Clemson stunned by NC State: 'Got to own it'

3 weeks ago 19

8:51 PM ET

Andrea AdelsonESPN Senior Writer

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ACC reporter. Joined ESPN.com in 2010. Graduate of the University of Florida.

For the first time in six years, Clemson finds itself outside the College Football Playoff race after a stunning 27-21 double-overtime loss at NC State on Saturday afternoon.

The offensive struggles that plagued the Tigers in their first three games continued once again, as they failed to gain any rhythm or consistency on offense. Now, they no longer control the Atlantic Division in the race for a seventh straight ACC title, and at 2-2 have almost certainly been eliminated from playoff contention. No two-loss team has ever made the playoff.

"We've got to own it," coach Dabo Swinney said afterward. "It's where we are right now. We need to get back to work on Monday, continue to learn, continue to grow, continue to fight, and continue to stay together. Let's just find a way to win a game, find a way to get on track and see if we can build some momentum in our season.

"But it hurts. Everybody's hurt. There's a lot of guys in that locker room who have never lost a true road game, but that's where we are. We've got to keep moving forward. That's what competitors do."

Clemson had not lost two games in September since 2014, when the Tigers opened 1-2. That season also marked one of transition at the quarterback position, after Tajh Boyd left and Cole Stoudt took over. That was the year before Clemson started its six-year ACC and College Football Playoff run.

Despite the loss of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne to the NFL, nobody expected Clemson to struggle this badly on offense because it had managed to plug along with new quarterbacks and starters over the past six years. D.J. Uiagalelei played well in two games last year with Lawrence out, and was one of the most highly sought-after recruits in the country, so expectations for him and the team remained high.

But from the opening loss against Georgia, Uiagalelei and the offense have struggled, with an offensive line that has been inconsistent and a running game that has been virtually nonexistent. Despite vowing to make some changes in the week leading up to the game, Clemson played as poorly on offense again. The Tigers had just 10 first downs, tied for their fewest in a game under Swinney (since 2008).

Perhaps more eye-opening: From 2018 to 2020, Clemson had zero games with fewer than 300 yards of offense. This season, the Tigers have fewer than 300 yards in three of their four games.

"The criticism is warranted because that's where we are right now," Swinney said about his offense. "With the way we've performed, you're going to get criticism and you're going to get comments. It comes with the territory because the expectation and the standard at Clemson -- we're not meeting it. It's just that simple. People are going to say whatever they want, and there's not anything we can say because we're not getting it done."

Swinney added that he sees this as an opportunity to grow.

"We've got a lot of guys that have not experienced this, so this is an opportunity for us to grow," he said. "Any time you go through any type of challenges or adversity, if you don't let it define you or destroy you, it will develop. I've never been defined by a scoreboard.

"It's important, but my job right now is to teach and grow this group up. We've had a 2-3 team my first year that went on to play for this league championship. It hurts; all we can do is focus on what we can control. We can't control anything other than where we are right now and getting back to work on Monday, and staying together."

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