Tigers remain optimistic, but momentum isn’t on their side

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney yells to his team during Saturday's game against South Carolina

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney yells to his team during Saturday's game against South Carolina

Boyd: "Three losses feel like 12 losses"


— – Optimism runs free in Dabo Swinney’s soul.

Following Saturday’s dispiriting 34-13 loss to South Carolina, Clemson’s third defeat in four games and third consecutive loss to its bitter in-state rival, Swinney said he was disappointed and angry about the game. That it would eat at him for 365 days.

Then, he channeled a little Animal House-era John Belushi.

“Are we playing our best football right now?” he asked. “Far from it. But it’s not too late to get going, snap out of it, perform better. …. Just when you think it’s over, when you think it’s finished, that’s when it’s only beginning.”

In that sense, Swinney is right. No.21 Clemson (9-3) has a major opportunity this week – a rematch with No.5 Virginia Tech (10-1) in the ACC title game. Win, and Clemson has its first ACC title since 1991.

That seemed like a foregone conclusion Oct. 1, when the Tigers thumped Tech 23-3 in Blacksburg, handing the Hokies their only loss of the season.

Over the last month, however, the teams’ fortunes have been widely divergent. Since losing to Clemson, Tech has won seven straight, including a 38-0 beatdown of Virginia that clinched the Coastal Division.

Clemson has lost three of its last four, with back-to-back smackdowns at the hands of N.C. State and South Carolina.

Over its last 17 quarters – the fourth quarter of a 59-38 win over North Carolina and the last four games – Clemson has been outscored 147-74. The Tigers have averaged 18.5 points per game over their last four, and the offense – particularly sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd – looks lost.

A win in Charlotte would erase the pain, but right now, this feels an awful lot like 2006.

In case you’ve forgotten that team – or blocked it out – Tommy Bowden’s bunch started 7-1, capped off by a 31-7 beatdown of Georgia Tech with ESPN’s College GameDay crew in town.

That was the peak. The rest of the year was a long, slow slide down the mountain, with an ugly 24-7 loss at Virginia Tech the biggest push. Clemson lost four of five to end the season, including a desultory Music City Bowl defeat to Kentucky.

Swinney remains confident – at least publicly – that this team can rebound and avoid a similar fate, and says hard work is the answer.

“You’ve got to keep working, keep grinding, you don’t have to like it, but you don’t quit,” he said. “You don’t ever give up. Go back to work. That’s what football team will have to do.”

Late Saturday night, team leaders like Boyd and junior tight end Dwayne Allen said they’d already put the USC defeat behind them. But what are they supposed to say?

This group looked beaten, battered and bruised in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Boyd looked like a shell of the player he was in October, completing only 11 passes for 89 yards.

And now they get to face a Hokie team motivated to avenge its only defeat of the season.

You have to wonder if the light at the end of the tunnel just might be a train.

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Comments » 4

pmelvin writes:

in response to jdl031287#282299:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What are you smoking?? Dabo calls his players out on the field when they make mistakes all the time. He's constantly yelling at the OLine(which he should be). Hopkins is way more consistent this season than Bryant (who I really like). And Tajh has gone deep successfully over and over again against weaker competition. First thing, we are getting outcoached week after week and it's not really at a high level...it's basic stuff. We have enough talent. There's always a way to adjust to what the other side is doing. Our adjustments are nonexistent or not working. Second thing, O-line looks lost. We lose 1 player, Price, and the ship has sailed?? That's really a coaching problem to have so little depth and wisdom with 5 seniors on that line. Stoudt would run for his life just like Tajh, and likely have little more success. Dabo has some serious work to do and it is going to be very hard to correct...let's face it. Still love our Tigers though!

columbiabill writes:

Were we that good at the beginning of the season or are we that bad now? I think the answer to both questions is no. Early on, we caught a couple of teams short handed and we played with a lot of emotion at home. The last 2 games we caught highly motivated teams playing with a lot of emotion. A dropped pass by Watkins and also a very catchable one to Boyd could have made a huge difference in the momentum. What's next? VT is going to be a tough one Saturday night. Not sure if our best game of the year will be enough.
I've looked at the tapes of the last 2 games several times. There are so many missed blocks and backs missing the open field. I'm wondering if the NFL prospects are more concerned with their NFL combine and staying healthy than with winning games for Clemson. Maybe it is on their minds that a late season knee injury last year cost Bowers millions.
It also seems our offense has stagnated and become very predictable. Early in the season all we heard was getting the ball to our play makers in the open field. It seems that thinking has gone out the window now. Run Ellington into a pile of defensive lineman, Boyd on an option, some kind of pass over the middle, and punt now seems the offensive thinking. Early on there was always the talk of getting Boyd more involved in the rushing game. Maybe that was a mistake in putting more on his shoulders. He seemed to operate better in a free wheeling atmosphere with the occasional run to keep the defense honest.
Of course the defense has been an issue from the beginning with weekly promises to get it fixed. Some serious soul searching is needed in the next couple of weeks to see if changes need to be made.
Just some thoughts. Always a tiger fan, win or lose(but Sat night in Williams Brice really hurt!)

putter2 writes:

No defense all year. Stats are horrible. Play calling is suspect with no end in mind. Coach Steele has got to go and Morris has got to be reevaluated as well as some key positions. What a shame.

DFCU76 writes:

Very on topic comments: It is late in the season, but Stoudt should have been playing more for times like this. Why not develop two quarterbacks to have a more balanced attack?
Some very good talent in running backs. Too bad the blocking isn’t there. Andre was making better blocks than the offensive line. The defense for GT, NCSU and USC was blowing right by our offense line like they were not even there. Having a dang field day. Defense line is very inconsistent. The talent is there but need to be consistent; get in the game; making more plays. GT, NCSU and USC had all the time in the world to pass the ball and wait for their plays to develop. “We are definitely getting outcoached each week”. Fundamentals are not being taken care of” Like pmelvin said it’s "basic stuff!”

CU class of 76. GO Tigers! Fight!

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