By Ed McGranahan.
Dabo Swinney’s toughest job this week is trying to repair an injury that can’t be seen.
Doctors may examine Deshaun Watson’s knee on an X-ray or MRI image, but there aren’t any scopes or machines that can look into Cole Stoudt’s psyche, so there are no assurances that Swinney can fix his ailing quarterback by Saturday’s game with Georgia State.
Stoudt was Swinney’s choice to start because he had done it already six times this season and because he spent three seasons preparing every
week – just in case – so the idea of playing a walk-on with a handful of snaps didn’t inspire confidence.
Don’t doubt for a second Swinney hasn’t thought beyond Saturday’s game. There’s a shred of hope Watson could play against South Carolina – which might force Steve Spurrier to rethink his remarks – but probably it’s more wishful than practical.
Stoudt needs to rediscover the confidence he’s lost since August when he blew away Clemson coaches with his command and leadership. Swinney doesn’t blame him for Georgia, a game won by the Bulldogs’ special teams, but things began to unravel when he missed that bootleg throw to Jordan Leggett at Florida State. When Watson entered the game and nearly pulled it out, Stoudt was back in the same role he held down for three seasons.
With Watson back for Georgia Tech, some wonder if he relaxed a little. That wouldn’t be consistent. That wouldn’t be Cole Stoudt.
“He did everything he could to help us win this year. He continued to have a great right attitude. He continued to represent this program the
right way,” Swinney said.
Three interceptions last week, six over the last three games, are what fans remember, not the comeback at Boston College or the late rally at
Wake Forest. Clemson had won six straight and needed only beat Georgia Tech to virtually clinch a New Year’s Day bowl game.
An impromptu, grossly unscientific but revealing poll the other night revealed that most students would rather Nick Schuessler start Saturday,
so now my fear is how fans may react should Stoudt make a mistake.
Swinney was pained by the question.
“Why would they react to Cole Stoudt, because he had a bad game? This kid has given four years of his life to Clemson University,” he said.
“I think that is a shame that that question is even asked. They need to stand and they need to cheer loudly for Cole Stoudt.
“You’ve still got to celebrate what a young man has done in his career here.”
Because he can’t know what exactly Stoudt needs in this situation, Swinney will rely on his experience as a coach and mentor, showing him
video clips of the good things he accomplished the season, reminding him of how others pulled themselves out of tough situations and found the
mettle to thrive.
As a father he knows that even in the best circumstances confidence can be as fragile as crystal. One bad experience could undo the progress in
“At the end of the day we’re all supposed to be family,” he said. “You still love each other and have each other’s back.
“This guy has done nothing to represent this university with class. He’s been a great ambassador.”
Before the game Saturday the school’s military heritage and the team’s senior will be recognized for their contributions. Stoudt will run down
The Hill alone.
“I think that it is a shame that that question is even asked,” Swinney said. “They need to stand and they need to cheer loudly for Cole Stoudt.
“People need to get a life if they’re going to boo a guy like Cole Stoudt. He’s a class act and he deserves to be treated with class,” he
said. “You’ve still got to celebrate what a young man has done in his career here.”