Before October 13, 2008, Dabo Swinney had never been around the triple option. Growing up in Alabama, Swinney was raised on the I-formation offense, which had option principals, but not in the sense that Saturday’s opponent, Georgia Tech, will use at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
“I grew up in the I-formation. That is what I played in and that is what I started my coaching career in,” said Clemson’s head coach. “I could coach it today, it is ingrained in me.”
October 13, 2008 is the day Swinney was named the interim coach after Tommy Bowden stepped down as head coach. Five days later, the 38-year old was staring at Paul Johnson and the Ramblin’ Wreck’s triple-option and the Tigers were not ready for it.
“I get the job on Monday, and ‘Oh by the way, we are playing a triple option team on Saturday.’ It is Paul Johnson’s first year and nobody knows anything about it,” Swinney said laughing earlier this week. “My first full year, we won the division and we played in the championship down in Tampa and (C.J.) Spiller got MVP of the game and we lost. We could not stop them. They could not stop us. Nobody punted in the game. They went 86 yards for the game-winning drive. They made about three of four fourth down conversions on us.”
Swinney’s first three teams did not fair too well against the Yellow Jackets at first. Clemson lost the first three against Johnson, including the above mentioned 2009 ACC Championship Game.
In those three games, Georgia Tech rushed for 207, 301 and 333 yards respectfully.
“I learned really quick, if we are going to have a chance, we are going to have make this a part of what we do around here,” Swinney said. “So, we do. If you don’t, then you’re going to be behind the eight ball.”
Swinney prepares the Tigers by implementing Georgia Tech periods during the spring and in fall camp.
“We play them every year. It is a huge game for us. It is a rival game,” Swinney said. “So, we get ready for all of our opponents every year. They are very unique. Some of your base things don’t really apply, you kind of have to forget everything from a defensive standpoint.”
After losing in 2011, the Tigers (3-0) have won five of the last six meetings and have become the masters of shutting down Johnson’s triple-option attack. In the last three meetings, Tech is averaging 121.3 yards per game on the ground, including 2.95 yards per carry. They have just two rushing touchdowns in those three games.
“We started a long time ago having a Georgia Tech period in the spring. Having a Georgia Tech period during fall camp,” Swinney said. “Just enough to keep the principals you need and the fundamentals you have to play with to have a chance.
“It has certainly gotten better over the years for sure.”
After his 0-3 start against Johnson, Swinney now has a 6-5 edge in the all-time matchup. Not bad for a coach who never had seen a triple-option offense prior to October 13, 2008.