Monday Morning Quarterback
We already knew this, but this past Saturday, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney reinforced it.
Swinney sticks to his plan. He does not worry about statistics or if a player is in a Heisman Trophy race or anything of that kind of stuff. His goal each and every week is to do what is best for his team.
When it comes to playing time, Swinney has a theory he lives by as a coach. If a player earns the right to play, no matter where he lies on the depth chart, then he will get an opportunity to play.
Last year, no team played more players per game than Clemson. The Tigers played an average of 72 players per game, 17 more, on the average, than any of the other three teams (Alabama, Notre Dame and Oklahoma) that made the College Football Playoff last year.
To further emphasis this point. Alabama played 55 players per game in 2018, the Tigers played, on average, 55 players by the end of the first quarter. So, Swinney just isn’t subbing in backups when the game is out of hand, he does most of it when the game is technically still on the line.
On Saturday, when the top-ranked Tigers crushed Charlotte, 52-10, Clemson played a record 111 players. Swinney selectively removed most of his starters by the second quarter. At the start of the third quarter, they made wholesale changes.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence was pulled with 14:56 left in the second quarter following his 2-yard touchdown pass to Cornell Powell. Clemson was in front just 24-0 at the time.
Lawrence could have played more and probably could have padded his statistics, like others who are considered Heisman Trophy contenders. Instead, his day ended with basically three quarters of football to go.
Though his stats were solid—7 of 9 passing for 94 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions—they weren’t impressive. They are not going to get the preseason ACC Player of the Year invited to New York come December.
“That just who we are,” Swinney said. “We want to beat the opponent, but we don’t want to embarrass anybody. That is not the objective. Obviously, we could have scored 100 points.
“If we leave Trevor Lawrence out there, he could have had all kind of stats and he could be written up for the Heisman this week, but we are not interested in that. We are just interested in winning the game, trying to win with class and not get anybody hurt and those types of things and grow our team.”
While Swinney is pulling Lawrence and other big-time players before halftime, other teams around the country seem to keep their star players in the game way longer.
Alabama for instance beat Southern Miss this past Saturday 49-7. However, Nick Saban did not pull his starting quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, until the 5:43 mark of the third quarter following a Tide touchdown that gave them a 42-7 lead at the time.
Tagovailoa finished the afternoon 17 of 21 for 293 yards with 5 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions.
In Nashville, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, played his star quarterback, Joe Burrow, into the fourth quarter though his team clearly had the game well in hand. Burrow did not leave the game until the 14:10 mark of the final quarter of a 66-38 win.
LSU’s Heisman Trophy candidate padded his statistics to the tune of 6 touchdown passes and 398 yards on 25 of 34 passing.
Do Saban and Orgeron have their reasons for leaving in their starters for so much longer than Swinney? I’m sure they do. They have a different philosophy when it comes to those types of things and it works for them.
Swinney, a former walk-on at Alabama who earned himself a starting role on the Tides’ 1992 national championship team, handles things differently. He uses his experiences as a former player, and now as a coach, on how he determines if a player sees the field or not.
Because of this, Swinney dresses everyone on the team at home games, except those that are being redshirted. He wants them all to experience what it is like to run down the hill and be a part of game day as a player.
If the opportunity comes up that he can play just about everyone on the roster, he is going to do it. Saturday was one of those opportunities.
“It is cool. You got a lot of guys who can say they played for the Tigers and nobody can ever take that away from them,” Swinney said. “I just think that is what it is all about. There are a lot of guys that work really, really hard that don’t get a chance to play or play much. For them to be rewarded for their hard work and to have a chance to go play in a setting like that is pretty special.”
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