CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers are far from a finished product, and coach Dabo Swinney knows that. That's why Swinney is hardly concerned that the Tigers fell to No. 4 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, released Monday, marking the third time they've dropped one spot in the past four weeks.
Clemson defeated Louisville 45-10 on the road, but not before a sloppy first quarter during which quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw two interceptions and Derion Kendrick muffed a punt, among other errors. Lawrence and the Tigers turned things around from there, but the slow start clearly proved alarming to voters.
Swinney said the team needs to smooth out of the rough edges as the campaign progresses. Fortunately for Clemson, five games remain in the regular season before a likely appearance in the ACC Championship game.
"Everyone can have whatever opinions they want," Swinney said. "It doesn't matter. What matters is us trying to close out October in a strong way and getting ready to win this division."
Examining the Louisville game will prove instructive in examining how the Tigers will move forward. With that in mind, here are seven takeaways from the game.
Trevor Lawrence falters, then soars
Lawrence conceded he didn't turn in his best performance Saturday and that he needs to look for quick checkdowns to running back Travis Etienne more in the future. Still, it's worth nothing that Lawrence finished 20-for-29 passing with three touchdowns in the win.
Throwing eight interceptions in seven games so far this season is far from ideal, but as Swinney noted, former Clemson star and Houston Texans signal caller Deshaun Watson threw 13 interceptions as a sophomore and 17 as a junior.
The concerning part for Lawrence is his interceptions are coming against conference opponents in a season during which the ACC boasts few nationally relevant teams; No. 25 Wake Forest is the only other ACC team ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll.
Travis Etienne is back
After a couple of uneven performances, Etienne looked more like himself last week against Florida State, rushing for 127 yards on 17 carries against Florida State in addition to catching a 3-yard touchdown reception. On Saturday, Etienne continued to move in that direction.
He needed just 14 carries to run for 192 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Etienne left the game early but said afterward his health isn't likely to be an issue.
"My foot landed awkward and my ankle tweaked a bit on me," he said. "But once I got across the field and walked on the sideline, I felt fine."
Tigers defense shines again
As Clemson's offense took some time to gather its footing, defensive coordinator Brent Venables' unit shone, despite being without defensive end Xavier Thomas (concussion).
The Tigers had a couple of first quarter turnovers, first on an interception by safety K'Von Wallace and later on a fumble forced by defensive end Justin Foster and recovered by defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, who ripped off his helmet as his teammates surrounded him in celebration on the field.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell added an interception in the fourth quarter for the Tigers, who totaled six sacks and held the Cardinals to 263 yards of total offense and 107 passing yards a week after Louisville came out of a shootout with Wake Forest with a 62-59 victory.
"Those guys really answered the bell," Venables said. "As the game went on, we got better and better.
Kicking competition continues
Both senior Steve Sawicki and sophomore B.T. Potter saw action at kicker Saturday, with Potter handling kickoffs and nailing a 51-yard field goal. Sawicki started out on extra points but was replaced by Potter after missing a 44-yard field goal.
"How about 'ol Potter?" Swinney said. "He went out there mad. He went out there to nail it and he did. He had a tough week. Everybody needs a little sugar now and then."
Potter's partial benching was one of the biggest stories surrounding the team entering the Week 8 affair. Swinney declined to confirm afterwards whether Potter had regained all of his kicking duties, but the coach insisted he was proud of the sophomore.
Ngata continues to make impact
Freshman Joseph Ngata has a lot of competition at wide receiver, with sophomore Justyn Ross and juniors Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers ahead of him on the depth chart. Ngata had just one catch in Saturday's victory, but it was meaningful.
Early in the second quarter, he caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence. It was the Tigers' first touchdown of the afternoon and came after a disappointing performance from Clemson's passing game in the first quarter.
It marked the second career touchdown for Ngata, whom Swinney raved about during fall camp. He has eight catches for 140 yards on the season.
Clemson not a finished product
The Tigers have plenty of room to grow. They can get off to faster starts. They can be more efficient in the passing game. They can cut down on penalties, especially false starts.
"We got to improve in our discipline," Swinney said.
Swinney is confident his team has the ability to clean everything up. There's plenty of football left to play.
High-powered Boston College offense looms
Boston College enters Death Valley on Saturday on the heels of a 45-24 win over N.C. State, during which the Eagles rushed for 429 yards and five touchdowns. The star of Boston College's attack was A.J. Dillon, who ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries.
The Tigers did allow Louisvllle running back Javian Hawkins to compile 129 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. They'll aim to stifle Dillon in Week 9.