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The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

Dabo Swinney: Courageous or Classless?

The Confidential followed this game by participating in the game day thread over at TNIIAM, the great Syracuse blog.  A big area of debate was Dabo Swinney’s decision to go for it on 4th and goal with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, up 35-7.  Even on the Syracuse site, there was debate as to whether it was courageous or classless.  Let’s discuss

The set up.  Clemson was leading Syracuse 35-7 with fourteen seconds to go in the first half.  The ball was just outside the 5-yard line.  Most coaches at all levels would kick the field goal and go into halftime with the 38-7 lead.  You keep the momentum and it is a fairly low risk play–just outside an extra-point.  Instead, Dabo Swinney decided to go for it, leading to a sack of Tajh Boyd.

The case for courageous.  Clemson had steamrolled Syracuse all day.  A 28-point lead is not fully insurmountable will a whole half to play (need examples?).  A 35-point lead would have been demoralizing.  With the mismatched talent levels, Syracuse was not likely to keep Clemson out of the end zone.  Clemson needs style points, not just wins.  They need to destroy teams early and often.  If Syracuse fans do not like it, blame their players for not stopping it.

The case for classless.  You are already up 35-7.  Your offense has been unstoppable.  Your defense has given up on touchdown, a fluke 66-yard touchdown run.  Why worry about having to get a 35-point lead?  Perhaps it was in response to some perceived chatter by Syracuse players this week.  Was that to teach them a lesson?  Was there resentment about Syracuse being chosen instead of a school not rebuilding its football program?  It was such an atypical decision that it just does not make sense.  But when does it ever make sense to give up a chip shot 23-yard field goal to try for a 5+ yard touchdown?  If the score was 20-10, you’d take the points.  It was only because of the large lead that one could even justify not taking the relatively-sure three points.  So you are using the large lead to justify taking a risk that you wouldn’t normally take.  That is like switching to the full-court press when up 30 in a basketball game.  Lest there be any doubt, this is what Syracuse Scott Shafer’s reaction was to the 4th down stop:

Scott Shafer in need of censorship in response to the 4th down stop by Syracuse.

In fact, the Confidential believes that the real issue is that it was, if nothing else, not football smart.  Clemson was up 35-7.  Going up 38-7 makes it either a 5-score game or requires Syracuse to go for two on three of the four touchdowns it would need to score just to tie the game.  What are the odds of Syracuse having 4, much less 5, MORE TD drives than Syracuse in the second half, given what transpired in the first half?  Slim to none.

Even worse, the move fired up the Syracuse team unnecessarily.  Instead of licking their wounds, Swinney gave the Syracuse players a reason to rally and come out looking for fire.  Syracuse tackled harder.  They punished Boyd on a sack, injuring (fortunately) his non-throwing hand.  The longer Syracuse stayed “in the game,” the longer Boyd and the starters would have to play.  So, by missing out on three points and firing up Syracuse, both of those realities were extended.

And yet even with Syracuse gaining all that momentum, Clemson still outscored Syracuse in the second half.  Why incur the possible negative karma by trying to “run up the score,” when a field goal is just as damaging really.

The Confidential is not sure whether it should go down as classless, but it definitely was not courageous.  And it certainly was not smart.  And maybe you don’t believe in football karma, but the Confidential does.  In the future, Swinney should just kick the field goal.  A 95% chance of a field goal makes more sense than a 75% chance of a touchdown–especially when you are up comfortably.

What do you think about Swinney’s decision?  Explain.

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10 thoughts on “Dabo Swinney: Courageous or Classless?

  1. Clemson Fan on said:

    You mention in your article that “[t]he longer Syracuse stayed “in the game,” the longer Boyd and the starters would have to play.” You are absolutely right! And that is why he went for the touchdown.

    After the fact, you can certainly make the point that the act of going for it fired up the Syracuse team. But the risk of that was, at the time of the call, probably weighed against the chance of demoralizing them and being up more. You can argue which one is better, but clearly there are advantages to scoring other than salting wounds.

    Sammy Watkins is injured at this point in the game. A 35 point lead means he can (probably) stay on the sideline. A 31 point lead means he can (slightly less probably) stay on the sidelines. If I am calling the plays, that is a risk worth taking.

    Also, Dabo mentioned in the halftime interview another reason to go for it. It stops Syracuse from getting a momentum play. If the Clemson FG team gets blocked (like last years bowl game) or a kick returner makes some moves, now Syracuse has momentum. Here, they don’t have a chance at any real momentum. And the odds of a touchdown vs a turnover on downs favor touchdown.

    I understand why people might be upset by it at first glance, but I think not taking advantage of being that class to the goal line would be like saying “Hey, we know you can’t compete with us in the second half anyways, so we’ll just kick.” That would be the real disrespectful mood.

    In the end though, this isn’t really a discussion that needs to be had. If Coach Shafer thinks the game is over, he can go shake hands at the 50 right then and there. Until them, you need to play the game.

    • That’s the whole point. From a straight football decision, if the game was 10-0, he would have kicked. 20-0, he would have kicked. Pretty much anything other than being DOWN by 28 and he would have kicked. To kick when up 28 is just stupid. And it only fired up Syracuse. Scoring a TD might have fired up Syracuse just as much. The FG? A standard play that does not get any attention and just continues the romp. It was dumb dumb dumb and there is no defense to it.

      • Clemson Fan on said:

        No. There is a defense to it. It is trying to put the game away. There are risks and rewards in any decision, and Clemson decided the rewards outweighed the risk. You disagree, and that’s fine. But it’s not true that “there is no defense to it.”

        • Letting emotion interfere with logic. You don’t win championships that way. Look at Alabama… no way they go for that. Somehow they have won a few. Sure… you can rationalize it… but it is a coaching error. Even the TD could have fired up Syracuse.

        • Clemson Fan on said:

          Not sure why, but it won’t let me reply to your post. I still stand by my opinion. You said in your response, “Even the TD could have fired up Syracuse.”

          I think here we find our point of disconnect. Our head coach was making decisions based on the assumption that Syracuse would be playing their best and hardest either way.

  2. Ren.hoek on said:

    I would have gone for the field goal, but I don’t think Shafer had any right to react the way he did. It was only the 2nd quarter and on the road. No issue with Swinney’s call from a sportsmanship standpoint. In fact, I’ll put Swinney up against most anyone in terms of integrity and sportsmanship. The guy walks the walk and the ACC should be proud to have a man like him mentoring young men as well as coaching the game if football.

    • I agree. Even though you could make a stronger case for a field goal I dont have a problem with a coach going for the jugular in the first half. It was gutsy but not classless. Any oppertunity that Clemson has to make a statement they need to take it or risk being left out of the NCG, the ACC is playing from behind & they need to seperate themselves from the other top eight teams. It is what is best for the whole conference.

    • Shafer apologized.

  3. jae1837 on said:

    As others here have stated, Clemson needs to blow out every team they play this season. Like many fans I don’t like it, but so long as the voters of the polls keep rewarding teams based on margin of wins, this is the world we now occupy in College Football. VT was on the recieving end of some really blown out scores so I can empathise with the Syracuse fans, but it is what it is. Besides, its Syracuse job to stop Clemson and vice versa.

    • Syracuse did stop it. Not the point. The point is that Clemson gave up 3 easy points for no sensible reason. From the 6 yard line… kick the FG. 52-14 looks better than 49-14.

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