With every team there is a galvanizing moment where it discovers who it is and what it is made of. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney believes that moment for his squad came at home last week against Syracuse.
The Tigers, who will play Wake Forest this Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., had drama all throughout the week leading up to the game. First Swinney announced a change at quarterback, going with freshman Trevor Lawrence as the starter over senior Kelly Bryant. Then Bryant quit the team and announced his intentions to transfer the next day.
If all that was not enough, cornerback Mark Fields and wide receiver Cornell Powell were suspended for the Syracuse game for different reasons, while starting right tackle Tremayne Anchrum injured his ankle in practice and was only able to play two series during the game.
Later in the game, starting cornerback Trayvon Mullen went down with an ankle injury as well during the game and worst of all, Lawrence suffered a head/neck injury in the second quarter, ushering in Chase Brice, who started the week as the third string quarterback, to finish what turned out to be one of Clemson’s greatest comebacks in the program’s rich history.
Despite all that went against them, fourth-ranked Clemson still found a way to win the game.
On Tuesday, during his weekly press conference Swinney said the Syracuse victory was like the mark on a growth chart a parent will have on the wall of their garage for their children.
“The chemistry and leadership of your team are the two most underrated things in football,” Swinney said. “Everybody just looks at you and says, ‘Oh, they are really talented, and they have these guys back’ or whatever it may be. That is great, but chemistry, leadership and morale, those are very undervalued aspects that people do not think about that really. They truly determine the type of season that you are going to have.
“You just can’t be talented. There are a lot of talented teams out there that have underachieving seasons because of those reasons. Maybe the chemistry is not good. Maybe they’re not a selfless team. Their commitment isn’t what it needs to be. They’re distracted. They are looking at this, they are looking at that or whatever it may be. Maybe they don’t like each other very well or maybe the leadership is not very good. The best players on your team are not committed like they need to be.”
Swinney says he has been a part of all the above, but he feels Saturday’s win over Syracuse, and all they had to endure last week proved to him this team is a special group.
“I knew that, and I have seen nothing to make me think any different,” Swinney said. “But, what I saw in them last week, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, at the hotel on Friday, our meeting Friday night and then what I witnessed (on Saturday), it was awesome. It was awesome!
“Literally, it was like you physically watched them grow three inches. So, it was pretty cool to see it come together and to see the leaders of this team do just that … lead and serve. It was awesome!”