Clemson is not a team that usually beats itself. It is one of the reasons why the Tigers have been so hard to beat the last nine seasons.
However, in last week’s win over North Carolina that was not the case. Second-ranked Clemson had as many penalties and mental errors as it has had in quite some time, which allowed the Tar Heels to hang around and nearly beat the Tigers.
“Most teams lose that game,” Swinney said Monday night during his weekly teleconference call with the media.
The Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) should have lost. Besides being penalized six times for 30 yards, all pre-snap penalties by the way, they also lost a fumble on the negative 42-yard line. They ran the football for just 4.0 yards per carry and quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed just 8 of 17 passes in the second half for 80 yards.
On defense, they allowed the Tar Heels to convert 7 of 17 third downs and was 2-for-3 on fourth down. Cornerback A.J. Terrell, Clemson’s best corner, was burned for a 40-yard touchdown on the game’s opening series. There were also missed tackles and breakdowns in the run defense, which allowed UNC to average 4.1 yards per carry and 146 rushing yards.
“Yeah it is the most (mistakes) in a while. Like I said we had a lot in those other games, but those games weren’t close. It has been a while,” Swinney said. “I don’t remember a game where we had that many penalties, critical penalties and a couple of times where I thought our situational awareness wasn’t very good.
“Defensively, we didn’t fit some things right. We didn’t release properly. We left some gaps open and missed some tackles. (Terrell) gave up a big play because his eyes were bad, and his technique was poor. Some things that we don’t normally do. And all of a sudden, those things can kind of catch up with you when they start piling up, and the next thing you know you are in a dog fight.”
UNC almost won the fight when Javonte Williams ran in from a yard out with 1:17 to play in the game. That capped a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took 8:32 off the clock. Instead of forcing overtime and kicking the game-tying conversion, head coach Mack Brown elected to go for the win and went for two.
It was not a bad tactical move considering the Tigers were gassed after giving up such a long drive. But Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables guessed right on his play call.
The Tar Heels ran a sprint out option to the right side, the same 2-point attempt they converted in their comeback win over South Carolina in the season opener. Defensive end Xavier Thomas, linebacker James Skalski and safety Nolan Turner met quarterback Sam Howell before he could turn the corner and make a play.
“We are a better team than North Carolina and the best team won the game, but we did not play anywhere near to our ability,” Swinney said. “First of all, you have to give them credit. I thought those kids fought their butts off. They competed with everything they had and had a good plan. As far was what they were trying to do, containing us, milking the clock and things like that. We kind of played into their hands a little bit with some of the mistakes that we control. They made some great plays too, so I don’t want to take anything away from them.
“But everybody we play is going to make some plays. I am more focused on the things that we control because our alignments, our pre-snap issues, situational awareness, penalties, those are things that can add up quickly, especially when they are happening on third-and-one.”
Clemson hopes to get those things corrected this week during its open week. The Tigers will get back on the playing field on Oct. 12 when they host Florida State at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff for that game will be on ABC, but ESPN has elected to hold the time for kickoff until this coming Sunday. It will be either a 3:30 or 7 p.m. kick.
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