By Ed McGranahan.
Dabo Swinney knew quickly he would be without Sammy Watkins for the Auburn game. There was never any question. No cherry picking parts of games. No equivocation.
Two games, the first two games, were virtually a lock. A third was possible.
No need to wring hands over what it might mean to Clemson in the season opener. There were bigger issues than the game in Atlanta, and the message needed to be clear to the current members of the team and to any young man considering Clemson for football.
Swinney was criticized for not exacting punishment swiftly and decisively, for not drawing a line in the dirt for all to see. His decision not to pillory him or to pin the punishment to the gallows was perceived as a lack of leadership, but Swinney needed the summer to be sure that the punishment for Watkins’ arrest in May was suitable. That he did not act in anger. Kids can do that, abandon judgment and reason and bring an adult to near tears over their disappointment.
Swinney wanted to see how Watkins reacted in the immediate aftermath, how he comported himself in the remaining weeks until Friday when practice began; if he displayed an appropriate degree of contrition.
“He’s gone above and beyond the things that were required of him,” Swinney said on several occasions. “He’s a young man that’s got some rebuilding to do. He damaged a little bit of trust.
“If he continues to handle himself like he has, we’ll go ahead and render his punishment and go forward.”
Swinney was asked several times about the Auburn game. The buzz at the ACC Kickoff was that Watkins would sit the first half of the Auburn game then play.
“It’s possible. Anything’s possible,” he said during the interminable string of questions, “but is it probable? That’s another question.
“He’s going to sit. It’s just a matter of how much and when and all that stuff.”
Of course, the next question is whether Clemson can beat Auburn without Watkins.
Tajh Boyd could make it easier by letting the game come to him and refrain from the mistakes that became all too evident during the final stages of last season.
A competent run game with Andre Ellington would lessen the load. And Nuke Hopkins can carry some of the load at receiver, but it would seem to be an opportune occasion for Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant to cash in the stars awarded them in the recruiting lottery, and for Brandon Ford to make folks quit wishing Dwayne Allen had stayed for one more season.
It would also be helpful for Brent Venables to roll out a stifling scheme that gives Clemson fans a chance to enjoy the Georgia Dome din. That place can be a headache for a team on the wrong end of the score.