on October 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Tigers say past won’t repeat itself

CLEMSON — Before there was ‘All-in,’ perhaps the mantra most closely associated with the Clemson football program was ‘One play away.’

Four games into the Dabo Swinney era, the latter of those themes hasn’t gone away just yet.

The Tigers stand at 2-2 and both losses have closely resembled the script that unfolded all too often for Tiger fans for the better part of a decade with Tommy Bowden at the helm.

But while the narrow defeats — Clemson has lost four games by five points or fewer since Swinney took over as interim coach midway through last season — may look familiar, Swinney was quick to point out one big difference.

“Coach Bowden was here 10 years. I’ve been here four games as a head coach,” Swinney said this week. “Three years from now if we’re having that same problem, bring somebody else in here. Bottom line.”

And though he called it “unfair,” Swinney admitted he understood why some might view the recent losses, combined with the fact he was formerly a Bowden assistant, as just more of the same from the Clemson football program.

“But I can tell you right now, there’s a lot of differences in this program,” he said.

Nevertheless, the Tigers held fourth-quarter leads in losses to Georgia Tech and TCU, both ranked in the top 15 at the time, and were unable to close the deal.

And failing to close the deal has been another recurring theme in Tigertown.

Clemson began its 2005 campaign 2-0 before losing three straight games, and in 2007, won its first four before a loss to Georgia Tech and a blowout at the hands of Virginia Tech knocked the Tigers out of the polls.

Last season, it was disappointing back-to-back losses to mediocre Maryland and Wake Forest teams that ultimately brought an end to the Bowden era.

Senior receiver Jacoby Ford, however, said he doesn’t foresee this year’s tough defeats sending another season into a downward spiral.

“I think the whole chemistry and the closeness of the team is just a lot different,” Ford said. “This is probably one of the closest teams I’ve been around … and nobody points fingers, and that’s something that’s probably happened in the past.”

Star tailback C.J. Spiller, who needs just 64 all-purpose yards Saturday against Maryland to become the ACC’s all-time leader in that category, also admitted to finger pointing being part of the Tigers’ undoing in the past.

“It’s probably happened in the past,” Spiller said. “Whenever you’ve got a good defense, and the offense isn’t doing good, you might have some defensive guys (doing that). But this year, guys are just focused in. We’ve just got to keep believing in each other and don’t worry about the outside, don’t worry about the negativity that’s going to come with our record.”

And Spiller said that while that record may not exactly indicate it, he believes the team still has a real chance to have a special season.

“I think we’re closer now,” he said. “If anyone wants to come in and watch the film that thinks that teams are just beating us, they can and they’ll be proven wrong. Not to take anything away from the teams we’ve played, but we’re really hurting ourselves. Penalties here, a guy not doing his assignment there, and that’s really cost us being 4-0.”

Spiller said that despite the losses, the mood of the team was still very upbeat and very different from that of the past Tiger teams after suffering setbacks.

“It comes from guys being around each other a lot — the whole summer, then we went through camp, and guys are up early, guys hanging out watching Thursday night college football,” Spiller said. “I think (Swinney) does a great job of explaining that if you want to be a great team, you’ve got to be close. And I think we’ve really bought into that.”

The Tigers head coach, meanwhile, has taken other measures to change the culture of losing close games.

“We put a little film together (Monday) that I called the Win Reel, because I think we’ve just got to learn how to win games like that,” Swinney said. “As a team, we looked at eight plays (from the TCU game), across the board — offense, defense, special teams — and if you make three of them, you win the game. And we’re just making sure we understand that, ‘Guys, we’ve got to learn to win when we have the opportunity,’ and how critical one play can be when you’re playing a good football team.”

As for how this year’s losses compared to those of Tiger teams’ past, Swinney indicated he had little interest in making those comparisons.

“The past is a bucket of ashes, bottom line,” he said. “The past is a bucket of ashes. This is a different football team. This is a different Clemson. This is a new staff. There’s a lot of newness here.”