Dabo Swinney echoed the same positive sentiments his assistant coaches and players had earlier in the week when it comes to Clemson’s offense.
Speaking to the media for nearly 40 minutes during his weekly press conference Tuesday, Swinney voiced his own optimism about a unit that’s had its share of struggles through three games. The Tigers rank no better than 101st nationally in yards and points, and they haven’t done themselves any favors with sloppy ball security.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they’ve only lost two of their 11 fumbles, which Swinney called “a miracle.” And with No. 7 Clemson set to travel for its first true road game of the season Saturday against an N.C. State team that’s one of the most experienced the Tigers (2-1, 1-0 ACC) will see all season, Swinney knows his team is running out of time to clean up its act.
“We better put it together this week,” Swinney said. “I can tell you that.”
While the defense had what Swinney called its “worst game” against Georgia Tech last week in terms of missed tackles and mental miscues, it’s carried the Tigers so far. Clemson is the only FBS team that’s yet to allow an offensive touchdown and came through with a clutch goal-line stand in the waning seconds to help preserve the victory.
But the offense’s slow start drew the ire of Clemson’s senior center, Matt Bockhorst, who lamented the fact the unit, which has only reached the end zone twice against its first two FBS opponents, isn’t living up to the standard set by teams that came before this one. He said players have to look themselves in the mirror and hold themselves accountable.
Swinney didn’t disagree with his veteran lineman’s fiery remarks, saying the breakdowns in technique, fundamentals and execution at the center of the Tigers’ issues have to get corrected. But the fact that Swinney and his staff are seeing improvements in those areas in practice, along with effort, have the head coach optimistic that his offense is on the verge of a breakthrough.
“At some point, we’re going to take practice into the game day,” Swinney said. “And those guys are preparing with purpose. There’s no doubt about that. And when you do that, then you’re doing a good job with details.
“That’s kind of where we are right now. We’ve got to play better, but our preparation, our effort from the guys we’ve got, we’ve got a good group and it’s just a matter of time before we put it together.”
It doesn’t figure to get any easier for the Tigers against an N.C. State team that began the season with nearly every starter back from last year’s eight-win squad. The Wolfpack (2-1, 0-0 ACC) have since lost linebacker Payton Wilson and safety Cyrus Fagan to season-ending injuries, but the defense has still only given up 24 points in three games.
Clemson is dealing with some attrition of its own. Defensive tackle Tyler Davis is out for the foreseeable future after undergoing surgery on his bicep while senior running back Lyn-J Dixon plans to transfer, which Swinney confirmed will give freshman Will Shipley his first career start Saturday. Tight end Davis Allen has also moved ahead of Braden Galloway on the depth chart this week.
With Davis out, the Tigers will be counting more on Ruke Orhohoro, Tre Williams and Darnell Jefferies on the interior of the defensive line. Orhorhoro also started the opener against Georgia when Davis wasn’t available.
“Next guy up,” Swinney said. “Ruke, he’s been there and played well for us to this point. So we’re very fortunate that we’ve got some other guys that have gotten some experience in these first three games and have played well.”
The Wolfpack are 2-0 at Carter-Finley Stadium this season. Their lone loss came at Mississippi State, a game in which they gave up a kickoff for a touchdown and committed a handful of turnovers.
“I’m excited to see us play a true road game and see how we accept the challenge. It’s a tough place to play, and we’re going to have to have a great week of preparation. And we’ve got to play well. It’s that simple.”