In a perfect world, Dabo Swinney would prefer for Clemson’s offense to be balanced when it squares off against Georgia on Saturday.
But it’s rare to find perfection over the course of any college football game, let alone season openers. And given who will be lining up across from the Tigers, Swinney said Clemson’s offensive game plan is hardly going to be a stubborn one.
“I think we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do to win the game,” Swinney said.
The passing game was Clemson’s strength a season ago, ranking sixth nationally in yards per game. The Tigers lost arguably the nation’s top collegiate quarterback off last year’s 10-win team in Trevor Lawrence but also lost All-American running back Travis Etienne, who did what he could to try to carry a running game that averaged just 153.8 yards per game, the fewest for Clemson since 2014.
With a deep lineup of talented receivers, experienced tight ends and the promise D.J. Uiagalelei showed in his two spot starts in place of Lawrence last season, it’s easy to understand why the Tigers may still be further ahead through the air than on the ground. But Swinney has reiterated throughout the preseason that he’s confident in what’s left in the backfield — senior Lyn-J Dixon, sophomore Kobe Pace and freshman speedster Will Shipley being among them.
Yet confidence for the running game could be hard to muster against a Georgia defense that’s yielded fewer rushing yards than anyone in the Football Bowl Subdivision two years running. Nose guard Jordan Davis (6-foot-6, 340 pounds) and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (6-3, 315) are the anchors in the middle with Swinney noting how difficult it’s been for any offense to try to move those big bodies off the ball.
Still, Swinney said he’s hopeful Clemson can keep Georgia’s offense honest with an effective mix of run and pass, and there are alternatives to trying to power the ball between the tackles in an effort to do that. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott mentioned perimeter runs and using Uiagalelei and his receivers as a possible extension of the running game with run-pass options as potential ways to keep the Bulldogs’ defense off balance.
Swinney said Georgia’s personnel packages could also dictate how Clemson tries to move the ball from one play to the next.
“We’ve got to make the right adjustments and feel for who they’re going to be,” Swinney said. “We think we know, but you really never know in these openers until you get in the game and you start playing.”
But Swinney knows basic math: The only way his team leaves Bank of America Stadium a winner come late Saturday night is by scoring more points than Georgia.
And the Tigers aren’t about to be picky when it comes to trying to do that.
“If it’s run it 70 (times) or if it’s throw it 70, the object is to win the game,” Swinney said. “So we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!