Favored by nearly four touchdowns, it “shouldn’t be difficult” for Dabo Swinney to hold his team’s attention for Saturday’s game against Ball State.
“If it is difficult, then we’re not going to be a championship team,” the Clemson coach said Tuesday during his weekly media briefing. “I’d be very disappointed if that’s the case.”
Newly minted No. 12 in the polls, the Tigers open the home schedule against a Mid-American Conference team picked to finish fourth in its division.
A number of teachable moments percolated in Clemson’s 26-19 win against Auburn.
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“To come in here Sunday, I was sick watching it and disappointed in some of the things we did because we had some opportunities to take command,” he said, “and we just couldn’t get out of our own way.”
Poise under duress was critical, senior center Dalton Freeman said.
“When things weren’t going our way,” Freeman said, “nobody panicked. We remained poised, and that’s the sign of a mature football team.”
Swinney warned during preseason that this would be a work in progress.
“There isn’t a team out there that didn’t make mistakes, but now we’ve got some film to study from and improve from,” he said.
Though he acknowledged several critical mistakes that required a fourth-quarter rally to ice Auburn, “I found out a lot about several guys that was very encouraging.”
Offensively, it was the line in an 87-play, 528-yard performance with the same five for all but one snap. Specifically left guard David Beasley, a redshirt sophomore from Columbus, Ga., in his first start.
“He hadn’t really played, certainly when the game was on the line,” Swinney said. “He played great He was physical. He had guys on the ground. He was as good on play 92 as he was early.”
Limiting Auburn to one touchdown despite a busted coverage and overcoming early difficulty defending the run was encouraging.
“Somebody may move up and down the field, but how many times did they cross the goal line?” Swinney said. “We’re just going to get better over there.”
Ball State now and Furman next week present opportunities to hone the craft and grow depth before the next major intersection on the schedule Sept. 22 at Florida State.
For example, Swinney would like to see redshirt sophomore guard Kalon Davis on the field, but that would require sitting Beasley or Tyler Shatley. It wasn’t worth the risk in Atlanta, tinkering with the chemistry.
Right tackle Giff Timothy ought to play at least a little this week after tweaking his knee before the touchdown pass to Nuke Hopkins.
“I don’t really think we’ll know who we are for three or four weeks, maybe five weeks before we really have a good gauge on where we are with certain guys,” Swinney said. “We’re going to have a lot of competition, hopefully, these next few weeks making improvements from experience.”
For all that went wrong, specifically the six dropped passes and the pre-snap penalties, there were obvious reasons to be encouraged.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd was poised and adroit as a runner in rallying the team and then milking the clock. Swinney estimated that Boyd completed 10 passes off plays designed for runs, including the TD to Hopkins.
“We’ve got to play our game, play consistently to the point where we’re not playing up or down to a level,” Boyd said. “It’s all about Clemson and how we perform in situations. Again, that’s the challenge this week.”