The whole “nameless, faceless opponent” mantra can get tiresome. It provides lots of humor for media types who know Clemson’s players and coaches can’t possibly individually draw all of the same conclusions.
It’s not a gimmick, though. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t contrived, at least to a point. Clemson’s players and coaches actually do buy it—and they save the best of “nameless, faceless” for the most appropriate moments.
The theory is that every game is the most important of the year, because it’s the one that’s next up on the schedule. An abundance of tried-and-true clichés (it’s about Clemson, it’s how we prepare, win today, etc.) stem from this philosophy. Fans surely can recite several of these by now.
The adherence to those themes seems heightened this week. It seems there’s an inverse correlation between the quality of the opponent and the creativity of the answers to questions. With an opponent like Louisville, Clemson’s players and coaches seem to descend into a shell. Lots of answers sound the same. Responses that are often more specific against lesser teams become the most basic, general statements imaginable.
Things have been so monotonous, in fact, that even the most controversial comments came from the “nameless, faceless” family.
When Jadar Johnson was asked a question about the Cardinals’ quarterback Lamar Jackson, his immediate response was to put a number to the name: “Who’s that, #8?” His response may have raised some eyebrows, but it’s really not that hard to understand.
The temptation will be to debate to death how Johnson can possibly not know the name of arguably the nation’s most impressive, explosive individual player of the season’s first month. My hunch is that he does, but as a veteran player, he has committed himself to film study and put aside every bit of prior outside knowledge he has accumulated. It’s difficult, but it’s possible.
Or maybe he was being serious. Maybe he doesn’t know who Jackson is. We’ll never know.
It might seem weird to treat Louisville like a common adversary. After all, the Cardinals are averaging 63.5 points per game and obliterating opponents by nearly six touchdowns. The faceless quarterback Jackson has begun the season on a torrid pace that would have him accounting for 75 touchdowns at season’s end should it continue. The defense is aggressive and unrelenting, ranking among the conference leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.
But that’s precisely the kind of opponent that needs to be faceless and nameless inside of Clemson’s program. Focusing primarily on the skill level of an opponent becomes a distraction to the self-improvement currently prioritized by the Tigers’ brain trust. Treating Louisville like South Carolina State allows Clemson to be a better Clemson.
Like it or not, that’s the culture Dabo Swinney has instilled—and it’s worked out just fine so far. Putting a mask on the opponent has served him well. Treating each player like a random collection of physical attributes took Clemson to Arizona last season.
In other words, if you’re not used to it by now, deal with it.
“The reason we’ve been so consistent here is how we prepare,” Swinney said. “It’s not coach-speak. That’s just what we do.”
Well, it kind of is coach-speak, but if the shoe fits…