Swinney takes aim at scrutiny

pstrelow@ thestate.comSeptember 30, 2009 

TCU Clemson Football

Clemson's head coach Dabo Swinney calls the plays during the first half of their NCAA college football game against TCU Saturday Sept. 26, 2009, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

MARY ANN CHASTAIN/AP

  • TIGERS VS. TERRAPINS

    WHO: Clemson (2-2) at Maryland (1-3)

    WHEN: Noon Saturday

    WHERE: Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.

    LINE: Clemson by 13.5

    TV: ESPNU (channel 16O)

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM

CLEMSON - To demonstrate why Clemson cannot seem to win close games against top opponents, coach Dabo Swinney showed the team Monday what he called the "win reel," a collection of eight or nine plays that collectively cost the team the TCU game.

Make three or four of those plays, Swinney said Tuesday, and the Tigers prevail.

It was later suggested to Swinney that the approach sounded familiar to that of Tommy Bowden's one-play-away anthem, questioning whether the program has changed as much as Swinney believes.

"How long was he here?" Swinney asked rhetorically. "Coach Bowden was here 10 years. I've been here four games as the head coach. Three years from now, if we're having that same problem, bring somebody else in here, bottom line."

The bottom line is, Clemson is 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the ACC going into Saturday's game at Maryland (1-3, 0-0).

But Swinney finds himself trying to rub out the perception that this Clemson team will repeat the recent history of being 'one play away.'

Losses to Georgia Tech and TCU by four and three points, respectively, leaves Clemson 1-7 in its past eight games decided by a touchdown or less. The Tigers also have lost eight in a row to ranked teams.

But Swinney maintained there are differences this year, saying the Tigers "have come to play" and not wilted when faced with adversity.

"That's a fair question based on what y'all have dealt with and what you've seen out of this program," Swinney said. "People can think or say what they want or speculate, but this is a different football team. Play the season out, see what happens. There's a lot of ball left."

Swinney intimated such scrutiny at this stage of the season is rooted in his being part of Bowden's former staff, which he termed "unfair" but "part of it."

His first reference point was his alma mater, Alabama, where the Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe in Nick Saban's first season but have picked things up since.

"I want to win a national championship," Swinney said. "The only thing we know right now about this team right now is we're not a national championship team. That's the only thing we know. ... If we were, you'd win those games. They make that play.

"But I think we've got a chance to be a really good team. Do we have a chance to be a division championship team? Maybe. Conference championship team? Maybe. But we've got to play a little smarter, be more accountable, (pay) attention to detail, and have a little more poise when the chance to win the game presents itself."

Swinney does not believe Clemson is at a crossroads, although the Terps beaten the Tigers two of the past three seasons, each in games which they were heavy underdogs.

That is among the reasons Swinney says Maryland has Clemson's attention.

"The past is a bucket of ashes," Swinney said. "This is a different football team, this is a new staff, this is a new season - there is a lot of newness here.

"Both our losses, we had the lead in the fourth quarter. We have to win the game. That's what we have to do, that killer instinct. And we're getting there."

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