Monday Morning Quarterback
Do you want to know something Clemson’s opponents need to worry about? The Tigers have won their first two games in commanding fashion, and still have not played their best.
In fact, head coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday evening there are a million mistakes that need to be fixed.
The Tigers took care of business this past Saturday with a dominating win over then No. 12 Texas A&M, but they were far from perfect in doing so. Trevor Lawrence threw another interception and admitted he was off on a few other throws. They were penalized four times, including a holding call and an illegal receiver downfield penalty.
There were a couple of missed tackles again on defense and there was a coverage bust they were fortunate did not bite them thanks to an overthrown ball. But Clemson still beat a top 12 team by two touchdowns and the game wasn’t really that close. The Aggies got a cheap touchdown with 6 seconds to play to make the score, 24-10, seem closer than it actually was.
“I think it is encouraging because, again, we are 2-0, number one, but we have got a lot of positives to build on,” Swinney said. “There are a lot of good things on tape, but yet there are a million mistakes and so many things that we can correct, but yet we are still finding ways to win games.”
The Tigers (2-0) just are not winning games, they are dominating them. Clemson opened the season by literally running Georgia Tech out of Memorial Stadium by 38 points and then this past Saturday it physically smacked Texas A&M on both offense and defense.
“We have controlled the game against two Power Five teams, so I’m excited about that. Those are challenging games,” Swinney said. “This Texas A&M team, this is a really good team. This is a team that is going to win a bunch of games. So, I’m just real proud of the guys.
“It says we still have a lot of room for improvement and we have a chance to be a very good football team if we can learn and grow from our experiences.”
No one in the country in the last seven years has done that better than Clemson. Former quarterback Tajh Boyd said to this writer last year that Swinney builds his team as the season goes along. The goal is to get better from Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3 and so on. By the mid-way point of the season, the mistakes get fewer and fewer and the team is clicking on all cylinders both offensively and defensively.
That is why Swinney plays so many players. The Tigers build depth through actual game experience, no matter if they are playing Charlotte or Texas A&M. They rotate players in and out. If a player earns the right to play, they are going to play them.
The proof this formula works is in the results.
Take last year for instance. Clemson played well enough in the first five games to be 5-0, but they were not clicking on all cylinders. They hung on and won by just two points at Texas A&M, and then rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Syracuse.
However, once they got to Week 6, things kicked into another gear. The Tigers won their last 10 games by 20 or more points including 27- and 28-point wins over Notre Dame and Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
In 2011, when the program won its first ACC Championship in 20 years, Clemson faltered down the stretch. After starting that season 8-0, the Tigers went 2-4 in their last six games. It was a time when the program was still learning how to win and learning how to handle success.
Since then, Clemson is 46-5 in the second half of their seasons, losing no more than one game in each of the last seven seasons in the back half of its schedule. That is what good teams do. They get better as the season moves along and by the end of the year, they are playing their best.
It is no coincidence, the Tigers have won two national championships and played for another during that stretch of time.
And that is what makes this year’s Clemson team so scary to its upcoming opponents. They still have so much to improve upon, yet they won their first two games in dominating fashion.
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