Dabo Swinney

Clemson Spring

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Dabo Swinney has elevated Clemson into one of the most elite programs in the nation.

The Tigers seemed to make the College Football Playoff every season. After quarterback Trevor Lawrence was drafted #1 in the 2021 NFL Draft, we still thought they would be a top-5 team.

He was replaced by five-star QB D.J. Uiagalelei. The Tigers recruit so well they just reload rather than rebuild. Unfortunately, that was not the case last year. They were 10 – 3 but that’s not good enough for Clemson.

Uiagalelei is coming off a sophomore season that saw him rank at or near the bottom of most statistical categories in the ACC, throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9). It was a season that saw the quarterback have his share of struggles, most notably with accuracy, as Uiagalelei completed just 56% of his passes.

D.J. has lost weight since last season and hopefully that will help him move quicker. The Spring Game was April 9th so we did see some improvement on his footwork, decision making and releasing the ball quicker.

He still had issues with his accuracy, throwing several off-target passes. He completed 17-of-36 passes for 175 yards and an interception. To be fair, there were multiple dropped passes.

The five-star freshman from Texas, Cade Klubnik completed 15-of-23 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Klubnik was ranked the number one quarterback in the country in the last recruiting cycle.

“DJ is definitely our starter,” Swinney said. “He has had a great spring. He has not done anything to not be the starter.”

It might be unfair to believe D.J. would drastically improve after 15 practices. He also played behind an offensive line that was missing several starters in the Spring Game. Clemson has a talented defensive line, so they had a tough time.

This does look like a possible quarterback controversy brewing once the season starts. Swinney does feel like he can win with both quarterbacks.

“It is not often you can say that, but I have seen enough from both of those guys to know that,” Swinney said. “So, it is a good situation.”

Running back Will Shipley was really the only bright spot on offense last season. He rushed for 739 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry. He also had 16 catches for 116 yards. Shipley and the number 2 back Kobe Pace had offseason procedures, so they did not play in the Spring Game.

The only other scholarship running back on the roster was Phil Mafah from Grayson (GA).

“I thought it would allow me to just show that I could be the guy out there,” Mafah said. “I could do it just like they could, and they just allowed me to show off what I could do and help bring up the others.”

Position coach C.J. Spiller and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said Mafah has earned more carries for the 2022 season. Now it looks like the Tigers will have three reliable backs next season.

The final score of the Spring Game was White beat Orange 15 – 7.

Clemson Tigers Preview

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

In the 36 years that have passed between Clemson’s first National Title in 1981 and their second this past season, only two teams- ‘95 Nebraska Cornhuskers and ‘12 Alabama Crimson Tide- have been able to repeat as National Champions.

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Dabo A Difference Maker?

jj

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As sports fans we spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with reasons why an opposing player or team is overrated- why they are not worthy of the accolades they receive.

I was never a big fan of Shaquille O’Neal and would argue how he wasn’t really all that talented, just big. My go to argument, besides his free throws, was how he never really hit a shot outside of 5 feet.

Of course, I completely ignored the fact that if you’re that big and dominant in the paint, who cares if you can hit a 15 footer. It’s like knocking someone for constantly getting to the rim for a lay up because it’s easier than hitting a jump shot.

Just like I finally came around to acknowledge Shaq’s skills, it’s time I do the same with Dabo Swinney and where he ranks among current college football coaches.

For some reason I’ve never been a fan of Swinney’s. I’m not sure if it’s his demeanor and the fact he sometimes comes across as being aloof? Or maybe Clemson always seems to underachieve, to the point where the term “Clemsoning” has become a legitimate thing. I’m sure it’s mixture of both of those, along with others I’m not cognizant of, but either way Swinney deserves more credit than I’ve given him.

If you had asked me last season why Clemson made the championship game, Swinney’s name would’ve probably been down on that list. This year is different. Maybe I’m being a little gullible here, but to be able to make it back to the title game for the second year in a row, when those are actually the expectations, is extremely impressive.

On the surface their return trip may not seem all that difficult. Clemson had a lot of returning talent from last year’s team- especially on the offensive side of the ball- and they play in the ACC, which isn’t exactly a who’s who of football royalty. To believe that though would diminish what the Tigers have accomplished.

For one, just because you’re returning that level of talent doesn’t automatically guarantee success. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside of Tuscaloosa that didn’t think Ohio State wasn’t the most talented team last year. Yet, where were they when playoff time arrived?

Plus, Clemson lost some big name players on the defensive side of ball, much like the year before, that they’ve been able to overcome. I once heard someone say “I don’t care how knowledgeable a maintenance man is, I just want to make sure he knows who to call when he can’t figure something out.”

It’s a weird comparison, I know, but a head coach is very much in that same vein. I don’t necessarily care how they are when it comes to X’s and O’s, just so long as they bring people with them who do. Swinney checks that box.

As for the ACC part, you could argue that it was the second or third strongest conference in football this season, which just adds to the difficulty in Clemson making it back to tonight’s game.

Swinney doesn’t bring in top 5 recruiting classes every year and he’s not looked at in the same way as a lot of the big time coaches in the country are. Getting that elusive championship ring, with a victory over this year’s Alabama team, would go a long way in helping Swinney get the recognition he probably deserves.

Even I would have a hard time arguing against that.

Who Will Win ACC Title?

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr.

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

By this time next week we’ll know the conference champions for each Power 5 conference and the four-playoff teams. I’m going to preview the ACC championship game.

The Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship Game is this Saturday night in Orlando, FL. It’s a matchup between No. 3 Clemson and No. 19 Virginia Tech. Clemson (11-1, 7-1 ACC) is trying to win its second consecutive conference championship and College Football Playoff appearance.

The Tigers have been very inconsistent this year. Some of that is because they are replacing several talented players that are now in the NFL. Coach Dabo Swinney has to get them to play more disciplined and consistent.

“This is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been (at Clemson),” said Swinney. “It’s a little frustrating at times, because I think sometimes these guys are held to a little bit different standard than some of these other teams out there. I don’t know what some people are looking at, but these guys have played well all year.”

That starts with the play of super star quarterback Deshaun Watson. He had a breakout season last year passing for over 4,000 yards and rushing for over 1,100. He only had 13 interceptions in 2015 and he already has 14 this season. His rushing total has also drastically dropped to under 500 yards.

In the loss to Pittsburgh Watson threw for 580 yards completing 74% of his passes but he also tossed 3 picks. The Tigers have played better the last two games so it looks like they might have finally found their niche.

The running game is what helped get them back on track. Junior Wayne Gallman has battled injuries but he’s finally getting healthy. Gallman averages over 5 yards per carry and he helps to take pressure off of Watson.

The Tigers are a balanced team that can also play defense. They rank 9th in the nation in total defense allowing 308 yards per game and 17 points per game.

Va Tech (9-3, 6-2) is doing well under first year head coach Justin Fuente. Fuente is tied for the most wins by a first-year Tech coach with C.P. Miles (went 9-1 in 1905). This is Virginia Tech’s first ACC Championship game appearance since 2011.

“Life has been pretty good, to be honest with you,” said Fuente. “We all have things that we’re trying to overcome, program wise. Change has been incredibly smooth (at Tech), but there hasn’t been anything to me that’s stuck out that’s been a huge thorn in our side.”

Junior QB Jerod Evans leads the Hokies with over 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5 picks. He also completes 64% of his passes. His top three targets have over 600 yards and four touchdowns each.

Tech is coming off of a two game winning streak so they have momentum going for them. They play well on defense as well coming in at 20th in the country in total defense.

If Clemson wins their guaranteed to make the College Football Playoffs again. The Tigers have a lot at stake so I expect them to feel the pressure. The game will be very competitive in the first half. I expect the superior talent of Clemson to take over in the second half and they’ll put the game out of reach.