Who: S.C. State (1-0) at Clemson (0-1)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
TV: ACC Network
CLEMSON - While many college football observers ogled over Todd Gurley running himself to the top of Heisman Trophy short lists, Dabo Swinney's attention was diverted to the defenders allowing Gurley's career night to unfold.
Just three days before host Georgia whipped Clemson 45-21 Saturday, Swinney was asked a question about potentially inclement weather during the game, and preached a need for his team to brush off all external factors not within their control.
So when Clemson's defense gave all it had to containing Gurley and the Bulldogs for three quarters, but got shredded for 211 rushing yards in the fourth quarter - when Georgia's quarterback Hutson Mason didn't even throw a pass - Swinney was hopping mad. He wouldn't buy the excuse the defense got exhausted due to Clemson's inability to sustain a drive.
Swinney respected Gurley's skills, but despised the Tigers' mentality, particularly for a defense that was supposed to be more mature than that.
"I think defensively, we got a little bit pouty the other night," Swinney said during Tuesday's press conference. "Because they were worried about what the offense was doing. Doesn't matter what the offense is doing. Go play."
Often quick to refer to his alma mater, Swinney pointed out the 1992 Alabama national championship team "had a bunch of 3-and-outs. A bunch of 'em."
"But them boys, they were just fired up to go play defense again," said Swinney, a Crimson Tide senior wide receiver at the time. "They couldn't get out there fast enough. That's a mentality that I want to see us establish defensively."
Swinney's coordinator and Clemson's defensive boss, Brent Venables, didn't quite agree that the defense grew frustrated with the offense's power outage between the hedges.
"I don't know, I didn't ask 'em. I was excited; it was a three-point game, on the road, in a tough, hostile environment," Venables said. "Start of the fourth quarter, everybody's up off their feet, got their four fingers up, this is what we've been talking about."
However, the total team collapse was undeniable: Georgia outscored Clemson 21-0, and outgained its guest 211 yards to minus-19.
"Fourth quarter, this is going to be about will and toughness," Venables said. "And we didn't match what they had. You could use a lot of different adjectives, but you're (ticked). You want the opportunity as a defense to win the game; we had every opportunity to do that and we didn't do it."
Venables said he found 13 missed tackles in the last 16 minutes of action in film review.
"Positioning was poor. Aggression wasn't what it needed to be across the board," Venables said. "Having that sense of desperation when the game's on the line and you have an opportunity to win it, all those things were poor."
Senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, the heart of Clemson's defense - specifically, run defense - was disgusted with any questions about his unit's effort through the final 15 minutes.
"The offensive performance, it doesn't dictate our performance," Jarrett said. "We take sole ownership of what happened on the defensive side of the ball.
"It's inexcusable to play with bad effort. Believe me, it's being addressed as we speak. I highly doubt we'll have an effort problem ever again. It's inexcusable and we're going to fix it."
The first chance to redeem themselves arrives in Saturday's home opener against FCS member South Carolina State. Last year, Georgia gained 545 yards on the Tigers at Memorial Stadium to open 2013; then S.C. State picked up 241 yards a week later, proof a quick rebound is plausible.
But for now, Clemson rates No. 96 in total defense, far below its ultimate goal.
"We can't just anoint ourselves a great defense. We've got to go out there and prove it," Jarrett said. "But this is definitely going to be motivation for us to fix our issues and get back to playing a style of defense we know we're capable of."
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