Dabo Swinney was a receiver during his playing days at the University of Alabama. He began his coaching career instructing that position and still works often with Clemson’s receivers during practice.
So it’s easy to understand why there’s a particular inconsistency within Clemson’s offense that’s eating at him.
Two days after the Tigers’ narrow win at Syracuse, Clemson’s coach lamented more dropped passes by the receivers. Swinney doubled down on his belief that it was D.J. Uiagalelei’s best game to this point after the sophomore quarterback completed 21 of 34 passes with a touchdown and no picks, his highest completion rate since completing 72% against Georgia Tech on Sept. 18.
It was also a season-high in completions for him, but there could’ve been more had Clemson’s receivers caught more passes that were as consistently accurate as they’ve been all season.
“It’s beyond frustrating,” Swinney said. “We’ve actually practiced well. It’s incredibly frustrating. Early on, we were missing plays and now the quarterback is putting the ball on the money.”
Swinney said he counted five drops after reviewing the tape of Friday’s game. They started on Clemson’s second possession when Justyn Ross broke wide open near midfield. Uiagalelei stepped up in the pocket to avoid some pressure before hitting Ross between the numbers with a pass, but Ross couldn’t snag the ball as he fell to the turf in pain. He limped off after the play but later returned to finish the game.
“That’s going to be a 50- or 60-yard play. There was nobody around Ross,” Swinney said. “I thought D.J. did a great job in the pocket sliding, and Ross just kind of stepped funny and kind of lost his focus on the ball.”
Joseph Ngata made an extending 19-yard catch for Clemson’s first touchdown while Ross also had a leaping, acrobatic catch near the goal line to set up the Tigers’ second score late in the first half. But Ross had another drop on the first possession of the third quarter that would’ve bailed the Tigers out on third-and-16 after a botched snap earlier in the drive. Ngata had a drop or two as well.
“It’s very frustrating because I know we’re better than that,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to finish.
“We’re making some. We’re just not being as consistent as we’re accustomed to around here. And so we’re just kind of in a little bit of a funk there. We’ve just got to keep working our way through it.”
And while the drops may be the most noticeable to the naked eye, they’re not the only area in which the receivers have struggled with consistency. Blocking on the perimeter has been an issue at times, which again showed up against Syracuse.
There were some blocks made that helped spring chunk plays on the edge, but there were also some breakdowns that assisted in killing drives. On their first possession, the Tigers got a screen out to tight end Davis Allen, but Ajou Ajou, getting his first career start, never got a hand on cornerback Garrett Williams, who shot into the backfield to drop Allen for a loss.
“We literally don’t even touch him. We took the play off,” Swinney said. “That’s frustrating, and we’ve got to get that corrected. That’s on us as coaches. Period.”
Uiagalelei connected with Davis on another pass for 13 yards early in the fourth quarter, but a hold on Ross brought the play back to a 3-yard gain. Swinney said there were times when the blocking was good but also other instances where receivers failed to execute blocking assignments.
Swinney again pointed the finger inward when it comes to fixing those kinds of mishaps that are playing a part in keeping Clemson’s offense from establishing any sort of rhythm.
“The effort was great, but our technique has to be better,” Swinney said. “We had a missed assignment on a quick pitch to the left. Both receivers are supposed to be cracking, and we’ve got one that goes down and blocks the safety. Again, that’s on us as coaches to get us better.”
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