Clemson football: Tigers still not over ’12 Orange debacle

Friday December 20, 2013 7:15 AM
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CLEMSON, S.C. — It has been nearly two years and 21 victories, but Clemson still can’t wipe away the memories of the drubbing it took the last time it played in the Orange Bowl.

Left tackle Brandon Thomas says the Tigers’ 70-33 loss to West Virginia stings to this day, no matter how many accomplishments the team has since piled up. Thomas and the No. 12 Tigers (10-2) believe they are ready to make amends this time around against No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) when the teams meet on Jan. 3.

“The last time we went down there, it didn’t go as planned,” said Thomas, a fifth-year senior who played in the Mountaineers debacle. “So, hopefully, this time we can pull out the win.”

Clemson has some history at rebounding from disappointing defeats. In each of the previous two years, the Tigers have bounced back from losses to rival South Carolina to close the regular season with victories in the postseason — in 2011 to win their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 20 years and in 2012 to defeat LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl for Clemson’s first 11-victory season in more than three decades.

Clemson faces the same hurdle this time around after dropping a 31-17 contest to the Gamecocks, its fifth straight loss in the rivalry series.

“We’re putting the last game behind us,” Thomas said. “It’s the next game. We have to prepare; we have to play. We can’t let that game stop us from trying to play this game.”

The Tigers were just as hopeful two years ago as ACC champions heading to their first Bowl Championship Series game, but West Virginia set a bowl record for points scored.

The defensive breakdowns led Tigers coach Dabo Swinney to fire coordinator Kevin Steele and replace him with Brent Venables.

In the past two years, Venables has turned the Tigers’ defense from a group to be laughed at to one that makes plays. Clemson improved to 23rd nationally in defense this year, up from 63rd in 2012.

Defensive end Vic Beasley was third in the country with 12 sacks this season. Venables said he’s using early bowl practices to beef up the Tigers physically and prepare them for an Ohio State offense led by dynamic quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde.

“We’ve been getting back to basics and fundamentals and getting physical,” said Venables, who led Oklahoma’s defense when the Sooners won a national title in 2000.

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