal is to get to Tampa. We haven’t punched our ticket yet.”

This year, though, there seems to be less concern about the Tigers losing that ticket.