Clemson’s latest loss to NC State has the Tigers’ chances of making it to the playoffs slimming. Their next game is against Florida State, which will be a tough test for Clemson.
The Clemson’s stumble becomes free fall with latest college football loss to NC State is about Clemson losing their game against NC State.
Clemson has a motto that is emblazoned all over their football and practice facilities: “The Best Is the Standard.”
Clemson has dominated with explosive offenses and strong defenses for the last six years, winning the ACC, reaching the College Football Playoff, churning out No. 1 NFL draft prospects at quarterback and NFL selections across the board, all while dominating with explosive attacks and stout defensively.
That’s why the first four games of this season have been so impressive in terms of their fast turnaround. The Clemson we’ve become used to seeing has gone, replaced with a squad that can’t gain more than 300 yards in a game. Trevor Lawrence threw for over 400 yards in a half only a year ago. What a difference a year makes.
Clemson fell to 2-2 after a 27-21 double-overtime defeat against NC State on Saturday, thus eliminating them from College Football Playoff contention before October. The ACC’s six-year dominance is suddenly in danger. “Is this the year someone can surpass Clemson in the ACC?” we’ve wondered every year since 2015.
We may have an answer at long last.
To be honest, the fractures began to appear long before the start of this current season. Clemson has been blasted out in both of its previous two College Football Playoff games, losing to LSU in the national title game to conclude the 2019 season and Ohio State in the semifinals last year. Clemson seemed to be outmatched in both games, and that was with Lawrence at the helm.
However, we’ve seen Clemson move between quarterbacks without losing a stride in the past. After Deshaun Watson led Clemson to a national championship in 2016, Kelly Bryant led the Tigers back to the playoffs, then Lawrence led them to another victory in 2018. Given that the rest of the ACC had failed to meet the challenge during Clemson’s previous run, it was reasonable to assume that it would once again be Clemson vs. the rest of the conference.
We were all hoping for a seamless transition from Lawrence to D.J. Uiagalelei. Last season, Uiagalelei performed well in two games without Lawrence, putting up huge passing statistics against Boston College and Notre Dame on the road. We had a body of work against which to evaluate him, and that body of work indicated that he would take up where Lawrence left off.
However, Clemson’s offensive problems from a year ago have grown much more apparent this season. Last year’s offensive line was mediocre, and without Justyn Ross, Clemson had no true downfield threat. Travis Etienne helped hide some of those flaws, and his departure may be the most significant for this Clemson offense. Etienne, at the very least, made the offensive line seem decent, and he was a difference-maker all over the field, even as a pass-catching outlet.
Now, the offensive line’s problems have become much worse. Clemson doesn’t have a running game. Even with Ross back in the mix, Clemson can’t seem to get anything going in the passing game with explosive plays. That isn’t exactly a recipe for success for any young quarterback, much alone one with so many expectations placed on his shoulders.
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All of the indicators were in place. However, since Clemson has been the greatest, we choose to overlook them. Even after the Tigers scored three points in their season-opening defeat to Georgia, it was difficult to imagine that Clemson would be this good this year. After all, Georgia’s defense is one of the finest in the nation.
Clemson’s offense was not as sharp in the next game against FCS South Carolina State. The Tigers looked basically the same against Georgia Tech as they did against Georgia, but they did score an offensive touchdown (progress?). Coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott promised to make adjustments before the NC State game.
Clemson, on the other hand, had one three-and-out after another following a fast score early in the game, hardly moving the ball. The Tigers ended with only 10 first downs, which was another another head-scratcher. In fact, they had more penalties than first downs, which is a terrible reflection of this team’s current state after four games.
Since 2015, Dabo Swinney has guided Clemson to the CFP every year. Now, the Tigers will have to be lucky to win the ACC title. USA TODAY Sports/Rob Kinnan
Swinney was then asked whether he could recall the last time his team struggled so badly on offense.
He replied, “It’s been a long, long time,” before estimating it was 2010.
That was ten years ago.
Elliott was also unable to provide answers, stating that they would have to wait “Consider everything. It’s our duty as coaches to put together a strategy that provides the kids the greatest chance of succeeding, and then it’s up to them to follow through and create some plays.”
That just hasn’t occurred this season, and despite the coaches’ best efforts, they seem perplexed by the situation. After all, they aren’t accustomed to being 2-2 and without a grip on the ACC or the postseason race this early in the season.
Nobody anticipated to be 2-2 right now, according to Swinney. “We haven’t been in a position like this in a long time,” he added. “We expected to win 4-0.”
Since 2015, Clemson has done just that every September. When it did lose in the regular season, it did so later in the season, against Pitt in November 2016, Syracuse in mid-October 2017, and Notre Dame in November 2020.
Clemson had to overcome previous defeats, but this one to NC State puts the Tigers on a far higher mountain to climb if they want to win the Atlantic Division. Clemson still has the best chances to win the ACC, according to ESPN’s FPI, but those odds have fallen from 57 percent before Saturday’s game to 27.5 percent after the defeat.
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Swinney said that his squad will return to work on Monday in order to win another game. The next one, though, presents a significant challenge: 4-0 Boston College to town after almost upsetting the Tigers a year ago.
This will not be the Clemson season that everyone anticipated, regardless of how it finishes. Swinney’s sole goal for his squad is to “be the best we can be,” but even that may not be enough to win another ACC championship. Certainly not in the context of a CFP appearance.
Teams are not immune to having bad seasons. Alabama has missed the playoffs in the past, but has come back stronger. However, this is the first time the Tigers have struggled in the postseason during their lengthy run.
Moving ahead, nothing will be automatic for them.
The ACC isn’t one of them.
Clemson’s stumble became a free fall with the latest college football loss to NC State. The Tigers are now in danger of missing out on the playoffs, and they have just one game left against Florida State. Reference: ncaa football standings.
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