Swinney sees growth opportunities amid 'year of struggle'

Swinney sees growth opportunities amid 'year of struggle'

Football

Swinney sees growth opportunities amid 'year of struggle'

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To put into perspective just how different this season has been compared to what Clemson’s football program has experienced of late during his tenure, Dabo Swinney did what most people do nowadays.

The Tigers’ coach went to his phone.

“When we won the national championship, it took me a month to reply to all the text messages,” Swinney said. “Just to give them a fist pump. A month. You lose one, and you’ve got five text messages. You’ve got your mom. You’ve got your best friend from high school. You’ve got your fifth-grade teacher. You’ve got the preacher. It takes about 10 minutes. That’s the way it is.”

There won’t be a national champion for Clemson this season, and a string of six straight ACC titles may be coming to an end, too. At 4-3 overall and 3-2 in conference play heading into Saturday’s game against Florida State, Clemson has already experienced the most losing it’s had since also losing three games during the 2014 season.

The Tigers still won 10 games that season, but that team averaged nearly 31 points and more than 400 yards per game. But this is a year of transition for Clemson, and it’s showed with an offense that’s come nowhere close to putting up those kinds of numbers.

And with the attrition that continues to pile up for a team averaging just 15.1 points against FBS competition, it’s hard to envision things getting much better for this year’s group. The offense lost another offensive lineman, senior guard Matt Bockhorst (torn ACL), for the season against Pitt, and the unit was dealt another blow this week when Swinney announced starting running back Kobe Pace will miss the FSU game while going through COVID-19 protocols.

“A year of struggle. A year of transition. A year of disappointment. A year of frustration,” Swinney said. “All of that stuff, but there will be some good things spring out of it for sure.”

Swinney spent a good chunk of his weekly press conference Tuesday harping on what he believes can be positives taken from a season full of negatives. He used his quarterback, D.J. Uiagalelei, as an example.

Uiagalelei finds himself trying to hold on to the starting job this week after another subpar performance for the big-armed sophomore. After throwing a season-high two interceptions — the latter a pick-six — he was benched for two series in the second half against Pitt for Taisun Phommachanh, whom coaches have already built certain packages for and will give a longer look at during practice this week.

For Uiagalelei, a former five-star recruit who’s dealing with prolonged struggles for the first time in a while, Swinney is hopeful this experience will benefit him in the long run.

“Walking off the field (at Pitt), you’ve probably got about 2,000 people chanting in unison that DJ stinks. That’s not necessarily the word they used, but, I mean, that’s great for that kid. Because that’s welcome to this world, you know? If you’re the head coach or you’re the quarterback, you’re going to get way too much credit and too much blame too. But that comes with it, and you’ve got to learn how to embrace that. I think it’s good for him. He’s had a lot of success his whole life. It’s just the way it is.”

The same could be said for a team full of new contributors that’s still trying to find some confidence as it heads into the final five games of the regular season.

“This has been a challenge for sure, but you’ve got to embrace it and keep rolling,” Swinney said. “And just try to lean on the foundation of the program and go back to the basics.

“I think this is a great opportunity for us to grow.”

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