CLEMSON — Back to the drawing board.
“My message to the staff is let’s major in the minors this week. Literally,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said at his weekly Tuesday press conference. “Stance, starts, footwork, ballhandling. Let’s treat it like they don’t know anything. That’s something you sometimes have to do.”
Some of the frustration was simmering even before the Tigers were whacked 51-14 by Florida State. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris had grown restless with some inconsistent outings during the Tigers’ 6-0 start.
It boiled over after Saturday’s defeat, when Clemson’s 326 total yards were the fourth-lowest of the three-year Morris era.
When Morris proclaimed 10 of the 11 spots on the field — everybody except for left tackle Brandon Thomas — needed to step up their game, Swinney downplayed the crisis mode.
“That’s maybe a little over the top. That’s a coordinator that takes a lot of pride in his performance. That’s a little frustration,” Swinney said. “You can’t throw the baby out with the (bathwater) … it ain’t all bad.”
Besides Thomas, Swinney lauded center Ryan Norton and receivers Adam Humphries and Sammy Watkins for consistent week-to-week actions.
“Y’all know how he is, he’s a perfectionist,” Swinney said of Morris. “That’s why he’s good at what he does, and he takes a lot of pride in his unit. We have not had the consistency.”
Which is why the Tigers will fine-tune some of the fundamentals to get back to normal successful levels, specifically on third down and in the red zone.
“Sometimes you start taking some of the little things for granted, but it’s the little things that lead to the big things,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to get those little things corrected so we can do the big things.
“I wish I could say it’s just one thing, but it’s not. It’s like a symptom, and we’ve got to cure it. We’ve got to find 11 guys that will consistently do their job. We’ve been doing a lot of calculus; let’s go back and do some arithmetic.”
After committing just two turnovers in their first four games, the Tigers have coughed it up eight times (four fumbles, four interceptions) in the past three games.
“Intelligence should be our competitive advantage,” Swinney said. “But we’re not playing intelligent right now, offensively. That’s the frustrating thing to me.”
The microscope was on sophomore tight end Stanton Seckinger early Saturday night, for catching a pass on the first play from scrimmage and promptly fumbling it away upon getting hit by FSU cornerback Lamarcus Joyner.
Swinney said on his Monday call-in radio show, a fan demanded to know why “No. 81” was on the field. Swinney defended the Porter-Gaud graduate, who has 13 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns, all tops at the tight end position.
“I’m like, his name is Stanton Seckinger, and he’s had a heck of a year for us,” Swinney said. “He’s going to want to forget the other night. He had a bad night; sometimes we all have bad days. Nobody’s hurting more than that kid.”
The Tigers are still the national leaders with 67 tackles for a loss. They had five against Georgia and six against Florida State. Clemson escaped the first test with a win, but not the second.
“They blocked us, and at times when we pressured, we weren’t precise or violent enough like we needed to be,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “There’s no magic formula for how it works. You either beat a guy, or you don’t.”
True freshman Cordrea Tankersley has played six games on special teams, and he figures to get plenty of reps this week in practice at cornerback.
“He’s long, he can run, he’s one of the fastest kids we’ve got,” Swinney said. “He’s a very conscientious guy, he’s tough. Young guy’s gonna get an opportunity.”
Garry Peters is out the next couple of weeks with a foot injury, and starter Bashaud Breeland is suspended the first half at Maryland after getting ejected for hitting FSU quarterback Jameis Winston above the shoulders.
Nine true freshmen have seen the field for Clemson in 2013: Tankersley, linebacker Ben Boulware, receivers T.J. Green and Mike Williams, safeties Jayron Kearse and Jadar Johnson, defensive end Shaq Lawson, tight end Jordan Leggett, and defensive back Korrin Wiggins.
Two defensive tackles will likely apply for medical redshirts: Carlos Watkins, who is recovering from a car accident Sept. 21 in western North Carolina, and Kevin Dodd, who suffered a toe injury after playing the first four games.