CLEMSON – Seven topics touched on by head coach Dabo Swinney in the 24 hours after No. 8 Clemson’s 38-35 epic victory over No. 5 Georgia, and we start with a passionate plea Swinney clearly wanted to throw off his chest …
1) It was a simple, fair question. Does becoming the first non-SEC team to win two consecutive games against SEC opponents ranked in the top ten in college football history dispel the notion that Clemson underachieves?
Well, it’s an unfair question in that upsets are par for the course in college football. It’s fair in that Clemson has been unable to fulfill expectations in the past, and in sports, picking nits is part of the deal.
Anyway, Swinney went off.
“Yeah, well, I don’t get that. Y’all need to start writing something different. People, whoever covers us, need to start asking different questions,” Swinney said, with ire in his voice as the clock pushed past 1 a.m. Sunday.
Swinney enjoys hearing and delivering notable stats from Clemson’s sports information czar Tim Bourret, and Swinney went with this one: the Tigers are joined only by Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Stanford and South Carolina as the select programs that have been ranked in 30 consecutive polls.
“There’s only six. There’s 120 of us. So I don’t understand,” Swinney said. “There’s a lot of great programs out there that aren’t on that list. So why don’t y’all write about them? Because Clemson has been as consistent as anybody in the country.
“Now, we haven’t won ‘em all – other teams haven’t won ‘em all either. But it seems like people will always bring up something that happened from five years ago. We need to move on. Let’s get a different storyline. Let’s talk about what we have done, not what we haven’t done.”
Swinney was far more diplomatic on this subject six weeks ago at ACC Media Days. Maybe it was the heat of adrenaline after a marquee win over Georgia, maybe he’s just truly sick and tired of hearing about Clemson’s shortcomings rather than its successes.
“Our players deserve better than that. At some point, people need to recognize these players have played at a very high level, very consistently,” Swinney went on. “Nobody’s going to be happy until you win them all, but they’ve achieved a lot of things, and I just think that should be recognized and they should be complimented for what they’ve done.
“I just get tired of that storyline. I don’t know where it comes from.”
2) OK, moving along. A quick injury update: Clemson didn’t just beat Georgia on the scoreboard. It won the injury war as well.
While Georgia lost wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a season-ending ACL tear (and during a celebration for Todd Gurley’s touchdown, no less), Clemson escaped a physical affair with no major setbacks.
“For that type of game … I don’t think we have anything significant,” Swinney said. “I think everybody will be back and ready to go. But we have a lot of bumps and bruises.”
Cornerback Martin Jenkins’ shoulder popped out, and strong safety Robert Smith was helped to the locker room with cramping. Neither returned, but neither should miss much time.
Expect cornerback Mackensie Alexander (groin) and tight end Jordan Leggett (knee) to make their Clemson debuts Saturday. Alexander’s probably a more necessary piece right now; while Leggett’s a long-term project to help this team later in 2013.
3) One of defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ one-liners (he’s full of those) after Saturday’s game is “we didn’t just play East Popcorn State” in reference to Georgia.
Well, South Carolina State might as well be East Popcorn State (though, as I’m certain will be discussed this week, fear the FCS lately.)
Either way …
“You play to a standard, not to an opponent,” Swinney said. “Everybody’s a nameless, faceless opponent. Take pride in your performance. You have to have that mentality to have that consistency, because if you don’t, you get beat by somebody you shouldn’t get beat by.”
Like North Dakota State over Kansas State, McNeese State over South Florida and Eastern Washington over Oregon State.
4) Certainly, the four dropped balls by Clemson receivers were not a welcomed sight. Coaches are just hoping it was one of those nights.
“Couple of them were just technique – not finishing the tuck,” Swinney said. “That’s a position I’m not really concerned about.”
In particular, junior Martavis Bryant had a rough night. He got his hands on a deep fly route but lost his grip as he hit the ground, and also couldn’t haul in a fade route for a sure touchdown.
Swinney recalled tight end Brandon Ford also dropping two passes in the 2012 opener against Auburn. Ford turned in a 40-catch season, causing Swinney to call Ford ‘Robin’ against Auburn but became ‘Batman’ the rest of the way.
“I know Martavis is disappointed, because he has been outstanding, all spring, all fall camp. Just great play after play after play,” Swinney said. “This is the first time he’s been put in (a situation) to be ‘the guy.’ Don’t worry about him – he’ll be back.”
5) Players of the Game will be announced by the team today, but Swinney already let it be known punter Bradley Pinion was his shining star on special teams.
“He was awesome. He’s definitely going to be our special teams player of the game,” Swinney said. “He was ready for the moment.”
The sophomore with a howitzer leg put three of his seven punts inside the 20 for a 41-yard average (and only one was returned, for four yards), while producing seven touchbacks on seven kickoffs.
6) Remember the rollicking punt when Ben Boulware got locked up with three Bulldogs, and when the ball bounced off Boulware and into the end zone, the crowd collectively held its breath until C.J. Jones scooped it up and alertly got out for some yardage to avoid a safety?
Swinney was as nervous as you were.
“It was real bad. Before he picked it up, it couldn’t get any worse,” Swinney said. “Maybe we get a safety. In my mind, I’m like, oh god, at first I thought it’ll be a touchdown. When I saw him get out of there, I’m like, ‘go, man, let’s get a couple more yards!’
“I told the team, I think that’s the best three yards of rushing I’ve ever seen.”
7) Finally, those of us in the press box didn’t get to watch much of the pregame pageantry on television live. Gotta admit, the replay was pretty cool, watching the team busses’ route from the locker room to the Hill, and it was obvious Swinney’s heart was pumping every moment.
“From the time we got off the bus to the time we went out into the stadium, it was electric,” Swinney said. “It was a magical night in the Valley.”