Saturdays in Athens
by George Somerville
11th September 2021
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Well, kind of. This week at College Chaps HQ, we had some real excitement, when Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney dropped in to chat to the Chaps.
And it just so happened he was fresh from the heavyweight ‘Clash of the Titans’ of week two……
Clemson v UGA in Charlotte, SC.
Fortunately for us and completely unsolicited, Coach Swinney gave his views on his teams defeat to the UGA Bulldogs.
So not one to look a gift-Tiger in the mouth, let’s break from tradition and hear what both Coaches had to say in the aftermath of the heavyweight cross-conference battle.
You can listen to the full interview with Coach Swinney here:
So let’s get started y’all!
There was no doubt that this game was the must watch glamour tie of the weekend.
The game was hyped to fever pitch, given it was an early season match up between two teams who very much expect to be in the National Championship Playoffs come the end of the season. In fact, many would predict that these two teams could easily be contesting the National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 2022.
But few – if any – predicted that this game would end without either offense scoring in the game. Nor did anyone predict that with a little over 9 minutes left in the game that the Tigers would not have registered a point on the scoreboard.
Coach Swinney was surprised by the way that the game unfolded but was honest about his team’s performance,
“I thought I was in the 1970’s again!
….that’s how these games used to be. When you had two elite defences, everybody used to say defense wins Championships and I think now it’s different. I think now it’s teams win championships”.
Coach Swinney continued,
“In ’16 when we won our first national Championship we had to score 35 points. The year before, we lost to Alabama, we scored 40 points! And it wasn’t enough! “
While Clemson lost Saturday’s game vs UGA, the Tigers defense stood firm, holding UGA to three points. Swinney continued,
“We couldn’t play better defense than what we played the other night and we played great Special Teams. We gave up 3 points. And they scored 3 points. We actually scored 10, it’s just we scored 7 of them for the other team! And that’s not a good thing.
Outside of that one mistake we almost had a 3-3 overtime classic, 1970’s style match and that would have been awesome to have been a part of that. As ugly as it was offensively that would have been awesome to be a part of it. In this era of 2021, because that is unheard of”.
The Tigers move on from here to play South Carolina State in week three of the schedule. While the Tigers can take confidence from the way their defense performed, the coaching staff have work to do to get QB DJ Uiagalelei and his offense back up and running. One thing we can say is that there is no room for error in the Tiger’s schedule if they want to be back in amongst that playoff discussion.
Defenses On Top
There is no question that both teams operate elite defenses and this showed during the game.
In a game few if any would predict, the UGA defense held Clemson’s highly rated offense to a total of two rushing yards in the game. Yes, the entire game. And in what was a very uncomfortable night for the Tigers QB, DJ Uiagalelei was sacked seven times. This remarkable stat is made even more remarkable that six different players carried out these seven sacks.
UGA Head Coach Kirby Smart was asked about the strategy for stopping Big Cinco to which Smart replied,
“I felt like we won some one on one’s where we didn’t even have four people rushing….
Sometimes you affect the quarterback and sometimes you sack him.
Well we did get some sacks but some of those were coverage sacks. You know he held the ball and I think he got confused and I think he got frustrated”.
“Do we have an elite pass rush?
I don’t know that yet.
Can we affect Quarterbacks?… Absolutely”
Smart was keen to heap praise on his secondary. A unit which has taken its fair share of criticism. Smart said this of his backfield,
“I’m proud of the secondary, because they worked really hard. We’re very thin. We’ve got to create some depth in secondary and we’ve got to stay healthy. That scares me as we’re not as deep as we used to be”.
Asked if he thought before the game that his defense could have held a Clemson side to three points, Smart had this to say…
“No. I would never have thought that. We go into every game with a goal to shut them out”.
“But we need to get better. I’m not ready to anoint anybody. The thing I know about this defense, they love each other, they fight for each other – there were so many guys who didn’t play tonight, but they were happy for the other guys. I’ve been to a lot of games where you go into the locker room and there’s guys sulking….we had some guys that didn’t play tonight and they were just so excited for the other guys….that’s a good sign”.
Footnote: As per Seth Emerson of the Athletic, UGA are likely to start QB Carson Beck this week vs UAB. QB1 JT Daniels appears to have an oblique injury, which is diagnosed as mild but will benefit from rest. After UAB, UGA face South Carolina – so now appears the time to rest Daniels.
Football In The South
Somewhere in SC
And as much as this is a dedicated SEC column, let’s give the last words to Coach Swinney. He talked about growing up in the South and the passion of its fans.
Firstly, growing up in Alabama,
“I grew up in Alabama and it was the same thing – no pro football sports….so Alabama/Auburn.
When you’re born you have to have your birth certificate stamped. You are either going Alabama or Auburn. They don’t let you leave the hospital! You’ve got to make a decision at birth….that’s just the way it is. That’s the type of passion that you have”.
Coach Dabo went on to talk more about the passion for football in the South,
“I mean boy, let me tell you – you want to feel some passion? You get some of these calls and emails we got. We lost to Georgia man. It’s like, the world is over!
I was saying on a radio show last night , that’s what’s awesome about it. To be in a place where people are so passionate about it.
Everybody’s disappointed – I get it.
But I love that, I wouldn’t want it any different because that is college football. I’m glad that we have a place where 85,000 people are going to drive for hours to see a ball game…..and then turn around and turn back! It’s a really neat thing to be a part of”.
Don’t you just love football in the South? Of course you do – you’re reading this!
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.