Dabo Swinney expressed a great deal of faith in offensive coordinator Tony Elliott Sunday night, even though the Tiger offense has struggled to live up to the preseason hype.
"I can tell you this, there is nobody that I believe in more and trust than Tony Elliott. He just didn't forget football," Swinney said. "We had bad moments on defense with youth the last couple of years and I'd say the same about Brent Venables. Tony Elliott is special. I'm not really concerned what other people think, to be quite honest with you. I'm here every day. I know what the issues are. Yeah, it's disappointing. We've been really, really good offensively here for a long time. A long time. People are quick to forget that.
"This has been a tough start, for sure. But again, we have a lot of pain and there is purpose in the pain and we will get better from it. Tough times bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. There is nobody and I mean nobody that I believe in more than Tony. He is a brilliant man and a brilliant coach."
Those sentiments were echoed by tight end Davis Allen on Monday, "Coach Elliott is not the problem. He has had great game plans every week. It's the lack of execution on our part." If the problem is not the play calling or the coaching that begs the question: what is the problem?
Entering Week 5 of the 2021 season, the offense ranks 121st nationally in total offense, 105th in scoring offense and 95th in rushing offense—all of those numbers, minus the rushing offense, rank behind instate rival South Carolina.
Remember in fall camp the praise that the receivers received from Swinney?
"This is as talented a group as we have had, as I have said," Swinney said on Tuesday. "I told (receivers coach) Tyler Grisham on picture day he needed to take a photo of them and pull it out six years from now."
Or how about the comments about the offensive line?
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"I think we've got a really good roster," Swinney said in the spring, "I think the biggest thing for us is just the youth that we've had in our offensive line...I like the guys that we signed, the guys that we've recruited. I think (offensive line coach) Robby (Caldwell) has done an awesome job. These younger players will get a lot of opportunities this spring."
Or how about the praise from Swinney regarding quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei?
"Everybody wants to start as a freshman type of mentality. And DJ probably could have started at about 125 schools, realistically, but he chose to come to Clemson," Swinney said in July. "So his experience last year is going to serve him well. And it's invaluable. But yeah, it's awesome to have a talent like that. That's not just starting from scratch. He's already had a year under his belt, and he's the guy."
In fairness to the fanbase, who are angered by the offensive performance, they were not warned about the issues at quarterback or the offensive line. And in fairness to Swinney, he could not have envisioned these kinds of issues.
So, if it is not the receivers, the offensive line or the quarterback that is the issue with the offense, what is it?
According to offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, it boils down to being in sync.
"Biggest thing is we're out of sync. It's 10 guys doing the right thing, and one (person) not. Some of that can be attributed to youth," Eliott said Monday. "From a QB perspective, we have to do a better job upfront to make him comfortable. Don't think we're at that point where it is what it is yet."
Elliott admitted that there are some things he could/ can do better to help the offense get out of their own way. However, if the fans are looking for Elliott to open up the playbook, get more creative or pull out more eye candy they will be waiting for a while—at least until the Tigers can do the little things right.
"It's the same plays being ran all around the country. We just have to do a better job of executing," Elliott said. "Everyone wants you to be creative, but you have to execute the fundamentals first and foremost."
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