Dabo Swinney still strings Christmas lights on his house and hosts a party with Santa on the roof distributing gifts. It’s a tradition Swinney began in Alabama and continued in Clemson because he’s a kid at heart and a creature of habit.
Other than some small adjustments in the season’s routine, Swinney stayed the course this week to prepare Clemson for Saturday’s ACC Championship Game with North Carolina. It’s not about superstition. Who’s going to argue with the coach of the undefeated, No. 1 team in the nation?
Swinney said in July this team was prepared for the long run and punched holes all season in the air of skepticism that hung over the Tigers. Even as a 4½-point favorite, Clemson can’t escape questions.
“I think that is just par for the course,” he said. “That’s kind of the way it has been all year. It’s about every week everybody expects us to lose.”
Certainly, he acknowledged the issues with turnovers, 10 in the past three games.
“Yeah, it’s a huge concern,” said Swinney, “but we’re 12-0. The good news is we don’t have to play perfect to win.”
His coaches have broken down the probabilities: commit more turnovers in a game than the other team and you win 16 percent of the time. Clemson defied the numbers by winning six times despite committing more turnovers than the opponent.
“The worst thing to do is to panic and things like that, because then you get guys playing timid and playing scared. That is not who we are,” said co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. “We want to be well-coached and we want to play fundamentally sound.”
Swinney’s teams are 40-4 when committing the least turnovers.
“You talk about it, and these guys will learn from it,” Scott said. “It has not been something that has been a major problem all year, but we have been fortunate we have been able to overcome the ones we have had so far.”
Coaches routinely wear boxing gloves during practiceto try and knock away the ball during a flexing exercise.
“Those guys have to do the flex runs holding the football high and tight and in the proper position,” Scott said. “Any time we see a ball that gets outside of the frame work and it is not put in that correct position, then we hold those guys accountable.
“There will be a fine line this week. We are going to coach it. We are going to learn from it and then we are going to move on and keep doing what we are doing.”
Swinney said it’s difficult to criticize a guy like Artavis Scott, who fumbled against South Carolina trying to make a play. “We got guys fighting for that extra inch. You know, I can live with that.”
Swinney doesn’t take winning for granted. After a loss to South Carolina to open the season, North Carolina won 11 straight with Larry Fedora’s high-octane offense and an improved defense.
“The main thing is you’d just better be sound and you have to be very, very disciplined and try to take the big plays away,” Swinney said. “They’ve had a lot of big plays throughout. They’re explosive like we are, so I think that’s the biggest thing is taking care of the ball.
“You don’t want to give a team like this short fields because they’re going to score points, and then defensively being very sound and making the competitive plays because they’re going to put the ball in the air. They’re going to run their quarterback. They’re going to have a lot of misdirection, a lot of different formations, and they’re going to play fast.”
Two prolific offenses
Clemson and North Carolina both rank among the top 20 offenses in the nation in yards per game. A look at the numbers:
3rd down conv.