CLEMSON, S.C.— This time last year, Clemson was more than battered and bruised, it was beat up.
The Tigers were 4-3 and were wondering what the future held in the weeks to come. They were already beat up, with several starters across the offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive line out for the season.
The question each week was not “who was not going to play,” but “who would be able to play?” By the time the Tigers played Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl, Clemson was down to just 65 healthy scholarship players.
In all, 38 players missed more than one game due to injury, while 14 players suffered season-ending injuries. Even in the bowl game, the Tigers lost starting linebacker James Skalski to injury.
“This time last year it was getting worse and worse and worse,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Every week, we were just figuring out how to make it work.”
Fifth-ranked Clemson found a way to make it work, as it won its last six games to record an 11th straight 10-win season.
The Tigers carried that momentum into this year and enter the open date with an 8-0 record. Even better is the fact the Tigers are getting healthy, despite practicing and playing for 12 straight weeks.
Most of the team’s injuries this year have come on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Xavier Thomas missed the first five games of the season after breaking a bone in his left foot early in preseason camp. Several other defensive backs, such as safety Andrew Mukuba (elbow), cornerback Sheridan Jones (shoulder) and Nickel Back Malcolm Greene missed several games due to injury, while others like defensive tackle Tyler Davis, safeties Tyler Venables and R.J. Mickens, missed a game due to some kind of injury.
Fellow defensive tackle Bryan Bresee missed one game after his youngest sister, Ella, passed away on Sept. 15, while also missing two other games due to a kidney infection. Bresee was back in the lineup at Florida State and has played the last two weeks.
As Swinney said, Clemson came out of the Syracuse game relatively healthy. Linebacker Barrett Carter was the only starter to miss last Saturday’s game due to a concussion, but he is expected to be back for the Tigers’ trip to Notre Dame next Saturday.
“We are getting better and better and better. So, I am excited about that,” Swinney said. “This is big for a guy like Xavier Thomas now to really have another week off and work on his conditioning and continue that great healing that is going on.
“Obviously, we have guys beat up, as many games as we have played. We have some guys beat up, but we are getting better. As far as guys in the (Syracuse) game, we came out of it in a really good spot.”
Kickoff for next Saturday’s game at Notre Dame is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on NBC.