Dabo Swinney walked into last Tuesday’s coaches meeting with a new script for Saturday’s home game against Florida State.
Clemson’s head coach was tired of being too passive on the opening drive of games.
“We really wanted to send a message to our guys that we wanted to go out and attack,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “We weren’t going to sit back and wait and see how people were going to play us. That’s something coach Swinney really challenged our offense with (Saturday).”
Coming off their lowest offensive output of the season in a 21-20 victory at North Carolina two weeks ago, Swinney drew up the first two plays for his coaching staff: Go deep on the first play and then run a halfback-pass trick play on the second. If those didn’t work, “better have a third-and-10 play ready,” Swinney told his staff.
“I just felt like I needed to set the mindset and really challenge these guys on how we were going to go play,” Swinney said.
Flipping the script on Clemson’s scripted plays got the Tigers on track in a 45-14 dismantling of the Seminoles at Memorial Stadium.
With Clemson starting the game at their own 25, quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed a 40-yard pass down the right sideline to receiver Tee Higgins.
On the next snap, Lawrence pitched the ball to running back Travis Etienne, who rolled left and threw a completion to a leaping Justyn Ross at the FSU 12-yard line for a 23-yard gain.
That fired up the Tiger faithful and gave Clemson the momentum it would need to complete the drive. Three Etienne carries got Clemson inside the FSU 5, setting up fourth-and-1. Clemson went for it, and Lawrence flipped a forward pass inside to Etienne, who scampered into the end zone from the 3 for a quick 7-0 lead.
“It was awesome,” Lawrence said. “When we saw the script for the first couple of plays, it was cool to see ... that we were just going to go attack. We love to see that.”
That drive set a tone, and the aggression paid off. Clemson racked up 552 yards of total offense, led 42-0 early in the third quarter, ran a season-high 91 plays and pulled its starters in the second half.
“We talk about all the time getting some big plays early to create momentum for our offense, for our team,” Scott said. “I think that first drive was kind of that first big punch that maybe we haven’t had the last few weeks.”
The Tigers have had solid offensive production as a unit, but it hasn’t met the expectations of many fans and pundits, who believe this is supposed to be one of the best scoring attacks in college football.
“We all were challenged over the last two weeks to come out and to get back to being who we are,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We wanted to have an aggressive game plan. That’s when we have been at our best.”
That 6-play, 75-yard drive was easily one of Clemson’s best first possessions of the season.
At UNC, an 8-play, 40-yard drive ended after a third-and-2 screen pass went nowhere, and a missed field goal kept Clemson off the board.
Against Charlotte the week before that, Clemson scored on its second play from scrimmage, but at Syracuse the Tigers went 3-and-out. When they faced Texas A&M at home in Week 2, a 9-play, 43-yard opening drive resulted in another missed field goal in a 24-10 win.
“This offense responds when we don’t play well,” Scott said. “I think the way they came out there and played said a lot about this group and hopefully where we’re headed.”
Who: No. 2 Clemson (6-0, 4-0) at Louisville (3-2, 1-1)
When: Oct. 19, Noon
Where: Cardinal Stadium; Louisville, Kentucky
Line: Clemson by 21