Clemson travels to Durham to take on Duke Monday night at 8 pm (ESPN), the second consecutive season the Tigers will play on Labor Day night against a conference opponent on the road.
“It’s a little bit of a different week, obviously. But it is game week for us here, and we are excited,” head coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday. “You never have this much time to get ready for a game, so it’s awesome to be able to finally get there. It’s just Tuesday for us, but I am excited to see us go play somebody and see where we are.
“Duke is a really good football team, coming off a great year. I have a ton of respect for Coach (Mike) Elko. It’s an incredibly well-coached team, and it’s a tough opener. Those of you that have been around here, you’ve heard me say that openers are the toughest games to play because there are so many unknowns. So definitely a tough opener, and you throw in the fact it’s on the road, and it’s a conference game.”
The Blue Devils finished 9-4 a season ago, and Swinney said Duke has plenty of experience across the board.
“This is a good football team in every sense of the word. And you would say they are experienced because they have thousands of snaps of football under their belt across the board,” Swinney said. “They have 19 starters back combined. But even the backups have played a lot of snaps. So this is an experienced team, and we are an experienced team. This is two experienced teams going at it in a conference game, on the road, Monday night, Labor Day, different kind of routine and schedule, and it will be a lot of fun to be a part of. I am looking forward to seeing us open this thing up.”
The Blue Devils feature quarterback Riley Leonard, and Swinney said his secondary will be tested early.
“Absolutely. We need to see where we are. It’s one of the more experienced groups we’ve had. We’re built well in the trenches, but yes, our secondary will get tested,” Swinney said. “They’ve got a good group of receivers. It’s a great opportunity for us to see where we are as a team. No matter what happens in the game, how do we get better? It’s a big challenge. Duke is a complete team.”
What has he seen out of his team in fall camp?
“Honestly, we had one bad day out of the whole camp. There was one day where I just didn’t feel like we were where we needed to be,” Swinney said. “It had to be kind of coach-led, and I’m happy to do it if I need to. Some teams you have to do that more than others and that’s just part of coaching. These guys showed up everyday aside from that day. It was a very competitive camp. I thought they had a lot of fun. None of the older guys hit a wall. We showed up everyday and battled. It’s a close group. We have to go play the game, but I like where we are. I see a team.
“Camp is where that really has to come together. This team has good chemistry. Openers, you know you’ll have some mistakes. Let’s just go play a clean game where you don’t lose to Clemson. Let’s not have stupid turnovers and crazy after-the-whistle penalties. I just want us to be a team that looks like we’re confident, tough, physical and fast. If we can do that, you can live with the results.”
Swinney then said he wants to see his offensive line win the game.
“I want to see our offensive line. I think these guys are excited to go play. I want us to win because of them. I hope that’s what I see,” he said. “They have put in a lot of work. They’re a tough, close group. We have some depth and some guys who deserve to play. Expectations are high for our defensive line, but I don’t think people expect much from our OL for whatever reason.”
*DT Tré Williams is back at practice, but not ready to play. Swinney said they are going to monitor him closely because they can redshirt him if they need to. He added that they have depth at that spot, and with the new rules (can play four games in regular season and also postseason), they can play him but still get a year back.
“He’s doing well. He’s not ready to play. We’ll see how it goes. He’s had both shoulders and knees, everything, that he’s dealt with. We’re trying to take it slow with him. We could get a year back with him. If we can stay healthy at defensive tackle, we have some flexibility. He’ll play, but we’re going to kind of see where he is. If we can, maybe we hold him as long as we can. Let’s fortify his body. If we could steal a year back, that would be great for us and for him. And we’ve talked about that. He’s trending in the right direction. He’s back in green.”
*Swinney said wide receiver Troy Stellato is ready to go health-wise.
“He missed all of camp basically, but he’s ready to roll. He has practiced for the past week. He looks good. He was having a great summer, and everything was going well, and he just pulled his hamstring during skills and drills. He’s looked really good for a guy who hasn’t played in two years and a guy who has missed all of camp. He has flashed for sure. No question. He could help us if he’ll just stay available.”