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Dabo Swinney spoke to the media for the first time in nearly two months last week as Clemson started spring practice.
There was plenty for Swinney to discuss, including his team’s 21-point season-ending loss to Ohio State in last year’s Sugar Bowl.
After spending some time reflecting and watching tape of the game, what stood out? For Swinney it was his team’s defense — or lack thereof.
“Well, we just stunk. We played terrible on defense. That’s probably the worst defensive game we’ve played since probably the Orange Bowl in 2011 when we got smashed down there in Miami,” Swinney said. “It just is what it is. We played terrible technique. We got beat up front. We didn’t play perfect offensively, but we played well enough to have a chance to win the game with just a little bit of a normal defensive game.”
That Orange Bowl saw the Tigers give up 70 points in what was an embarrassing performance and one of the low points of Swinney’s tenure.
The Sugar Bowl wasn’t that bad, but the Buckeyes did score 49 points and put up 639 yards of offense against the Tigers, scoring touchdowns on five consecutive drives to end the first half.
It was a stunning performance by Brent Venables’ unit, which entered the game allowing 17.5 points and 298.5 yards per game.
Swinney compared it to Clemson’s national title game victory two years ago against Alabama when the Tigers entered as underdogs before earning a 44-16 win.
“One of the things that’s probably so understated is momentum. Especially early momentum. It’s tough. You see it on the biggest stage. You see that in the Super Bowl. Just little things that create bigger issues and then games can get away,” Swinney said. “I mean two years ago we beat Alabama by 28 points. We weren’t 28 points better than Alabama. … It comes down to critical plays, critical penalties, mistakes and momentum. We never could get the momentum.”
As for what Swinney learned — it all comes back to the basics.
The details that Clemson excelled at all year were lacking against the Buckeyes. And Justin Fields and company made the Tigers pay. Swinney took full responsibility, stating: “That all comes back to me.”
“You’ve gotta do the little things right. It’s tackling. It’s alignment. It’s when you’re supposed to play three-deep, play three-deep. When you’re the post player you’ve gotta play the post. It’s the basics,” Swinney said. “So we just did a really poor job in that game across the board. They were just better than us. They just lined up and outplayed us. Kicked our tails every which way.”