This season looks unlike any that Clemson football has had in a long time. At 2-2, Dabo Swinney's Tigers have looked more like an ACC also-ran than the power that has dominated—and carried—the league for nearly a decade.
Clemson fell to SEC power Georgia 10-3 to start the year in a defensive slugfest. They handled FCS program South Carolina State, winning 49-3, but went right back to some serious offensive struggles in Weeks 3 and 4 against Georgia Tech and NC State. After beating the Yellow Jackets 14-8, the Wolfpack took them down in overtime, 27-21.
The offense has absolutely sputtered through the first month of the season. The offensive line has really struggled in all aspects, and D.J. Uiagalelei has fallen well short of expectations after he impressed in relief of Trevor Lawrence last year. There is plenty to get right, but Dabo Swinney is downplaying concerns.
"It ain’t no funeral around here," the Clemson head coach said, when asked if he'd reached out for advice from mentors on this sluggish start. "We’ll be alright. We’ll be just fine. I know what the problems are. I don’t need to call anybody to tell me what the issue is. I know what the issue is.”
For Clemson, things have been full steam ahead for years now. The team effectively transitioned from Deshaun Watson to Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, winning national titles with both. They were surrounded by an impressive array of skill position talent, and solid blocking up front.
Swinney doesn't seem shocked that there is a blip now, just because the last six years had gone so smoothly.
“Sometimes to make progress, you have to go backwards,” Swinney said. “We are not going to make progress if we aren’t better fundamentally. We aren’t going to make progress if we don’t have more discipline … penalties, ball security, the basics. We have to be better at the basics if we are going to be better at anything else.”
Swinney stopped short of acknowledging that this could be something of a rebuild year, but it does sound like that might be the reality, at least in terms of the lofty standards that Clemson has set for itself since 2015.