Swinney:"We are going to improve in kickoff coverage"
|Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 9:44 AM- -|
CLEMSON – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t faltered when it comes to fixing something he sees wrong with his program, from coaches to personnel to scheme. Monday, he vowed to fix Clemson’s kickoff coverage issues.
Clemson’s issues on kickoff coverage and kickoff return are well-documented, and those issues played a critical role in the Tigers’ loss in the National Championship to Alabama. There were a lot of factors that went into the loss, but it was the onside kick recovery by the Crimson Tide that turned the momentum of the game. Another key moment was Kenyan Drake’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Tigers had just kicked a field goal that made the score 31-27 in favor of Alabama when Drake ran to pay dirt. The lead swelled to 11 at 38-27 with just over seven minutes to play. It was a freebie for ‘Bama on a night when Clemson couldn’t afford freebies.
During the 2015 season, only nine teams (out of 127) allowed more than one touchdown and Clemson was one of those teams. Only two of those teams allowed three touchdowns, and Clemson was one of those two (along with Louisiana Tech). The Tigers were 125th nationally in allowing 117.6 return yards per game.
The Tigers also kicked off more than anyone else in the nation last season – Clemson kicked it off a whopping 112 times in 2015, four more than Western Kentucky (108), five more than Texas Tech (107) and six more (106) than Baylor. Alabama kicked it off 101 times, good for eighth. Only 38 of Clemson’s kickoffs were touchbacks (33.93%), which was 76th nationally.
Swinney met with the media Monday, and he made it clear that the loss to Alabama still resonates and that he knows what he has to fix to make sure the Tigers don’t finish second next season.
“It just added more fuel to the fire, if you will. I know how close we were,” Swinney said Monday. “When you out rush people, out gain them, out tackle for loss them then nine times out of ten you win. We didn't and I know why. And it's my job to fix it.”
Swinney said he’s put a lot of work – personal work – into fixing the kickoff coverage and kickoff return problems.
“We have a good structure. But we have to improve our kickoff coverage. There is no question about that. And we need to improve our return game,” he said. “I have put a lot of work into that. A lot of study and a lot of research. I've sent all of our tape to a couple of people and then we spent a whole day - our entire staff - evaluating what we do and how we do it. A lot of it was confirmation and a lot of it was a new way to do or say something and some of it was personnel. Some of it was just guys not doing their job.
“It was a combination of a lot of things. But I don't have any doubt that we are going to be greatly improved. Field goal and punt and kickoff coverage - those are the priorities. They get you beat. That return game, you can just lay the ball down and you still get the ball. You can give it to No. 4 (quarterback Deshaun Watson) and still go play. But we've gotta fix certain things. In kickoff coverage, we greatly improved about the middle of the season and we kind of changed some things and got better.”
Swinney said he’s spent time breaking down the mistakes against Alabama, and he sees both good and bad, saying that sometimes the other team just makes a play.
“When I evaluate that, we were right where we were supposed to be. Their guy was just better than our guy and I don't have a problem with that,” he said. “I don't have a problem with another team making a play. That's football. But we made a lot of plays, too. We made a lot of plays on them where they had guys there. Our guys were there and they just made a play. What bothers me is when we bust and it's an uncompetitive play. We have to fix that. The onside kick? That was a great call and a great play and you execute that only about two out of ten times and they got the ball.”
He then added that the mistake on the onside kick didn’t have anything to do with the busted coverage that led to Alabama’s resulting score.
“But they got the ball at the minus-49, and that doesn't have anything to do with us busting a Cover 3 two plays later,” he said. “Nothing to do with it. There's about five plays in that game that had nothing to do with anybody but Clemson. But from a special teams standpoint, we are going to improve in kickoff coverage. No doubt about it. I feel very good about the things we've done in the off-season to prepare. Same thing in the return game. I don't have any doubt about that, either.”