There is an old adage in sports: Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than to be good. There is truth in that, for sure.
Put them together, and the confluence of the two often produces surprising results.
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Just ask NC State, which was Saturday by defeating No. 9 Clemson 27-21 in double overtime and handing the Tigers their second loss in four weeks. The result also opened wide the ACC title race.
NC State made a defensive stop at fourth and 5 in the second overtime to seal the game and leave Clemson 2-2 (1-1 ACC) on the season.
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While the Tigers’ struggles are an anomaly in the context of recent seasons under coach Dabo Swinney, they have been common in the 2021 season, something Swinney readily admitted after Saturday’s loss.
Dabo Swinney: “It’s been a long time. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a situation like this, sure.”
– Grace Raynor (@gmraynor) September 25, 2021
The situation, as Swinney alluded to, is this: Clemson has two regular-season losses for the first time since 2014.
Date of Clemson’s second loss
2020: January 1
2017: January 1
2021: September 25
– Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 26, 2021
That was the last year Clemson missed the college football playoff. The Tigers are 81-9 since the start of the 2015 season with two CFP national championships and two other national title play spots. So it’s clear what the standard at Clemson has become.
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It’s also clear to Swinney that this year’s edition of the Tigers is nowhere near that.
Dabo: “With the way we act, you will get criticism and comments and things like that, and you know what? That comes with the territory because the expectation and the standard at Clemson, who we are, we are not meeting it. (CONT’D)
– Grace Raynor (@gmraynor) September 26, 2021
A little more context for a loss that will almost certainly drop the Tigers out of the top 10 and probably out of consideration for the playoffs:
- The Tigers had won 36 straight games against unrated opponents prior to Saturday. Their last loss to an unrated team was a 27-24 loss at Syracuse in 2017.
- Clemson had won 36 straight games at ACC before losing last year at Notre Dame.
- NC State’s victory was the first over the Tigers since 2011 and only the second since 2003 in a series Clemson leads 59-29-1 all-time.
The offense has scored 38 points in three games against FBS competition this season, starting with just one field goal in a 10-3 loss to Georgia in Week 1. It managed just 14 last week in a win over Georgia Tech. He failed to gain 300 net yards in any of those contests, including just 214 against NC State. According to ESPN, the Tigers had no games below 300 from 2018-20.
Those offensive anomalies create a series of questions: Is DJ Uiagalelei still the answer as a quarterback? How can the Tigers get more big plays from junior wide receiver Justyn Ross (9.9 yards per reception)? What will coaches do as a running back after Will Shipley suffered a knee injury on Saturday?
Clemson has a lot to discover as he looks to Wake Forest, Louisville, and NC State in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The first attempt to get back on track will take place next week when the Tigers face Boston College 4-0 at home.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.