'It's all on me': All Seinfeld jokes aside, Swinney shoulders blame for pungent offense

'It's all on me': All Seinfeld jokes aside, Swinney shoulders blame for pungent offense

Football

'It's all on me': All Seinfeld jokes aside, Swinney shoulders blame for pungent offense

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As Dabo Swinney lamented the continued struggles of Clemson’s offense, the Tigers’ coach eventually went in the direction of an iconic reference.

“Y’all remember that Seinfield show when the stink was in the car and they couldn’t get it out?” Swinney asked during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “I don’t remember which one it was, but it just popped in my head right here. That’s what we’ve got.”

For anyone who isn’t familiar, Swinney was referring to an episode titled “The Smelly Car” during the fourth season of the wildly popular 1990s sitcom starring comedian Jerry Seinfeld. In the episode, Jerry (playing himself) and Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) discover a foul odor in Jerry’s car that both assumed was left by the valet responsible for parking it at a restaurant. Jerry eventually takes his vehicle to a car wash, but the smell continues to linger to the point that he tries to sell the car to no avail.

Much like Jerry’s car, whether or not the Tigers can actually rid themselves of their pungency at this point remains to be seen. After failing to crack the 20-point mark in regulation yet again against an FBS opponent in last week’s escape at Syracuse, Clemson — a team used to explosive plays and points in bunches during its run to six consecutive College Football Playoff appearances — is averaging just 14.8 points against teams not named South Carolina State. The Tigers’ 20.5 points per game rank 114th out of 130 FBS teams while their 322.3 yards per game are even worse (115th).

“It’s just a stink, and we’ve got to get rid of it,” Swinney said in reference to the Tigers’ offensive performance through six games. “It’s lingering in the car, and we’ve got to get rid of it.”

But can they? And if so, what exactly is the solution as the Tigers prepare to start the back half of their schedule Saturday at Pittsburgh, a team scoring the third-most points of anybody in the country?

Swinney went mental with his answer to start, which has been a talking point among Clemson’s coaches through the week. A day earlier, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said he knows players want to perform better than they have been and, as a result, are pressing. Swinney emphatically agreed with that assessment given how loud the criticism is outside the program.

“How else do you explain some of the things you see from some of our best players?” Swinney said. “I think it’s just kind of human nature, especially in today’s world. When I was coming up, somebody maybe wrote a bad article in the local newspaper, and that was about it. And you hoped your grandmother didn’t read it. You still had the people at the barbershop, but now all the people at the barbershop have a national forum. And all the media sees it.

“That’s all they get right now is how bad they are and how much their coaches stink, but that just comes with it. But as a young person, you’ve got to learn how to block that stuff out. Because if you don’t, you get burdened down, try to do too much, get outside of things and then you’re not playing free. The next thing you know, the weight of the world is on you. I don’t think there’s any question that this group offensively is burdened by disappointment, expectations and outside noise.”

It’s one reason why Swinney believes some of the same issues keep popping up on a near weekly basis. Some of them, particularly up front, are out of the Tigers’ control. Hunter Rayburn’s late scratch against Syracuse forced sophomore Mason Trotter, who hadn’t played all season because of a broken hand, into the starting lineup at center. It was the third center and fourth different starting combination the Tigers’ offensive line has used in six games.

Trotter had a bad snap early in the second half that essentially killed one of Clemson’s drives, though Swinney said he was proud of the way the sophomore played overall given the circumstances. But blown blocking assignments, penalties and dropped passes also continue to surface for an offense that has almost no room for error.

Those issues overshadowed what Swinney thought was quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei’s best performance so far. Uiagalelei completed nearly 62% of his 34 attempts against Syracuse — his highest completion rate since going 18 of 25 against Georgia Tech on Sept. 18 — but the Tigers had a handful of drops on other accurate passes and committed seven more penalties. Clemson’s 7.6 penalties per game put the Tigers 104th nationally in that category.

“We’ve just got to be better around him,” Swinney said. “Just something we’re fighting through right now. The good news is we’re still Clemson, and we’ve still got a great group of guys. We’ve got to help them fight through that because they’re not very confident right now.”

Swinney said there “absolutely” are things he and the rest of the coaches can do to help their players free up their minds. Part of it is getting them to ignore what’s been said and written about their performance outside of the program, though Swinney admitted that’s always easier said than done. 

“Who are you going to listen to? Who are you going to believe?” Swinney said. “That’s your choice every single day. If you let that stuff in, it will affect you.”

There have also been some positives to Clemson’s season. The Tigers still own the nation’s second-best scoring defense despite some key personnel losses to injuries. Swinney also praised the play of the Tigers’ special teams, which executed a successful fake punt that led to the team’s final touchdown last week.

But Swinney knows an offense that’s been the butt of plenty of jokes has to improve in a hurry if the Tigers plan on staying in ACC contention beyond this week. And, all joking aside, he acknowledged that responsibility is ultimately his.

“Player performance is all on the coaches. It’s all on me,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. I’m responsible for what you see. There’s nobody more frustrated than myself.”

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