COLUMBIA — The Clemson Tigers were thought to have all kinds of offensive issues through the first five games of the season, at least according to many in the national media.
But even though, according to head coach Dabo Swinney, the Tigers were one of the most consistent and dominant teams in America, the narrative didn't fit.
"All aboard the ROY Bus. We just want a seat wherever we can go but you have to take one step at a time,” he said. “We're not entitled to win and we never think that way. We start over every week. We have a very humble spirit to our team. It takes a lot of humility to prepare every week because you have to go earn it. Our guys have that mindset and our staff does a wonderful job. I'm excited. I can't say enough about this team. It's just incredible what I've been able to witness. We've won 27 games in a row. It's just unbelievable.”
But maybe, just maybe, even though the Tigers have dominated every opponent on their schedule outside of one, Clemson has saved the best for last — as was the plan all along.
In fact, for the first time since the playoffs last season, the Tigers employed something the coaching staff had been saving for the end of the season — moving Justyn Ross from his normal position opposite Tee Higgins to the slot. The move paid huge dividends Saturday, as the outside receiver, Higgins, had himself a day.
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"There are some games where he really doesn't touch the ball because we get up by 35 points running the ball, and then he's on the sidelines watching other players play and it doesn't bother him one bit," co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. "But he knows and Justyn and Amari know this time of year that when we get into this championship phase, we are really going to lean on them. They've been ready because they've been preparing but now we are going to lean on them. This is when we've really got to take off and need our best players to perform."
But it was not only that subtle move that gave the Tigers an advantage over the Gamecocks, and hopefully future opponents in the playoffs. The Tigers have been saving a whole slew of wrinkles and unique looks for their championship phase.
"For us, we have to be very conscious to change things up," Scott said. "There's a lot of video — we've played as many games as anybody the past four years, so there's a lot of tape out there. Obviously got a target on our back. But when you've got a really good group of players, it allows you to be creative and change things up. I thought we had a good plan and we were able to go out and execute it.
"So we get to the end of November, beginning of December and we start going back digging into some our better things that we kind of save for the postseason ... and we've got a lot of things on video."
Scott believes the reason the Tigers can afford to be so creative in the final couple of month of a season is because of the familiarity of a staff that has been together for eight seasons.
"I think the biggest thing is our offensive staff has been together for so long and we've got a really good inventory of things," Scott said. "Very rare in this day and age are teams using the same offense. You have an OC at a same place for three years and he either gets fired or gets another job. Not many places have the same offense that we have for how many years, going on seven or eight years.