CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney issued a reminder earlier this week: His Clemson players and coaches are not "video game people," and quarterback Trevor Lawrence is not a robot.
That is all true, of course, despite the Tigers' best efforts to live within their self-created bubble. Players are not permitted to use social media during the season. Still, it's unlikely those in the program have not heard the latest take swirling around talking head circles: That the No. 2 Tigers, in fact, are not who we thought they were.
"They're not one of the top four teams in the country, and I think for that poll to put them in there is ludicrous," SEC Network's Paul Finebaum said Tuesday on ESPN's Get Up.
Tim Tebow said last week on ESPN's First Take that the Tigers' softer schedule has hurt Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne's Heisman Trophy hopes.
"Trevor's not even really in the picture for the Heisman right now," Tebow said. "I think he has the most talent as a quarterback in college football, but he's not even playing even close to the best."
Clemson, which doesn't play this weekend, will have to wait to publicly dispel the emerging narrative. But before the team hosts Florida State on Oct. 12, there is much work to do in private, especially considering last week's surprising close call at North Carolina, a 21-20 Tigers' victory that was in doubt in the final two minutes.
Here are four areas of focus for Clemson during the break.
Turn up the offense
Clemson leads the ACC in both average points per game (38) and offensive touchdowns (25). But Tigers fans have rarely seen the team's offense operating at its full potential this season against inferior opponents.
Clemson amassed just 331 total offensive yards against the Tar Heels. For comparison, it had 482 in last season's national championship game against Alabama.
It's not possible to expect such high production weekly, but the dip against the Tar Heels was concerning for some. The Tigers were just 8 for 15 on third downs and failed to convert their lone fourth-down attempt.
Though junior wide receiver Tee Higgins recorded six catches for 129 yards and one touchdown, sophomore Justyn Ross had just three catches for 47 yards, all of which came in the first half.
Reduce the penalties
Swinney attributed his team's offensive struggles to a lack of rhythm and too many penalties.
"Mistakes add up and lead to missed opportunities," he said.
Clemson was whistled for six penalties for a total of 30 yards.
"We had some really big penalties on crucial downs, third and short, we had a lot of false starts," offensive lineman Gage Cervenka said.
Cervenka said the false starts will be easy to fix, noting that sometimes they occur when linemen become overeager during a silent count.
Clemson has mostly had good health this season, aside from a couple of minor setbacks. Most recently, safety Tanner Muse left the North Carolina game early with a strained hamstring, though Swinney said he expects Muse to be back on the practice field by Monday.
Clemson has invested a lot of money in injury prevention, from massage chairs to cryotherapy to a sensory deprivation tank. Much of staying healthy in football is preventative measures, and the open date provides Clemson even more time to wind down, which will come in handy as upset-minded teams continue to play the Tigers hard.
Lean into adversity
There's nothing wrong with a little adversity, and there's nothing wrong with prognosticators picking against you. What's important is how teams respond.
After last season's tour de force through the schedule, it's not the worst thing in the world that Clemson has been questioned a bit early on. The Tigers, on paper, have one of the most talented rosters in the nation. Sometimes teams need a little adversity to kick things into another gear.
"It helps us grow, especially with a young team. I feel like going into the bye week, it actually shows us a lot about ourselves," defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney said. "Shows what we need to grow at, where we need to improve, and shows our strengths and weaknesses. This bye week really came at a great time."