CLEMSON — Saturday afternoon, Dabo Swinney said he was perfectly happy being 2-0, no matter the results.
That’s his view, and he has the right to think it, but Clemson fans probably think otherwise.
Two weeks into 2011, most reasonable fans are (or should be) justifiably nervous about the upcoming three-game stretch.
Trailing Troy at halftime and tied with FCS Wofford at the break?
That’s no way to prepare for a murderous stretch of the defending national champion (Auburn), the defending ACC Atlantic Division champion (Florida State) and the defending ACC champion (Virginia Tech).
The offense has had its moments, but still looks, at times, like a group finding its way in its first year in Chad Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle system.
The defense lacks pass rush, has had serious tackling issues and counts on a number of true freshmen, including defensive tackles DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett, linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward and safety Robert Smith, as key reserves.
Special teams? They looked awful shaky Saturday, giving up a long fake punt, muffing an extra-point snap and running a very ill-advised (and ill-fated) fake field goal deep in Wofford territory.
And here comes Auburn. You remember those guys, right?
12 months ago, the Tigers’ season tilted on the east Alabama plains. So close to a season-building victory, Kyle Parker’s pass sailed past Jaron Brown in overtime. Chandler Catanzaro made a field goal to force overtime – and, after it was taken away thanks to Matt Skinner’s hitched snap – sailed the second try wide left.
Clemson finished 6-7, and Parker was never the same after taking a Nick Fairley helmet to his back.
Auburn won the BCS national title.
This is not that Auburn team. Fairley and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton are in the NFL. Only five starters returned this fall. The Tigers struggled to beat Utah State and Mississippi State, needing a miraculous onside kick and score to beat the Aggies and a goal-line stand to stop the Bulldogs. But they averaged 41.5 points in the process.
Morris is a disciple of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, and their systems are very similar.
Clemson’s defense has practiced against that system all spring and summer.
Saturday, we’ll see how much they’ve learned, and if the conditioning and knowledge they’ve built has paid off.
Once again, Auburn will serve as a fulcrum for the season, a test of how much this program has progressed over the past 12 months.
Win, and Clemson fans will have a right to feel confident, if not at least good about themselves with Florida State coming to down.
Lose, and they’ll get tunnel vision – with a train bearing squarely down the tracks at them.
It is a crucial week to build confidence towards becoming a legit ACC contender.
Lose, and there’ll be no reason to feel that way.
Swinney says he’s happy with 2-0.
There are plenty of reasons to feel a bit jittery, too.