Clemson University

Football: Swinney gets through gauntlet

CLEMSON — Considering the gauntlet Dabo Swinney has already traversed in his month as Clemson's interim coach, Saturday's Duke victory might as well have been his week of paid vacation.

"It is what it is," Swinney said. "It never comes easy."

There was the matter of scrambling to reorganize the coaching staff and prepare for the Georgia Tech game in the four days proceeding Tommy Bowden's resignation.

After using the subsequent bye week to address morale, the Tigers conquered Boston College before running out of gas on the road again the next weekend at Florida State.

A 31-7 homecoming trouncing of Duke amounted to a therapeutic pampering in preparation for the final — and probably defining — legs of Swinney's journey.

Clemson has two games remaining — Saturday's noon ACC finale at Virginia, followed by the rivalry match-up with USC in Death Valley.

The Tigers (5-5, 3-4 ACC) must win out to becomebowl eligible.

And here's the kicker: Both opponents will be coming off their byes and have had an extra week's preparation time.

"I think I didn't read the fine print that (athletic director) Terry Don (Phillips) had me sign when I agreed to do this deal," Swinney joked Sunday. "That was the small print below — oh, by the way, two NFL coaches have the week off to prepare for you."

If there is any consolation for Swinney, it is that the Tigers are coming off what he deemed Clemson's long-awaited first complete game of the season.

Swinney did not seem to care it occurred against an already reeling Duke team without its starting quarterback for most of the way.

The Tigers came within a garbage time fourth-quarter score of recording their first ACC shutout in a decade, with junior running back C.J. Spiller and senior quarterback Cullen Harper leading the show.

Yet Swinney suggested he was most encouraged by the continued progression of the offensive line, which posted its highest grade of the season in terms of carrying out assignments.

Unlike the previous two games, Clemson avoided handing over momentum to start the second half, this time sticking the dagger in Duke with Spiller's 83-yard touchdown catch for a 24-0 lead.

Then, for the first time against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season, the Tigers finished with fewer turnovers (zero, to Duke's two).

"If you can win the turnover battle and be more physical and have some skill, then you have a chance to win the game," Swinney said.

"With what we did in the first two and a half quarters with our people in there, I was very pleased."

Swinney paid particular compliment to Harper, who threw for a season-high 292 yards.

Virginia (5-5, 3-3) was no doubt watching, and Swinney said that as the Tigers assemble their game plans the next two weeks, the staff will have to take the bye week factor into account.

"It will be very important for us this week to break tendencies and be very aware of what they're studying," Swinney said.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC