With a few days having passed since Clemson lost a 10-3 slugfest to Georgia to open its season, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has had nearly 72 hours to evaluate the totality of the Tigers’ performance.
Swinney’s general summation? The effort, particularly against a top-5 team, was undeniable. The execution, however, lacked at critical times, which, in a competitive tilt that could go either way like Saturday’s did, “one play ended up being the difference,” Swinney said.
That play was Christopher Smith’s 74-yard pick-six of D.J. Uiagelelei late in the second quarter, one of many breakdowns on the offensive side of the ball that may be burned in Swinney’s mind for a while.
Swinney said after the game that mishap was more on receiver Justyn Ross than Uiagalelei. Ross, Swinney explained, should have been more aggressive in trying to cross Smith’s face and beat him to the ball. But there plenty of other gaffes by the Tigers’ offense that were still eating at Swinney during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
- Kobe Pace likely would’ve netted a lot more than 2 yards on Clemson’s first offensive snap had the Tigers’ offensive line correctly blocked up Georgia’s front. But instead of coming off to block a blitzing Nakobe Dean, true freshman guard Marcus Tate stayed on nose tackle Jordan Davis as part of a double team with left tackle Jordan McFadden. “(Tate) is jacked up, he gets off and they blow up a double team, and he’s got his eyes there,” Swinney said. “He just forgets he’s got to come off on that ‘backer. If we just do our job and he’s fundamentally better, Kobe’s running for 15-plus yards.”
- On the second snap, Clemson drew up a play that sent freshman running back Will Shipley on a wheel route and tight end Davis Allen cutting across the middle of the field, but Uiagalelei’s pass intended for Allen never got there. “We’ve got a touchdown to Shipley,” Swinney said. “He’s wide open. (Allen) is wide open. Like nobody around him. Nobody. And the guy stops rushing and just so happens to get his hand on the ball.”
- On the next play, the Tigers needed 8 yards for a first down, and Uiagalelei had what was supposed to be an open throw to one of his receivers running a hitch. Problem was, Swinney said, the receiver got mixed signals and keep the route going, forcing Uiagalelei to hold the ball and ultimately take a sack. “That ain’t on the offensive line. That’s on the receiver,” he said. “That’s a sack on the receiver. That’s a detail.”
- Ajou Ajou was “wide open” for what would’ve been an easy completion on one particular third down, Swinney said. But Uiagalelei dropped the snap, essentially ending the play before it began.
It set the tone for a night that was heavy on missed assignments and miscommunication between Uiagalelei and some of his receivers, including Ross, who had just four catches for 26 yards in his first game since the 2020 national championship game against LSU. Swinney said there may have been some rust for his star wideout to shake off since Ross wasn’t able to return to practice until a week into fall camp, but Swinney added he expects Saturday’s showing to be an outlier for Ross.
“He is locked in. He’s mad,” Swinney said. “He was just disappointed. He will be fine.”
Saturday’s game also drew more than 70,000 fans inside Bank of America Stadium, marking the first time since the 2019 season the Tigers have played in front of a crowd at full capacity. In terms of breakdowns in communication and execution, Swinney said that might’ve had an effect on some of Clemson’s younger players who had never previously experienced that kind of playing environment. Regardless of the reasons, Swinney said the Tigers have to clean up their act fundamentally moving forward.
“They were more consistent than we were and didn’t make the critical mistake,” Swinney said. “And when they did, we didn’t capitalize.”
Clemson’s first chance to do that will come Saturday against in-state FCS foe South Carolina State at Memorial Stadium. It will be a significant step down in level of competition, but don’t tell Swinney the Tigers can’t gain anything from it.
“We didn’t get a chance to play a lot of guys last week in that type of game and the way it was,” Swinney said. “Hopefully we can play a lot of guys and have a rotation but more importantly just improve upon the mistakes.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!