CLEMSON — Following a stunning ACC title-game rout of Virginia Tech, Dabo Swinney had some biting words for his fans and an ESPN national-TV audience.
“This is what it’s all about. You don’t quit. There are so many quitters out there. All these people that quit on us, they don’t deserve this,” Swinney blustered. “This is for the players and the coaches and for all the people who were all-in all the frickin’ time. I’m proud of those people. That’s what this one’s for.”
It’s hard to reconcile those words with what happened Wednesday night in Sun Life Stadium.
A West Virginia team that survived a three-way tie in the weak Big East just to make it to the Bowl Championship Series utterly blasted Clemson, 70-33, in the Orange Bowl.
It was the most points ever allowed in a collegiate bowl game, and the second-most allowed by Clemson all-time, behind Alabama’s 74-7 romp back in 1931, leaving fans calling for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s job.
Perhaps most damning of all? Mountaineer players suggested that the Tigers weren’t exactly all-in.
“There was like linemen out there talking about, ‘Good job, man, stop going so hard. Y'all got it.' I was like, all right,” senior cornerback Keith Tandy told West Virginia Illustrated, a Mountaineer fan site. “I never heard anything like that and they just made us want to go harder and keep making plays."
Those are harsh words. Tandy didn’t name any names, and it is unclear if he was talking about senior linemen who were playing their last games or younger players who will be returning next fall; Clemson cleaned out its bench as the clock wound down.
Still, suggesting the Tigers quit and asked the Mountaineers for mercy is a pretty major sign that Swinney doesn’t have this program where he wants it mentally just yet.
Championship caliber teams have the ability to push through the down times and focus on the task at hand.
It could certainly be argued that Swinney has the right mentality. He went for two after DeAndre Hopkins’ 28-yard touchdown catch trimmed a 63-20 deficit to 63-26 with 1:37 left in the third quarter; the try failed, and, sufficiently angered, Dana Holgorsen put starting quarterback Geno Smith back in for a 12-play, 66-yard drive that culminated with West Virginia’s final touchdown.
But it has yet to filter down to his team.
Early this season, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he was still seeking meanness from his offensive linemen, and “if they don’t bite when they’re a pup, they’re probably not going to bite.”
Wednesday, some of those same linemen apparently rolled over, if Tandy is to be believed.
The offseason can be drudgery for college football players, and this season should be just that for the Tigers.
Swinney wants more than 10-4 seasons capped by bowl blowouts from his tenure, and to do so he must change his team’s mentality.
There’s no better way to accomplish that this winter than reminders aplenty of Tandy’s comments – and 70-33.