Less than 48 hours removed from a baptism in Raleigh, it's still hard to stomach what unfolded on Saturday. Clemson was utterly and completely dominated in all aspects of the game. Coaching, offense, defense, and special teams. The game was over at halftime. Was this team exposed on Saturday? I'm not sure. I think the most frustrating part is that Clemson is clearly a superior team to the Wolfpack in talent. One team just showed up, the other pretended to.
This team has regressed. The last three weeks this team has played 11 bad quarters of football. One good quarter against Wake Forest has prevented an 0-3 stretch. The defense can't stop a quarterback that hasn't looked good against anyone, this offense looked completely incompetent without #2 on the field, and special teams were dismal.
Clemson fans should be used to this. Tight end Dwayne Allen even warned of it earlier this week, pointing out how, in 2009, the Tigers had also clinched the Atlantic Division title but then flopped in a rivalry game they were favored to win against South Carolina. The Tigers are notorious for losing games to unheralded opponents (See: Maryland, 2009). This year, though, Clemson almost shook that reputation -- almost -- by exceeding expectations and clinching the division title a week ago.
The No. 7 team in the country should not lose to an inconsistent, mediocre NC State team. On Saturday, though, NC State was anything but mediocre. It was fantastic.
Domination in the trenches is maybe the most disheartening thing to take from Saturday. The lines are soft. Chalk it up to lack of player development, a sub par strength and condition program, or having players that are afraid of getting hit in the mouth. Clemson isn't going to be able to out-athlete every team on their schedule. Georgia Tech and NC State proved that you can beat this team if you thoroughly pound Clemson's offensive and defensive lines.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Clemson is not a "one-man team" in reference to Watkins. But Coach Dabo Swinney said even before the season he liked his starters but was concerned with inexperience in the reserve ranks. Without Watkins and Price, Clemson appeared nothing like the team breaking numerous offensive records, instead suffering the program's worst loss from a margin standpoint since opening the 2008 season with a 24-point loss to Alabama.
Where do we go from here? This loss blows, there's no way around it. Any momentum heading into South Carolina week is now gone, but I think momentum is exaggerated, it didn't exactly help us last year against the Gamecocks. Who knows, maybe this game will wake this team up. I figured the loss against the Yellow Jackets and the narrow win against Wake Forest would have done that.
At some point though, you have to move on. It's rivalry week. This game is bragging rights for thousands of fans across the state for an entire year. The Atlantic title is great, and one of the goals of this team every year. But, as a Clemson head coach, you do not lose to South Carolina. It's one of the most lopsided rivalries in college football. Clemson needs a win in Columbia in a bad way, especially to get the taste out of its mouth of losing to the Wolfpack and of having lost back to back games to the boys in garnet and black. Make no mistake, if Clemson does not win this game, it will tarnish the entire season and we will jump all over the staff.
South Carolina breathed a sigh of relief Saturday. Clemson walked off the field in disbelief and disarray. It was two completely different ways to begin rivalry week for the Palmetto State schools.
This will be the first time both teams have had the same record entering the game since 1994 when both teams were 5-5, and the 18 combined wins in the most ever in the rivalry.
Vegas opened the game with South Carolina as 2.5 point favorites. The line quickly shot up to four. If you give three-four points for home field Vegas is basically saying these teams are even on a neutral field. Not sure I buy it. Sure if you look at the records they are similar, but these teams certainly look to be going in different directions. Clemson has lost two of three. The team in Columbia has won five of six. Something has to change this week. This is still a talented football team.
The next two weeks are huge. They are going to make or break this season. Win on Saturday and go beat Virginia Tech or Virginia and this season will have been very successful. To do that, this team better check itself. They want to get to 10 wins, beat their in-state rival, and bring home the hardware to Pickens County they better stop pretending to show up on Saturday and start playing football, the way they did to get to 8-0 to begin this season.