Photo by © David Grooms/Clemson Sports Talk
Clemson Football

The difference a week makes

October 9, 2018
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Last Wednesday, Clemson wrapped up its usual evening practice.

It was about 6:45 and the sun was starting to set on a beautiful October day. There were seven media members in attendance waiting to hear from Dabo Swinney for his regular Wednesday update.

This was an entirely different feel from the week before where it seemed like there were over 50 media members waiting for the head coach.

The news of former Clemson starting quarterback Kelly Bryant’s transfer broke that morning, so Swinney had to answer the tough question revolving around his current quarterback situation. There were no questions about the health of his team, or about their quality opponent Syracuse.

That session was abnormal. But last Wednesday, Swinney approached the few media in attendance with a smile on his face and gave a little chuckle seeing how empty it appeared.

“What a difference a week makes,” the head coach said with a smile.

Boy, he could not have been more accurate.

It wasn't that long ago that Clemson was walking off the field at Georgia Tech after an extremely convincing win with freshman Trevor Lawrence behind center for most of the game. There were plenty of positives to take from that performance. Clemson looked like it had just played its most complete game of the year.

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Lawrence led Clemson on five scoring drives in a 49-21 win over Georgia Tech.

But these last two weeks since that afternoon in Atlanta have felt like an entire season in itself with the events that have transpired.

To recap: The leader of Clemson’s locker room decided to transfer. The Tigers then won a game with a player who was their third-string quarterback going into the week, while overcoming so much more adversity.

“That’s as good of a win as I’ve ever been a part of,” Swinney said.

Then, a former teammate, C.J. Fuller, suddenly passed away at 22 years old.

Sure, it felt like players were grieving a little when Bryant left the team. But the actual grieving process that had to take place when Clemson heard about Fuller had to be nearly insurmountable to overcome.

On the football field, Clemson was finally able to have a normal, less stressful week of preparations.

“We were able to practice our quarterbacks all week and have a normal week,” Swinney said after the 63-3 win on Saturday over the Demon Deacons. “Everybody was able to kind of reset. It was a really good week.”

“We were able to practice our quarterbacks all week and have a normal week,” Swinney said after the 63-3 win on Saturday over the Demon Deacons. “Everybody was able to kind of reset. It was a really good week.”

And it was only fitting that Clemson was able to put together one of its most electric performances of the season on the road heading into its bye week - almost a year to the day when the Tigers did the exact opposite.

The feeling Swinney had on the sideline had to be a rewarding one as he watched his star-studded team roll over Wake Forest. 

Seeing freshman Xavier Thomas and crew eat up plays in the backfield all afternoon. Watching his offense, seeing the team rush for 471 yards with three backs gaining over 125 yards a piece on the ground. 

Then witnessing the team’s fourth-string back, Lyn-J Dixon, almost out-shine Travis Etienne with his late-game carries of 65 yards, then 52 yards for touchdowns.

Swinney also had to smile when last week’s hero, Chase Brice, entered the game to lead a scoring drive before Hunter Renfrow came in the game as the backup punter and booted a 42-yarder.

Heck, even when Renfrow lined up at quarterback and when Christian Wilkins was in Swinney's ear expressing his disapproval. The 3-play touchdown drive highlighted by the fourth-string quarterback’s lead blocking ability on a Dixon touchdown run was the icing on the cake to the second half.

© Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Freshman Lyn-J Dixon had his best performance as a Tiger and was named ACC Rookie of the Week.

The irony that had to have gone through Swinney’s mind when he decided to put Renfrow in at quarterback for a series. Just a week earlier, Renfrow was one play away from being the last line of defense at quarterback with the game on the line.

A week later, Renfrow got to lead a touchdown drive in garbage time just because. He even completed an easy 2-yard pass.

It was the perfect ending to the emotional roller coaster Clemson has been on for the past two weeks.

"We’re a team that’s growing up. We’re a team that really, really likes each other."
- Dabo Swinney

“We’re not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination right now. But we are a team that’s getting better,” Swinney said. “We’re a team that’s growing up. We’re a team that really, really likes each other… I like this bunch. I wouldn’t trade this team for anybody.

“I’m not surprised with what I saw tonight. I was surprised by the score… but I’m not surprised by how well we played.”

Now, Clemson gets to prepare for the second half of its season. It may have felt like an eternity to get to this midway point of the season, but Swinney will finally get the chance to take a deep breath and rejuvenate before ranked North Carolina State comes to town.

But even with all the emotions swirling around the team over the past couple weeks, the head coach saw his group grow closer together more than any loss would have done.

“I think the team grew really, really close through that game last week,” Swinney said. “We’ve had a couple of years where we’ve lost a game, and I’ve seen our team respond. Now, we won the game, but it was kind of the same response.”

The snapshot of the moment where Clemson was barely able to hold on by the skin of its teeth to beat Syracuse put side-by-side with the scene of Clemson emptying its bench to the bottom of the barrel paints two entirely different pictures. There was a good feeling about where the team was as they boarded the plan to Winston-Salem.

“I really felt like we would have our best game this week. We had a great week of practice, and these guys were locked in,” Swinney added. “I just had a good feel for the spirit of our team. I felt like this would be one of those games that we could really kind of make a statement with. It’s what we needed as far as momentum and confidence going into this open date.”

Clemson was back to having fun. And, as they say, the fun is in the winning.

What a difference a week makes.

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