CLEMSON — Social media’s toxicity is potent in college football.
Clemson lost its season opener, 10-3, Saturday night against fifth-ranked Georgia, and it triggered what coach Dabo Swinney has called “thumb gangsters” to emerge from the dark alleys of the Internet and fire off some shots.
Never mind that Clemson has been to the four-team playoffs six consecutive years with two national championships. Never mind that offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is a Broyles Award winner for top assistant in the country and that the Tigers just two seasons ago became the first major college team to score 650 points in back-to-back years since Yale in 1889.
What have you done for me lately?
Not enough for some panicked fans, apparently.
“I’ve already got the Twitter fingers sending me hate mail,” Elliott said, “telling me that I suck and I need to be fired and I need to go back to Michelin (for which he was an engineer from 2004-05 before deciding to begin a coaching career with this week’s opponent, South Carolina State).
“You know, it hurts. It hurts for a couple of reasons. It hurts because I know how much work this offensive staff and these players have put in. I know how committed they are to the program. I know the fans are passionate. I understand how passionate our fans are and what the expectation is here. So, I hurt for them because they’re upset that we didn’t perform well. I know what it means to them.”
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It would seem advisable for Elliott to avoid social media altogether after a game in which the Tigers could manage only a field goal and 180 yards of total offense. But he checks it anyway.
“I’ve got to do it for recruiting,” Elliott said. “I get notifications. So, I go to notifications and it’s like, ‘Go back to Michelin.’ Somebody sends me a direct message on Instagram and I open it because I don’t know if it’s a recruit or a family member.”
Sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, making his third career start and the first since taking over for No. 1 NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence, said he got his share of nasty reactions as well.
“I look at it a little bit,” Uiagalelei said. “I look at it here and there. I see the comments and things like that. It’s kind of like when you play well. You don’t want to look at social media or pay too much attention to it when you play well because you don’t want your head to get big. Then again, when you lose, you don’t want to look at it too much to where it’s going to put you down.”
Uiagalelei immediately after that game in Charlotte tried to absorb all blame for the defeat, saying it didn’t have much to do with a porous offensive line or receivers who weren’t getting open.
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Elliott admitted making his share of mistakes as well. The most glaring, he said, was when the Tigers settled for a field goal after first-and-goal at the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter; and also a third-quarter series in which Clemson started on the Georgia 33 after an interception by Baylon Spector.
“We probably should’ve stuck with the run game a little more,” Elliott said. “It felt like it wasn’t there as much (Georgia led the nation in run defense last season). But when you go back and watch the tape, we were actually creating some holes. … Definitely down in the red zone, we got a little anxious and wanted to get the ball in the end zone. We went three straight passes there. We probably should have run it on first down to see if we could get a couple more yards.
“(On the series following Spector’s big play), I looked down at my sheet and was reading a call off. We have two similar calls. I called it wrong and put D.J. in a tough situation that resulted in a sack that got us out of field goal range.
“… I thought I could have managed those situations a lot better.”