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Quick thoughts from Pittsburgh: As offense struggles, hard decisions await Swinney


by - Senior Writer -
Swinney told the media Saturday that he will get it fixed.
Swinney told the media Saturday that he will get it fixed.

PITTSBURGH – Dabo Swinney is in uncharted territory, and there are more questions than answers right now, answers that won’t be answered until the offseason.

Clemson lost 27-17 to Pitt Saturday at Heinz Field, dropping the Tigers’ record to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. Long gone are any thoughts of an ACC Atlantic Division title, an ACC title, or the College Football Playoff. Still on the table? Beating South Carolina and winning the last game of the season, whenever and wherever that might be.

Yes, the program struggled early under Swinney, going 6-7 in 2010 and then giving up 70 points to West Virginia in 2011. There would be two more years of losses to South Carolina and Florida State while the program was building, but there weren’t the expectations then that there are now. People wanted improvement. To take the next step. And there is a difference between the Swinney of then – who was not making a multi-million-dollar salary and was lacking a ton of success – he made the changes then because he was fighting every day to keep his job. That isn’t the case these days.

This time around, this program has reached the mountaintop. Championships have been won. Beautiful facilities have been built. Salaries have been paid. With all of that comes a certain expectations, and expectations have fallen short this season.

The big thing that Swinney has to accomplish is to figure out a way to ensure this is a one-season aberration and doesn’t snowball going forward.

There are plenty of reasons for the ineptitude on offense and sometime struggles on defense. Injuries. Youth. Inexperience. Mistakes are plentiful. Some of the coaching decisions are head scratching. It all adds up.

At one point Saturday, the Tigers were without 17 scholarship players. On offense, five of the players who started against Georgia were out. When receivers flashed open, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei missed the throw. When Uiagalelei made a good throw, the receivers dropped them. Will Shipley dropped a pass that, had he caught it, he would have scored easily.

What we do know, at this point, is that the offense likely won’t get any better this season. The plan for the rest of this season, in recruiting, in the offseason, has to center around getting the offense back to where it needs to be.

Swinney mentioned that he feels like better times are ahead, and he vows to fix the program. And while there are those in the fanbase that want everybody fired, it’s doubtful he makes sweeping changes in the offseason. And Swinney has earned the right to fix it, and fix it his way. He’s been to six playoffs, and four title games, and won all of those ACC titles, and brought two National Championship trophies back to Clemson. If he decides he wants to stay the course, keep doing things the way he’s always done them and stay consistent, he’s built up enough credit to do just that.

But if he decides to change the way he operates, there are several things he can look at, starting with at least taking a longer look at the transfer portal, looking at increasing the size of his recruiting classes, and looking at the way (and to whom) scholarships are distributed.

But that’s all for another day. For now, there is another game next week and another chance to heal up and see if the offense can improve. And then it will remain to be seen – does Swinney stay the course and prove everybody wrong? Does he make changes? This will be the most interesting offseason in years.

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