Looking at the litter in the college football gutters after last weekend, Dabo Swinney might take umbrage to any suggestion that Clemson’s three-point win at Louisville wasn’t a step above.
“Great win,” Swinney said Monday. “The more I watched football this weekend, the better it became.”
Points aren’t awarded for style, which explained why Ohio State remained No. 1 and Florida State in the top 10, yet Clemson slipped from No. 9 to No. 10 in one poll and didn’t budge from 11 in the other.
However, the next two games should begin to reveal Clemson’s fitness for candidacy as a playoff team. CBSSports.com this week picked Clemson for the Final Four.
“I think we’ve got a great opportunity in front of us,” Swinney said during a teleconference. “We’ve got a lot to fix, a lot to improve upon. We’re not a finished product, didn’t expect to be.”
Undefeated after three games with Notre Dame coming on Oct. 3 and Georgia Tech the following week, “it’s all out there for us.”
Admittedly there were moments of frustration, but Swinney said the game flowed much as he anticipated, with Louisville trying to keep a lid on Clemson’s big-play potential. Swinney was pleased with the efficiency, particularly sophomore Wayne Gallman, who rushed for more than 80 of his game-high 139 yards after contact.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson completed 70 percent of his 30 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but missed tight end Jordan Leggett for a potentially huge gain in the second half and made a poor decision on one of his two interceptions. Either might have helped ice the game and ease the anxiety created by the 100-yard kickoff return.
“We took what was there,” Swinney said, “not a lot of opportunities downfield.”
Swinney credited Watson’s savvy for the touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow, the second read on the play, after Louisville rolled its safeties.
“They really weren’t going to let us throw the ball down the field. They were on top of everything,” he said. “We kept taking things underneath and kept moving the ball.”
Clemson limited Louisville to 272 total yards (19 rushing) and collected five sacks. A pass of 55 yards set up Louisville’s first touchdown.
“Only thing I didn’t expect was the explosive kickoff return,” Swinney said. “(It) got them back in the game, and that’s a lesson for our guys. One play can change the game.
“We had two of our best players totally unblocked, free to the ball and we don’t make the play, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to get it corrected.”
Defensive coaches Marion Hobby and Brent Venables supervised kick coverage.
“They know what they’re doing,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to execute what we’re doing and what we’re teaching. We’ve got a couple of personnel changes we’re going to make, too.
“We’re fortunate that it didn’t cost us the ballgame.”
Swinney intends to use the break to look deeper into the schedule past Notre Dame, perform a self-scout and give several players a chance to heal. Offensive tackles Joe Gore (ankle) and Jake Fruhmorgen (knee sprain) should return to practice next week, he said. Center Ryan Norton (knee) won’t be available before Georgia Tech.
Tigers vs. Irish
Who: No. 11 Clemson (3-0) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (3-0)
When: Oct. 3, 8 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson