Hayes: Stop the nonsense, people. It's far from over for Dabo Swinney, Clemson
OK, let’s stop this nonsense. It’s 1 game, 1 loss.
But because it was a loss to Duke, and a turnover-fueled, standalone game on national television for all to see, suddenly Clemson has it all wrong.
Stop me when this lunacy makes sense:
- Clemson only wins with generational quarterbacks.
- Clemson doesn’t have the elite players it once did.
- Clemson hasn’t been the same since coach Dabo Swinney had to replace longtime assistant coaches.
And the mother of all nonsense: Swinney will never win big again if he doesn’t embrace the transfer portal.
Think about that concept: Because Swinney wants to build his roster organically through high school recruiting, because he believes his best chance to win is by evaluating high school players and developing them once they get to campus, that’s a red flag.
It’s utter lunacy.
Lost amid the madness of the “Dabo hates the portal” (so he must hate players, too) narrative, is the guy we’re heaping praise on for the way he recruits the portal (FSU coach Mike Norvell), had no answer last season for a portal-less Clemson in Tallahassee.
The deceiving final score (34-28) came after Clemson took its foot off the pedal and tried to cruise out of Doak Campbell Stadium after going up 34-14 late in the 3rd quarter.
All of that was accomplished with quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who — more times than not in 3 seasons at Clemson — was derided as the death of the program (see: more lunacy).
Now he’s a hero at Oregon State, apparently because he left Clemson after — wait for it — losing his job to a better quarterback (Cade Klubnik), who was MVP of an ACC Championship Game win.
So Clemson begins the season at Duke — a team that won 9 games in 2022, returned 17 starters and has a Day 1 pick in the NFL Draft at quarterback — commits 3 unthinkable turnovers (2 inside the Duke 5) and loses to the little ol’ Blue Devils (who are going to be a big problem for everyone in the ACC).
Now here we are, staring at the Clemson funeral and wondering how it all came to this. Instead of simply examining reality.
“We have to keep building and cut out some of these disasters,” Swinney said.
You can count on 1 hand the number of teams that can survive the mistakes Clemson made against Duke and still find a way to win. There’s significantly more good than bad at Clemson — no matter what was shown at Duke.
The front 7 is as good or better than any in the ACC. Klubnik is an NFL talent and would start for a majority of teams in college football. The Tigers have 2 elite running backs.
And the new assistant coaches? DC Wes Goodwin had a top-20 defense in 2022, and the unit will be better this season. OC Garrett Riley could’ve taken any Power 5 OC job he wanted in January and chose Clemson.
I know this is going to shock everyone, but an OC and play-caller isn’t responsible for 2 fumbles inside the 5.
The problems begin on the offensive line, where there’s too much inconsistency in pass protection. There’s more of that at wide receiver, where there is no Tee Higgins or Mike Williams or Justyn Ross — or even an option at tight end — when staring at 3rd-and-make a play.
That, among everything, is a legitimate criticism of the staff. They’re not developing elite high school talent at wide receiver.
Beaux Collins was a 4-star recruit, is 2 games into his 3rd season and has 65 career catches. Adam Randall was a top-100 recruit, and 2 games into his 2nd season has 13 career catches.
Antonio Williams, a top-60 recruit in 2022, is the only consistent producer but is now drawing double teams because others can’t win consistently on the outside.
So while it’s easy to say Clemson has lost 3 of its past 5 games and 4-of-8, and how 3 of those losses were by 17 or more points, it’s a long a jump to the end is near.
Clemson may not win the ACC again this season, and may not reach the Playoff. But it won’t be because of the transfer portal or falling behind the rest of college football’s infatuation with it.
The schedule isn’t easy — a home game against Florida State next week, home games against Notre Dame and North Carolina, and road games Miami and NC State — but Clemson has as good or better talent than anyone it will play.
But that talent means nothing unless Clemson can avoid the disaster plays.
“It’s just turnovers,” Swinney said. “We’ve played 2 pretty good games defensively. We’ve actually played pretty good both games offensively. We’re not going to be a great team if we keep turning the ball over.”
There’s nothing nonsensical about that.