Hindsight, as they say, is always 20-20.
That’s because second guessing is always easy to see coming. If you knew then what you know now about a certain situation, would you change anything?
That’s where Clemson coach Dabo Swinney found himself a day after the Tigers’ 10-3 rock-’em, sock-’em loss to Georgia in a top-5 clash. In particular, Swinney said he’d like to have back the decision to quickly abandon the running game, though it was more for the sake of balance rather than not know what Clemson’s offense was facing.
“I don’t know that many people are going to be efficient running the football on Georgia, but we were nowhere near effective enough,” Swinney said Sunday. “And then with (quarterback) D.J. (Uiagalelei) just not really being settled in, we didn’t do a good job of supporting him and sticking to the run game and hanging in there with that. Definitely something we didn’t do a good job with as coaches.”
Georgia has had the nation’s top run defense each of the last two seasons and lived up to its suffocating reputation by making Clemson one-dimensional. The Tigers finished with just 2 net yards rushing, and the Bulldogs sacked Uiagalelei seven times in part because they weren’t worried about Clemson’s running game.
Clemson’s running backs combined for just 24 yards. After Kobe Pace mustered just 2 yards on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage, they didn’t have many opportunities. They combined for just eight carries after that, but Swinney said the coaching staff was too reactionary to the result of a play that had far more potential.
Backed up on its own 10-yard line, Uiagalelei handed off to Kobe Pace on Clemson’s first offensive snap. With 11 personnel on the field against Georgia’ four-man front, the Tigers had enough blockers to go hat on hat even if the Bulldogs brought their two inside linebackers on a run blitz through the A-gap, which is exactly what Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning dialed up.
But Jordan McFadden and Marcus Tate doubled Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis, leaving linebacker Nakobe Dean free to shoot into the backfield. Pace broke Dean’s tackle, but it slowed him up long enough for the rest of the Bulldogs’ defense to quickly converge.
“You can’t draw it up any better,” Swinney said of the numbers. “And you just turn the linebacker loose. We’ve got a hat for him, but, for some reason, we didn’t come off there. That play is going to go a while.”
Clemson didn’t call Uiagalelei’s number in the run game often, either. There were a couple of designed runs and some run-pass options where the sophomore signal caller chose to throw, decisions Swinney said he agreed with based on what Georgia’s defense was showing, but Swinney said the Tigers also didn’t try that enough.
“We didn’t give him enough opportunity,” Swinney said. “Again, that’s something else we could’ve done a better job of, but we just need him to be effective. That’s it. And take what’s there.”
But what Swinney doesn’t regret is playing Georgia to open the season. The Tigers could’ve opted to play an inferior opponent and racked up.a bunch of yards in an easy win, but Clemson paid $1.1 million to Wyoming, which was originally on the Tigers’ non-conference schedule for this season, to break that game contract so it could add the marquee matchup against Georgia to the slate.
The result was a slugfest between a pair of College Football Playoff hopefuls in which no offensive touchdowns were scored. Clemson mustered just 180 total yards and scored its fewest points since a 13-3 loss to Georgia Tech in 2007, which brought questions about the running game, Uiagalelei’s response to the worst statistical performance of his young career and chemistry and cohesion among an offense entering a new era with Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne no longer around.
“If you go schedule a different opponent out of the gate, you’re probably asking me different questions,” Swinney said. “But we played Georgia and would do it again because that’s going to help these guys get better for sure.
“I think we’re going to be just fine. We just need to stay focused on us and go get better this week and develop our team. We’ve got to earn it week in and week out.”
Next up for Clemson is a matchup with FCS in-state foe South Carolina State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!