Will's Last Word: Determination vs. Desperation

Will Palaszczuk
November 11, 2019 - 2:23 pm
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To borrow from the popular Zach Galifianakis video series, "Between Two Ferns", let me present you with "Between Two Headsets".

We begin with Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney, who received some bombastic shots from people for alleging he "ran up the score" & acted in an "unsportsmanlike" manner during the Tigers' 55-10 beatdown of NC State on Saturday night.

First off, a history lesson. 

Despite what the two men (and the ACC Conference office) would like to have you believe, Swinney and NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren have not had the easiest relationship during their tenures with their respective schools. The laptop incident of two years ago, Doeren's failure to give credit to Clemson over the years and just the overall gruffness of the Wolfpack coach doesn't jive well with the happy-go-lucky Swinney. Anyone who knows the paths these two men have crossed knew exactly what was happening.

To clarify, there's absolutely nothing wrong with what Dabo did on Saturday.

Regardless of where you think the Textile Bowl ranks in the hierarchy of College Football rivalries, Clemson vs. NC State was a game that used to mean a lot more than it does now. Swinney understands the significance of the rivalry, and also will not leave out any tissues for fans crying about the lopsided total. The Clemson coach also took his cues from the College Football Playoff Committee, knowing that a game on ABC might finally showcase to the Tigers to have a worthy spot in the hallowed quartet of the sport's "elite".

He also understands what it means to be the last man on the bench, and even on a road travel squad of 72, the fact that many who fly the charter won't reap the benefits at the next level as their more athletically-gifted teammates.

So Dabo does something determined, admirable, but admittedly unconventional.

He allows his reserves to run his offense.

The whole play sheet is fair game with Swinney whether it's Trevor Lawrence, Chase Brice, Taisun Phommachanh, Ben Batson or whoever he decides to put out there. He knows running it into the teeth of a defense three times and punting doesn't give the players the reward that catching a touchdown pass or busting a long explosive run does. He knows where those players are on their journey, and the relatability to players remains one of his greatest characteristics.

So even though the handshake between Dabo and Doeren was characterized as "frosty", I'm guessing Doeren was just upset at another dead end loss in a season defined by his offensive guru and a bastion of NFL talent leaving his squad during the last offseason.

To characterize Dabo's conduct as "unsportsmanlike", tells me you've never played football at an organized level.

From the determination of Dabo, to the desperation of his midlands counterpart, Will Muschamp, who looked out of answers during a slog of a loss against Appalachian State on Saturday night. The Mountaineers' second Power-Five victory of the season left the Gamecocks at a rock-bottom point of their season, in a year where South Carolina reached a height they hadn't reached under Muschamp (at least for one week).

To be fair to Muschamp, the Gamecocks have suffered a rash of injuries on the offensive line, wide receiver and running back before even including the loss of starting quarterback Jake Bentley after the season opener. Regardless, the offensive play calling reverted to the lack of creativity shown before the Georgia game and since, and freshman QB Ryan Hilinski has not even remotely looked the part except for his play in the FCS matchup with Charleston Southern and the first half against UGA.

Muschamp will be faced with desperation over the last two weeks as South Carolina will be an overmatched team on paper against both Texas A&M and Clemson, their final two opponents of the regular season. The head coach has run out of time to provide anything that can come close to looking innovative in 2019, and if he did, he probably would not have the personnel to pull it off.

South Carolina will give Muschamp a last stand in 2020, but it's up to him to prove he can deserve another. He needs to, by either eliminating personnel or rapidly rearranging it, revolutionize the offense and make it resemble his SEC peers. If Joe Brady can turn LSU from a dormant offense to one that looks like a Big 12/Air Raid special, I believe Dan Werner can do that with the Gamecocks. Second-year Offensive Coordinator Bryan McClendon is miscast in the role of play caller when there are two men on the staff with more experience doing so than him. Tight ends coach Bobby Bentley and Werner, the QB guru, both have more extensive work in the play calling duties at previous stops than a coach who got the gig based off a lukewarm audition at the 2018 Outback Bowl.

After putting Werner in as the playcaller, he needs to do something to generate some consistency with his secondary. Whether the decision should be to jettison Defensive Coordinator/D-Backs Coach Travaris Robinson, or take over the defensive playcalling, it's inherently obvious the highs and lows of this team ebb and flow because of their defense. One week there can be a three interception performance against Georgia, and the next it can fall flat on its face at Tennessee.

There have been times this season where I've said Muschamp has looked too desperate, especially in the Gamecocks' matchup with Alabama, where it felt like South Carolina used a gadget play or fake at least once per drive.

The decisions Muschamp makes this offseason should be determined, forward-thinking and calcuated.

Put simply, they need to be better than the ones he's made on the field this season.

(Photo Credits: USA Today Sports)

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