Perhaps the most glorious phrase uttered across college football this weekend came from Gus Johnson in Saturday’s Big Noon Kickoff matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Johnson was discussing famous Irish head coaches in light of the opportunity for Brian Kelly to achieve his place as the all-time wins leader in program history. First came Lou Houltz. Then Frank Leahy and finally the legendary Knute Rockne, the standard of Irish football. Johnson commended the figure’s success, and then, as he prepared to jump back into action, quoted Rockne with the words:
“One loss is good for the soul, too many losses is not good for the coach.”
The Irish won the ball game by a score of 41-13 thanks to a commanding 30-point fourth quarter performance, but what stuck later in the day was that very phrase. It’s seemingly so obvious, and yet, it’s very important to the success of the team. Losing one game will not strip a squad of its character or aspirations or even strive to win a national championship for that matter. Rather, it can serve as a learning experience and fuel to the fire for the future.
Clemson’s loss to Georgia a few weeks back did not need to qualify as a nail in the coffin for this team by any means. Eleven games stood ahead of a program that owned one of the top freshman running backs and defenses in college football, but now, after falling to 2-2 in a double-OT defeat to NC State, that’s gone. All gone.
The Tigers fate of reaching the ACC Conference Championship Game rests in the balance of another team for the first time since 2014 — the inception of the College Football Playoff era.
Heck, it would be only human to want to focus on both the kid and the longtime leader, but of course, those two privileges evaporated along with Clemson’s dwindling playoff hopes.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong on Saturday. This team lacks an identity like we’ve never seen in years under the Swinney era.
There were certainly a few names from Saturday’s duel that deserve some recognition, but truth be told it’s a terrible weekend for Clemson football nonethless.
Clemson Offense: WR Justyn Ross
If Clemson fans were hoping for this season to be a Justyn Ross comeback tour, then there is after all some good news about Saturday’s results. The Tigers’ top receiver and weapon reeled off a string of eight receptions for 77 yards and two touchdowns, including his team’s last points of the game in the first overtime. His performance comes as a major improvement upon the results of week 1-3, in which he recorded 14 receptions combines for 139 and one TD.
Remember: this is the same guy who had spinal surgery and missed an entire season of play. Perhaps he’s not going to be perfect 24/7, but today’s stats show some impressive framework for October of 2021.
Honorable Mention: RB Will Shipley
Clemson Defense: LB Baylon Spector
The overall score in itself at first glance doesn’t hold firm compared to the defensive results of weeks 1-3. 27 obviously qualifies as a greater number that of 10, 7 and 8 combined, but that total includes two drives in which NC State set up shop at the Clemson 25 in overtime.
The Tigers minimally budged in regulation — despite allowing a season high total— thanks to an all around effort against arguably the best opponent offense of the season thus far. Among the top dogs were Baylon Spector, Andrew Mukuba, R.J. Mickens and LaVonta Bentley.
Spector earns the highest recognition this week in light of his game-leading 19 tackle performance. That magic number qualified as the unequivocal highest of the senior linebacker’s tenure with the Tigers. He recorded 65 tackles last year as well along with 4.5 sacks.
Honorable Mention: S Andrew Mukuba
Clemson Special Teams: P Will Spiers
The day somebody does something on special teams other than Will Spiers will be the day I can finally show a sign of true elation regarding Clemson football this year.
Seriously though, I’m running out of photos for this guy. My concern at this point has little to do with Clemson special teams in itself but rather how I’ll find a way to endure another week of this. Just anybody, anybody, please make ONE interesting play. I promise you’ll get your face featured on this article in return.
Eight punts for 342 yards, zero field goals, and no kick or put returns worthy of making the highlight reel. Clemson has truly — even if its not as big as a concern on the offense — lost any consciousness at fielding an adequate position group willing to come up with a few unexpected game-changing pays.
Honorable Mention: None
North Carolina State Player of the Week: QB Devin Leary
It took a whopping four weeks for a quarterback to show up on the board, and that quarterback still isn’t D.J. Uiagalelei. Rather, it’s NC State signal caller Devin Leary.
Despite the arduous task of facing the near immovable Clemson defense, Leary served as the man of the day with 32 completions on 44 throws for 238 yards and four touchdowns. He hit receivers Emeka Emezie, Devin Carter, and Thayer Thomas for scores across the Wolfpack’s victory.
Honorable Mention: Emeka Emezie
Today’s overall lesson: things can always get worse.
The Tigers dropped a crucial matchup in lieu of a hard-fought loss against Georgia just a few weeks back. Had they won today, Clemson’s pathway would have still permitted a likely chance at capturing the ACC title. That dream isn’t over (yet), but the Tigers need some help, and they need it from the unlikeliest of conference foes.
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