CLEMSON — It’s not that Dabo Swinney doesn’t enjoy coaching in the ACC. He just doesn’t like being compared to the SEC.
Swinney’s sure proud of overseeing his league’s only program that has stood up to the big, bad SEC lately, but that’s not what brings a smile to his face with his team’s last two victories coming over No. 9 LSU (last New Year’s Eve) and No. 5 Georgia (last Saturday.)
“I don’t know about a statement for the ACC. I just think it’s a statement for Clemson,” Swinney said on Wednesday’s teleconference, hosted by no less than the ACC office. “I always tell people it’s not about the league, it’s about the program. That’s just what I believe.”
Virginia picked up a nice victory over BYU Saturday, but other than that, it was a rough opening week for the ACC. Virginia Tech got throttled in a sloppy 35-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama, South Carolina coasted to a 27-10 win over North Carolina, Syracuse was edged 23-17 by Penn State, and other than Florida State’s impressive 41-13 win at new league-mate Pittsburgh, the ACC did little to prove it’s moved up in the conference pecking order.
“I’m really more concerned with the program, but there’s no doubt that we have to play games like that to give ourselves a chance to compete nationally,” Swinney said. “The SEC plays games like that. Alabama last year played Michigan, played Virginia Tech this year. You’ve got to play somebody outside your conference that is a very worthy opponent, and you’ve got to win them. You don’t have to win all of them, but you’ve got to win your fair share.”
This week, Miami hosts No. 12 Florida at noon on ESPN. On Nov. 30, No. 10 Florida State visits the Gators, Georgia Tech hosts No. 11 Georgia, Wake Forest goes to Vanderbilt, and of course, No. 4 Clemson takes on No. 6 South Carolina in Columbia.
Outside of shots at the SEC, Syracuse goes to No. 19 Northwestern and Virginia gets a crack at visiting No. 2 Oregon Saturday, while Boston College goes to No. 25 USC on Sept. 14.
Freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander aggravated a painful injury Tuesday, exactly one month after sustaining a pulled groin, and will miss Saturday’s tilt against South Carolina State.
The top-flight recruit was hoping to make his Clemson debut in a soft matchup, but according to head coach Dabo Swinney, a redshirt is not out of the question if Alexander’s injury lingers too long.
The next possible debut for Alexander would be Sept. 19, the Tigers’ ACC opener on Thursday night against North Carolina State. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables, speaking Tuesday before Alexander’s setback, is confident Alexander can step into any environment and play whenever he’s ready.
“That kid don’t care,” Venables said. “I wouldn’t be scared because he’s got the right demeanor for it, and he doesn’t care who he’s going up against. He’s mature beyond his years in those ways.”
As of Thursday, freshman tight end Jordan Leggett (sprained MCL) was still expected to make his first appearance.
The grimace on Swinney’s face said it all when a reporter wondered if wide receiver Martavis Bryant would see his snaps decrease based on his two drops against the Bulldogs.
“Martavis had a rough night catching the ball, but absolutely not. We’re not ready to jump off a cliff yet,” Swinney said, dumbfounded. “Just like we weren’t gonna go fire Brandon Ford after a really poor performance against Auburn last year in the opener, we’re not ready to fire Martavis Bryant yet either. He’ll be fine, just trust me.”
Swinney said Bryant’s spring and fall were “not good, but great,” and highly-touted freshman Mike Williams will remain his backup.
“Mike Williams is on the depth chart where he’s earned to be right now,” Swinney said. “He’s a young player, very talented, but our depth chart is determined on a lot more than one day. … Y’all will be asking different questions about Martavis — it won’t take long.”
Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins also dropped a catchable pass from Tajh Boyd, making the wide receivers’ hands a popular subject this week in terms of obvious areas for improvement.
“We can fix those drops easily,” Peake said. “It can affect you, but as a receiver, you’ve got to have a short memory.”