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Dabo Swinney’s Rant is Overblown

Dabo knows nobody is actually unhappy with 12-0 and 5 in a row. Plus some 1st quarter film review!

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Count me among those who are somewhat less than satisfied with a 21 point, 5th straight win over South Carolina. That’s a mind-numbing sentence to read, much less type. It’s spoiled, whiny, negative, and honestly I’m aware it’s an entirely incorrect and unfair opinion. But Clemson’s defense gave up 500 yards and allowed a slight shift in the narrative which has been so crucial to widening and maintaining the current gap between these two programs: for the first time under Will Muschamp, South Carolina can point to one area where Clemson didn’t just completely destroy them, but they found actual success.

Clemson delivered its most dominant and seemingly effortless offensive performance in ages, yet laid such an egg defensively that they gave up the most points and yards to the Gamecocks in decades, if not ever. When a Gamecock buddy of mine in the high school coaching ranks let me know he was pleased after the game (he already had no hope for the Gamecock defense), I commented the South Carolina collective were quite possibly more satisfied with this loss than Clemson were with this win; he didn’t disagree. Neither, it seems, did Dabo Swinney.

It’s a shame some are a bit too vocal in their frustration and it’s even worse if the frustration is targeted at a specific player. I for one think the dissatisfaction derives from the defense’s failure to adjust — a frustration you know the entire staff shares — and more importantly, the fact Gamecocks are now “crowing” about a moral victory in a 21 point loss.

Dabo’s comments are either off base (nobody is more vocally disgusted with Clemson’s win than his own defensive coordinator) or completely overblown; I doubt any of us have actually lost sight of the dominant era in which we find ourselves and the amazing heights this program continues to reach, no matter how annoyed we are that our rivals have found solace in a 21 point defeat.

I think Dabo knows this. He knows nobody is actually unhappy with another win over South Carolina; he’s just as frustrated with the defensive performance as the fans are. But you know what? It’s ok for fans to be greedy. I think his rant was another calculated attempt to get his team’s attention just like his infamous rants on South Carolina in 2011 and Clemsoning in 2015, which he viewed as sticking his neck out for his team and was then rewarded with dominant followup performances from a focused locker room. This is another such attempt, and the attitude you’ll see from the players in interviews and media sessions will reflect it.

Consider this: when Clemson receives too much praise it’s Dabo himself who rejects the notion “it’s Alabama, Clemson and everyone else;” he insists Alabama is a cut above his own team and lumps his in with “everyone else.” Yet when his fanbase is frustrated his team doesn’t perform to the Alabama standard which he set publicly himself, he lashes out as if we’re screaming at him the sky is falling. He does this not only to regain control of the narrative, but to put the chip back on Clemson’s shoulder.

He justifiably hates all forms of negativity, but I don’t think Dabo could be so off base to believe we’re unhappy. He certainly won’t leave because of it, and knows the one place for which he’d ever potentially leave Clemson has even more demanding fans than we do. No, this rant is another calculated jolt to his locker room; the negativity he perceived is entirely overblown just as his comments have now become. There isn’t a Clemson fan on earth unhappy with 12-0 or 5 in a row, and Dabo knows it.

I said last week Clemson would have to play horribly AND Jake Bentley would need to have the game of his life to keep this game close after halftime. One certainly happened, but not both, and Clemson was able to pull away after halftime with an unstoppable offense. The South Carolina defense was in shambles before the game anyway, but Clemson’s execution and play-calling were so crisp that it can’t be discounted.

Trevor Lawrence was nearly flawless and Travis Etienne had over 20 carries for just the second time in his career (nice to see the staff is aware there’s a Doak Walker Award finalist in the backfield). It didn’t matter how deeply Clemson drew into its bench, they moved the ball at will. This was an A+ performance and it’s why South Carolina never truly threatened the upset.

However, I am finally ready to stop claiming (more like hoping) this is the best Clemson defense of all time. There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Clemson gave up 35 points to South Carolina for the first time since 1975, but worst of all, surrendered over 500 passing yards to a Will Muschamp team with a rookie offensive coordinator. No unit is perfect and every other good defense (specifically Michigan and Alabama) gave up plenty of points and yardage this weekend, but the best defense in school history wouldn’t bust again and again this late in the season.

The pass defense against Texas A&M wasn’t as alarming as it seemed upon review; busts occurred but weren’t rampant and Clemson had defenders in position. Kellen Mond just extended plays and found some jaw-dropping catches from his receivers (ask LSU about this recurring phenomenon). So I gave the pass defense the benefit of the doubt, and felt vindicated in every game since. A&M wasn’t as bad as it seemed, plus came in week 2 after all; the defense built so much depth in the weeks since, and the whole unit was rested, experienced, and dominant.

Then Bentley stood in a relatively clean pocket and found open receivers all night, whether by drilling bullets in front of soft zones or lobbing simple tosses into busted coverages. Bentley played brilliantly, he was calm and smart — and hopefully earned some respect from his own mercurial fan base — but did nothing spectacular and there is no excuse for the display on the field Saturday night.

The recruiting misses at safety in recent years were never more evident than Saturday night. The inability to pressure or confound Bentley was confounding on its own. Brent Venables was contrite in his scorched-earth criticism for his unit and himself; last week the offense needed the wake up call and we saw the result in a 744 yard explosion, this week we can hope for the same rebound from the defense. It’s poetic justice Pitt offers the remedy.

1st Quarter Film Review

SC ball, 15:00, SC 25

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 15 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Jet counter bucksweep, Muse sets the edge with a low tackle, gain of 2. Muse beat the guard to the edge, SC hasn't pulled well all year and it shows.
2nd & 13 10 shotgun (bunch right) vs 4-3 Bubble screen to Samuel gains 16. Muse slipped inside the block but gave Samuel the sideline, Davis took an awful angle and was too slow to do anything, Wallace finally cleaned up.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Man cover 0, FS/Sam fire, deep post complete in front of Wallace, gain of 30. Wallace with a mere head fake, bit on the corner and gave up the post.
I’m all for trying to rattle Bentley with pressure from the start, but Wallace in man coverage against Shi Smith is a bit bold

Opening drive continued

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Inside zone gains 6. Wilkins and Lawrence were both blocked out, hole through the A gap and Muse had to fill.
2nd & 4 11 shotgun (2 linemen outside) vs 4-3 Inside zone stuffed for no gain. Simmons unblocked off the edge pulled him down behind the scrum.
3rd & 4 11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO slant to Smith complete in front of man cover 0 Sam fire, gain of 8. Simmons' blitz left an easy lane for the slant in front of a soft and late Wallace. Ferrell beat the LT but was a split second too late.
1st & 10 10 shotgun (bunch right) vs 4-3 3 man rush cover 2, Bentley checks to the flat, incomplete. One of the few times we would see a defender in proper flat coverage.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Inside zone stuffed by Wilkins, gain of 3. Wilkins slipped a double team and made first contact, Joseph was filling for good measure.
Offside, 3rd & 2 10 shotgun vs 4-2-5 Man cover 1 Mike bullet, RB flare not picked up and it's a gain of 2. SC cleared out the flat but Terrell recovered quickly, Samuel made no attempt to block him. Favorable spot gets them the 1st.
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs 4-3 3 man rush cover 4, Bryant gets around the edge and just misses the strip sack, thrown away. Bryant got the jersey instead of the ball or else it's an easy fumble, Bentley never saw him and Bryant beat the RT so quickly.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Bubble screen to Smith gains 2. Muse took on 2 blockers and Terrell was free to make the hard tackle, he's continued his excellent play of late thus far.
3rd & 8 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Delayed slant/dig to Samuel complete for a touchdown in front of a jailbreak cover 4. This throw is a low key prayer but is also a fantastic throw in the face of pressure. Clemson had it defended and Bentley just made a play. Can't say the same for much of his remaining success.

Clemson ball, 10:41, Clemson 25, 7-0 SC lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 under Jet motion inside zone to Etienne gains 4. Simpson and Hyatt sealed the B gap, Etienne delivered the blow but the LB held on.
2nd & 6 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Inside zone gains 3. Cervenka pancaked Kinlaw, that's all I needed to know.
3rd & 3 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs cover 3 fire zone, curl out to Renfrow undefended, catch and run for 23. Williams' seam route took two defenders upfield and Renfrow reminded SC how much they hate to tackle him.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO deep out to Higgins vs cover 3 gains 20. Lawrence read the flat defender, froze him, and threw over him to a wide open Higgins. Got away with Simpson downfield illegally, he has to stay engaged.
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs nickel Tunnel screen to Rodgers turned outside for 3 yards. Rodgers and Thompson each blocked the press defender, off defender was unblocked and forced Rodgers out.
2nd & 7 11 shotgun vs nickel Counter to Etienne gains 8. Falcinelli pulled and Williams hit the hole, Etienne has 3 yards before contact and adds 5 more for fun.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Delayed Will bullet cover 3, Lawrence checks to Etienne in the flat who gains 9. I'm equally shocked Etienne caught a pass and was tackled by a DB in the open field.

Clemson punches it in after a few inside zone runs with Feaster and Choice.

SC ball, 6:17, SC 24, 7-7 tie

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 15 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Quick out to Smith vs cover 3 fire zone gains 2. The Duke approach, quick passes to try and beat the rush and take advantage of flat coverage vs linebackers. Simmons did well here though.
2nd & 13 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Dropback vs cover 4, checkdown to Dowdle in the flat gains 5. Simmons with another good tackle in the flat, solid coverage, great tackle
3rd & 7 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Dig to Smith complete for 17 vs a cover 3 Will bullet. Joseph simply ran himself out of his zone. He bit on an outside route and the middle of the field was wide open in front of Wallace.
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Bubble screen to Smith with the bunch, gain of 2. Terrell with more emphatic defense after the catch, big thump.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Cover 3 Mike bullet, Joseph is unblocked and forces a throwaway. In 2016 or 2017 this would've been a sack. Subtle movement in the pocket gave Bentley time to throw just over Edwards' head to prevent a grounding throwaway or pass in jeopardy.
3rd & 8 02 shotgun vs 3-3-5 Max protect, all verts vs man cover 2, Bryant gets off the edge and sacks him for a loss of 6. Bentley had nobody open -- every route was manned up plus 2 deep safeties -- and no checkdown. Had no choice but to take the sack.

97 yard drive, no big deal

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Inside zone to Etienne gains 5. All Etienne here. Fought through the scrum and moved the pile.
2nd & 5 11 pistol vs 4-3 PA bootleg, drag route finally complete to Higgins for a gain of 8 against man coverage. Could've been thrown earlier but Lawrence was looking deep. Amazing how he barely moves his arm and the ball flies out on target.
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Tunnel screen to Ross vs soft cover 4 gains 25. Perfect play call, Ross just needed one block and then had followed linemen downfield. Falcinelli didn't have to hit anyone for 20 yards.
1st & 10 11 pistol vs 4-3 Stretch to Etienne, cuts inside for 9 yards. Had Anchrum sealed off the backside Etienne may not have been tripped by the DE on his cutback.
2nd & 1 20 shotgun vs 4-3 Bubble screen to Renfrow gains 8. Soft coverage made Lawrence check out and Rodgers flipped the only defender flying in on a cut block.
1st & 10 20 shotgun vs 4-3 Flare screen to Feaster gains 7 Not well blocked (Cervenka slipped) but Feaster carried defenders for at least 5 of these yards.
2nd & 3 11 shotgun vs 4-3 PA comeback route thrown too far outside for Higgins. Gamecocks finally tried some press man.
3rd & 3 11 pistol vs nickel QB POWER, WHOA, GAIN OF 10. TREVOR OUT HERE BULLDOZING?!
1st & 10 12 shotgun vs 4-3 Sprint right, seam route to Cannon Smith dropped in the endzone vs cover 3. Would've been a tough catch with the linebacker trailing and safety coming over the top, but still a perfectly thrown ball.
2nd & 10 12 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO skinny post to Higgins against cover 3, TOUCHDOWN. Run action pulled the FS into no man's land, easy read and throw.

The quarter ends on the Gamecocks’ ensuing snap.