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No. 1 Clemson, Swinney worried about COVID during bye week

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has few worries about his football team on the field. Off it? That’s another story.

Swinney is concerned that the top-ranked Tigers’ bye week – especially with players getting Friday and Saturday off – could result in the team having more contact with people and increase players’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

“Probably the same primary concern of every coach out there,” Swinney said.

So far, so good.

The Tigers (2-0), like all Atlantic Coast Conference teams, are getting tested three times a week and have had no positives through the first two games.

“Our protocol’s been really, really good,” Swinney said Tuesday. “I trust them. It’s not like we get them all day, every day. We get them for about four hours max. So the other 20 hours comes down to trust, discipline and sacrifice.”

Clemson will practice three days this week and have a team function Tuesday in place of its usual community service day during a week off. The team will reconvene after its break Sunday to get tested and start preparing to face Virginia on Oct. 3.

The Tigers are motivated to do everything the right way as they pursue championship goals they missed out on last year by falling to LSU in the national title game, cornerback Sheridan Jones said.

“It’s having faith over fear,” Jones said. “Faith that we are going to have a season. Moving at that pace with that mindset has helped us to work day in, day out and stay focused on the task at hand.”

Clemson has looked like a team on a mission. The Tigers have had easy wins over Wake Forest and The Citadel, beating the Bulldogs 49-0 this past Saturday for their first shutout in four years.

Their play has been so efficient and effective, Swinney is having difficulty picking it apart.

The offense, led by Heisman Trophy favorite Trevor Lawrence, has blitzed both opponents while the first-team defense has played at a championship level. Swinney and his staff have been able to play backups for significant stretches.

“We played 13 linebackers (against The Citadel) and about every D-lineman we had,” Swinney said.

On special teams, B.T. Potter has made all three of his field goals and had touchbacks on his nine kickoffs. Travis Etienne and Amari Rodgers are helping Clemson average nearly 18 yards on punt returns.

Defensive tackle Jordan Williams said as well as the team has performed, it’s time for a break. The long summer camp with all the questions about whether Clemson would even play football was draining and stressful.

“It’s definitely something we all need,” Williams said. “It’s something that’s going to help us grow.”

The team had a spike in COVID-19 cases when it returned for summer workouts in June (37 of 43 positive tests among Clemson athletes were football players). Since then, Williams said players have bought into doing what it takes to continue the season.

“That’s what’s pushed us,” Williams said.

Clemson has had some issues related to COVID-19. Expected starting defensive end Xaiver Thomas took a redshirt season because he caught the virus in the spring and it took a toll on his conditioning. Swinney said Thomas is getting his fitness back and is preparing to play later this season.

Swinney said the program has planned for nearly every virus-related health scenario, including what it would do if Swinney tested positive.

He not sharing, though.

“It’s top secret. I’ve got it tucked away in a drawer in a glass case that says, `Break only if needed,”‘ he said.

Swinney: No. 1 Clemson ready to begin another title run

Ken Ruinard
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is not sure he has ever been this eager to start a season for the top-ranked Tigers after months of uncertainty due to the global pandemic.

“I’ve seen our culture win the day since March,” Swinney said Tuesday. “This is a very close football team, it’s a well-led team, a very smart team and it’s an exciting team. I can’t wait to see them play and get to do what they love to do.”

The Tigers open the COVID-19-altered season at Wake Forest on Saturday night. The coach believes he has a healthy, confident team that is ready to make a run for a sixth Atlantic Coast Conference crown and sixth trip to the College Football Playoff following the suspension of spring workouts in March and a troubling run of coronavirus cases in mid-to-late June.

“There’s nobody that has to be here,” Swinney said. “But everybody’s here.”

That includes quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and two-time ACC player of the year in tailback Travis Etienne.

“It’s time to play,” Lawrence said.

But the quarterback has also found the time to become a team-leader off the field, speaking out for social justice and the rights of players.

Lawrence posted goals on social media put together by several college players across the nation that call for change, including ensuring teammates are registered to vote and have election day (Nov. 3) “free from athletic obligations” to cast ballots, and using messages and statements on uniforms and helmets to raise awareness of social injustice.

Lawrence and Clemson running back Darien Rencher were leaders in a march last June to protest the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

“I know that there’s a lot of eyes on me. Critics, but also younger generations and people looking up to me,” Lawrence said. “I want to use my platform the right way.”

The QB said none of his off-field actions took away from his mission on improving his game: working on his footwork, reading defenses and throwing accuracy heading into his junior year.

“I think we’re in a really good place,” Lawrence said. “There’s been a lot going on and now, I think we’re in a spot where we can focus a little bit more on football.”

Lawrence is 25-1 as a starter, that loss in perhaps his worst showing in college when he was just 18 of 37 without a touchdown in a 42-25 loss to LSU in the national title game last January.

Lawrence won’t have some of the targets that helped him pass for 36 touchdowns last season. Receiver Tee Higgins left for the NFL while Justyn Ross, who would’ve been a junior this season, is out for the year after spinal fusion surgery.

Higgins and Ross combined for 21 touchdown catches and better than 50% of Lawrence’s 3,665 passing yards from a year ago.

Expect Etienne, who returned for his senior season instead of going pro, to pick up some of that load. Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, also running backs coach, said Etienne has steadily improved his pass catching and can play a bigger role out of the backfield.

Sophomore Joseph Ngata, a starting receiver, said the long, strange offseason gave him and teammates more time to work on themselves.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise in some ways,” he said. “We’ll see it.”

Tigers center Cade Stewart, one of four new starters along the offensive line, has grown antsy with the longer than normal fall camp. Clemson was supposed to open its season last Thursday night at Georgia Tech.

Stewart welcomes the routine of game week because it leads to finally getting back on the field.

“I think everyone’s super excited because that feeling of routine and normality,” he said. “That’s the reason we come here because of the structure.”

Clemson to play FCS opponent Citadel for Tigers’ home opener

Ken Ruinard / staff via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson will start its home season against Citadel on Sept. 19, filling the lone nonconference spot on its COVID-19 revamped schedule.

The Tigers were originally scheduled to face Citadel on Nov. 14 before the global pandemic affected the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.

The ACC adopted a 10-game conference schedule with one non-conference opponent. Clemson was set to face Akron, Notre Dame and state rival South Carolina along with Citadel as its non-conference foes on its old 12-game schedule.

It will still face Notre Dame on Nov. 7 because the Irish will compete in the ACC this season.

Citadel is part of the Division I Southern Conference and competes in the Football Championship Subdivision. Its league has chosen to hold off conference play until the spring, but has left it up to its members if they want to play nonconference games.

The Bulldogs’ contract calls for them to receive $450,000 from Clemson.