Clemson relishes break between games after playing 10 consecutive weeks

Clemson has to wait 25 days before it plays another game. Cue excited fist pumps.

With only one bye on the schedule this year for all teams, the Tigers played 10 consecutive games. This did not escape coach Dabo Swinney before the ACC championship game, when he ended his comments about playing 10 straight with, “Appreciate that there, commissioner!” John Swofford, sitting in attendance, chuckled.

So now, there is time for much-needed rest before preparations truly begin for the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl against No. 4 Oklahoma. It turns out the Sooners had the same bye week as Clemson this season: Week 4. But unlike Oklahoma, which did not play last Saturday, this week is the Tigers’ first since Sept. 28 without a game. That had players and coaches expressing their gratitude after the ACC championship victory.

“You’d be foolish to think a 10-game stretch wouldn’t take a little bit of a toll,” Swinney said. “It’s good to be able to give these guys a break. They need some time to get the wind back in their sails. We tried to be smart and practice the right way and get them to the game each and every week.”

The Tigers had no choice but to be smart. Though Clemson has only had a handful of season-ending injuries, they have had several key starters get banged up over the month of November. Starting right guard Tyrone Crowder has missed games with turf toe; starting running back Wayne Gallman (ankle) and starting cornerback Mackensie Alexander (knee) sat out the Wake Forest game. Receiver Ray-Ray McCloud missed three games with a knee injury. Receiver Artavis Scott has been playing through injury. So has starting linebacker Ben Boulware, who injured his shoulder on a hit against Wake Forest.

“I’ve been playing with one arm the last two games,” Boulware said after the ACC championship game.

To get himself prepared to play, Boulware did not participate in any contact drills during practice. He took pain-killing injections before the South Carolina and North Carolina games, and he wore a sling under his jersey to help stabilize his shoulder, but his range-of-motion has been limited. Boulware said he has not really been diagnosed with a specific injury, saying only that his shoulder really hurts.

“This month is going to be huge so I can get my shoulder completely back to where it was and I finally get to play with two arms, so that’s pretty awesome,” Boulware said. “Everybody’s worn out. Everybody’s bodies are hurting. That’s why this break is going to be so big for us because our guys have played a lot of snaps.”

Four defensive starters have gone over 700 snaps. In 13 games last year, only two went over 700.

Defensive players are not the only who have seen their fair share of snap counts. Quarterback Deshaun Watson leads the way with 945. Four starters on the offensive line have also played over 700 snaps. Clemson also ran a season-high 98 plays against North Carolina.

“I’ve been lying to you guys, I have to admit. I’m extremely exhausted,” guard Eric Mac Lain said. “I’m tired. I’m excited for this week off.”

Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said coaches told players last week was all about finishing. The message was simple: “Put everything you have in it. Empty the tank. There’s nothing for the next month.”

Clemson is going to take it easy this week. It also is awards circuit time. Shaq Lawson was in Charlotte on Monday for the Nagurski Award. Lawson, Watson and tight end Jordan Leggett will be in Atlanta later this week for the Home Depot College Football Awards show. Then Watson jets off to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Saturday.

When he gets back, it will be time to go to work again. A more rejuvenated team should await.