Dabo Swinney has used an analogy in the past comparing his team to baking a cake.
Sometimes it takes more time for the cake to come out of the oven than others. Well, 2021 is one of those times.
Following Saturday's wild 14-8 victory over a Georgia Tech team that came to Memorial Stadium as a 28-point underdog, the Clemson head coach admitted his team, especially his young offense, is a work in progress.
"A lot of things we can build on, teach from, and grow from," Swinney said.
He added that it's been a long time since he felt like he's had to teach this much, but this is "kind of where we are right now."
So while the Clemson coaching staff is focused on coaching up the Tigers before next Saturday's 3:30 p.m. road game at N.C. State, let's take a look at what we learned from the narrow victory over Georgia Tech:
Can't expect perfection in ACC
During the offseason, there was always talk that Clemson could lose the season opener to Georgia, but most folks expected a cakewalk through the ACC. Three weeks into the season, that's no longer the case. Georgia Tech proved that these Tigers are beatable. If it weren't for the stellar defense, and linebacker James Skalski blowing up a shovel pass at the Clemson 2, the Yellow Jackets would've had a chance to tie the game on a 2-point conversion and potentially win in overtime.
Cris Carter Suggests AFC East Team Should Trade For Deshaun Watson
Could Deshaun Watson make sense for a particular AFC East team? One NFL media member believes so.
Strong Clemson Defense Isn't Pointing Fingers at Struggling Offense
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables says success and failure come as a team, not to individual units.
Clemson Tigers Don't Know Offensive Identity
Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott admits that not even he knows what the Tigers' offensive identity is.
It never should've come to that. The Tigers had won the last six meetings with GT by an average of 30 points per game. This Yellow Jackets team lost to Northern Illinois in Week 1. Sweating out a game in which Clemson scored just two touchdowns shows that this team is no longer safe to just jaunt through the ACC schedule with double-digit wins, even though the entire league looks like a mess right now. It doesn't mean all is lost either, but past expectations have become doubt, beginning this week at N.C. State.
Tigers can get outmatched
One of the reasons for the thought above is because of what Georgia Tech proved on Saturday. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said the Yellow Jackets ran an alternative defensive scheme, opting to rush three defenders, drop eight and force Clemson to just take what's there and grind the game out. The thing is, the Tigers are supposed to counter by running the ball right down Tech's throat and gashing them for six or seven yards on every rush until they break. Instead, Clemson didn't even average four yards per carry, and because of that, the game became a slog. The passing game produced just 126 yards.
It's one thing for Georgia and its massive, talented defensive front to shut down the Tigers and take away any deep passing game. It's another for an undersized Georgia Tech squad to do the same. Clemson can't run block. Running backs Will Shipley and Kobe Pace and quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei aren't experienced enough to make a ton of plays on their own. Other teams with more power up front will employ this strategy until Clemson can prove otherwise.
Concerning lack of explosiveness
Clemson can change that by hitting big plays, but that's exactly what teams don't fear from this offense right now. The Tigers haven't proven they can create chunk-yard plays. Through three games, Clemson has eight plays of 20-plus yards. That ranks 117th nationally. Only seven of 132 teams have fewer plays of that amount. It's inconceivable when you think about how explosive this program has been the last several years.
In 2021, football teams simply can't live like that. Creating big plays and limiting them on defense is a basic formula for winning games in this offensive era where the rules favor scoring. This right now is one of the most concerning aspects of this team. It's a small sample size and theoretically, Clemson can improve it and grow into a more explosive team, but converting third-and-longs look really difficult right now. Nothing is loosening up the defense. There are little to zero true deep shots being taken by this offense. If it doesn't break out soon, winning might just be too hard to produce.
Defense has it rough
Well, Brent Venables, it's all on you...for now. Until the offense gets it together, stops turning the ball over and can create real downfield movement, Clemson's defense is the last line of defense. Without a stop unit that forced four sacks, and could've had more, Clemson might not have survived the Yellow Jackets. Xavier Thomas was very effective coming off the end, and tackles Ruke Orhorohoro and Bryan Bresee got constant pressure up the middle. LaVonta Bentley did a tremendous job filling in for the injured Baylon Spector at linebacker, racking up 13 tackles.
This defense hasn't given up a touchdown in 2021, but eventually, it will. How long can this unit handle the pressure of being the side of the ball that has to produce wins? Can it play with this edge on the road or when the offense (gulp) looks even worse (if possible). With Venables running the show, you know he'll take this as a challenge and have his guys ready to play. But there is so little margin for error right now, it's not a fair proposition for this defense, which is going to have to fuel the team until the offense figures it out.
Want to join in on the discussion? 100% FREE! Interact with fellow Tiger fans and hear directly from publisher Zach Lentz, deputy editor Brad Senkiw and recruiting analyst Jason Priester on any subject. Click here to become a member of the ALL CLEMSON message board community today!