CLEMSON — Keg Stand Granny is a YouTube legend — a sweet 83-year-old lady drinking beer like she’s 23 at an LSU tailgate.
Perhaps Keg Stand Granny encountered “Skinny Swinney” back in her day, when Alabama’s walk-on wide receiver visited LSU.
“I personally always enjoyed going on the road as a player. I loved the hostility of it, if you will,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during his Tuesday press conference. “Growing up in the SEC, I loved to go to Baton Rouge and see grandmas flick you the finger riding in on the bus. People pulling their shirts up, and … I was like, wow.”
After the laughter died down, Swinney continued: “People talking bad about you, used to call me “Skinny Swinney” and all that stuff. I thought that was great. You just embrace that.”
The chances of impassioned geriatrics at Syracuse greeting the visiting Tigers with obscene gestures Saturday are about the same as a snowstorm falling inside the Carrier Dome.
Still, Swinney got his point across. Home, road or neutral, “the formula doesn’t change” for No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) to take care of business when the team plays its first-ever game at Syracuse (2-2), which in turn is playing its first-ever ACC conference affair.
“If external factors are a part of your performance, then you’re never going to be a great football team. I believe that,” Swinney said. “If the plane ride is a little longer, or you’re playing at noon or you’re on the road or your uniforms; if that stuff is determining your performance, you’re never going to be a great team.”
Clemson is favored by nearly two touchdowns, but the Orange have been effective on their own campus. Syracuse beat quarterback Geno Smith and West Virginia in 2011, and beat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville in 2012. Both those squads were ranked No. 11 in the AP poll at the time of their unsuccessful visits to Syracuse.
And, Syracuse has had two weeks to prepare for Clemson.
“They have been a much different team at home,” Swinney said. “They’ll be a rested football team. They’ll be a confident football team.”
The U.S. government shutdown has temporarily suspended athletics at all service academies, which could affect Clemson in a very unique form.
If Army is unable to play its game Saturday against Boston College, the Golden Eagles would start preparing for their Oct. 12 visit to Death Valley. Florida State kicks off against Maryland at noon Saturday, before the Seminoles’ bye week preceding an Oct. 19 trip to Clemson.
Put that all together: there’s a real chance that in the short time between the end of FSU-Maryland, and the start of Clemson-Syracuse, that three different ACC teams would all simultaneously say their next opponent is Clemson.
By the end of September, Southern Cal and Connecticut had already relieved head coaches Lane Kiffin and Paul Pasqualoni of their duties, and installed interim coaches in their position for the remainder of the season.
Swinney was asked about his 2008 experience, abruptly taking over a 3-3 team upon Tommy Bowden’s resignation and going 4-3 the rest of that year.
“It’s a very difficult — very difficult — task. I would never want to live through that again,” Swinney said. “Obviously it’s a bad situation. Things aren’t good, or you wouldn’t be in an interim mode.”
The most challenging portions of the sudden promotion include keeping the younger players focused with a new lead voice, sending off the seniors in the best way possible, and dealing with evolving from one of the assistants to the boss in charge.
“That was 6 or 7 weeks that I don’t remember a whole lot about. But it was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion,” Swinney said. “It’ll be interesting to see how those schools do.”
Starting running back Roderick McDowell is limited this week with an ankle injury suffered against Wake Forest, but his position as the starter remains out of question — though he is listed as questionable for Syracuse.
“Hot Rod’s our guy. He’s earned that, he’s proven that,” Swinney said. “He’s been tremendous. But he can’t do it all. We have to rely on Zac and D.J.”
D.J. Howard had an ankle scope the week before the Georgia game, and Zac Brooks is limited with a banged-up shoulder. C.J. Davidson, a walk-on who continues to be praised by Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, is also getting carries.
Boyd actually has more recorded carries (49) than any Clemson running back, and Boyd owns four of the team’s eight rushing touchdowns. McDowell is the Tigers’ leading rusher with 253 yards on 47 attempts (5.4 per carry), while Howard (23), Davidson (22) and Brooks (19) have seen split-up work.
Not much has changed on the Mackensie Alexander gameplan. Unless Clemson suffers a string of serious injuries at cornerback, the promising rookie will redshirt in 2013.
Alexander recently had successful surgery to heal a pulled groin, and is “in good spirits” according to Swinney — who added Alexander will help out on the scout team once he’s healthy.
“Right now, I feel good about the depth we have at corner,” Swinney said, “as long as we can keep Martin Jenkins’ shoulder in place.”
Jenkins and Garry Peters continue to back up Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson; all four fourth-year corners have had assorted injuries, but all four are currently healthy.
Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins is not expected to make the trip to New York, though he is back on campus after being involved in a car accident Sept. 21.
Right tackle Gifford Timothy and linebacker B.J. Goodson are waiting to be cleared from concussion symptoms, and are questionable to play Saturday.