ACC Championship Football

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, left, is dunked by Clelin Ferrell (99) after their win over Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Mike McCarn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has become known as much for his unique catch phrases as his team’s dominant play on the field.

While most are public — “Bring Your Own Guts,” “All In” and “Best Is The Standard” — some fly more under the radar, mentioned only in passing or in slips of the tongue by members of the team or coaching staff. Such is the case with one that has emerged since the Tigers’ victory at Louisville in week three of the season: “Leave no doubt.”

That phrase was uttered in passing by Swinney after the Tigers’ 47-21 victory, with Swinney saying, “We had two goals tonight, one was to get the job done and the other was leave no doubt.”

Saturday night the Tigers continued their “leave no doubt” tour — adding the Miami Hurricanes to the list of teams they have handled with relative ease — after winning their last four games by a combined score of 164-30.

However, for Swinney, the newest catch phrase is more than a measure of the scoreboard.

“Well, just experience, developing our team as we've gone through the season. We're just a team, we're not a finished product,” Swinney said. “We don't ever have that mindset. We're always trying to get better every single day, every single week. Every week, for this bunch, every time we line up, it's the biggest game in the world because we're going to get everybody's best effort. We know that. We embrace that. I mean, we love that. I love that.”

The Clemson football team has gotten used to embracing the target — compiling a 50-6 record over the last four years (10-3 in 2014, 14-1 in 2015, 14-1 in 2016 and 12-1 in 2017), winning 31 ACC victories over the last four years, going 43-3 in their last 46 games, having won three straight ACC championships and three straight trips to the College Football Playoff, including back-to-back national championship game appearances (one victory in 2017).

While having such a big target on a team could make some schools crumble under the pressure, Swinney believes the reason for his team’s unprecedented success has been players do not run away from the expectations — they embrace it.

“That puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you're at your best as a coach, as a player. These guys buy into that,” Swinney said. “They understand that, man. We meet weekly, we talk about a lot of things. We just get ready each and every week for the biggest game of the year.

“Then we learn, we get better. We find a way to win. But we're at a point now where, I mean, (quarterback) Kelly (Bryant) has answered all the questions. Early part of the year, every week it was a question. Well there's really not any more questions. It's just a matter of going out, playing well. He's had a lot of success.”

For the majority of this Clemson team, all they know is leaving no doubt, winning championships and playing in the biggest games on the biggest stages because, in spite of what many people around the country may think, the Tigers are a young team.

The 2017 roster has only six scholarship seniors, 26 scholarship juniors and 53 freshmen and sophomores. It is that kind of youth that has given the Tigers the energy to play their best football and continue to “leave no doubt” as the season went on.

“We've had a lot of young guys that have stepped up for us as we've gotten further into the season,” Swinney said. “Again, our depth has developed, so we've just become a very functional team. We have great chemistry. These guys are having a lot of fun late in the season. It's a grind for them. But we've still found a way to have great energy at practice and great focus.

“The best teams have that great player leadership. When you have guys like Kelly B and Christian Wilkins out there leading the way at practice with great energy and great focus, everybody else kind of thrives off of that. … We're just kind of hitting our stride. It's a good time to do it 'cause the margin for error gets really, really, really small this time of year.”


Load comments