This fall, Clemson and Dabo Swinney want to write a new narrative.
One that has nothing to do with the past. With “Clemsoning,” defined as the art of losing a game you have no business losing to an inferior opponent.
Nights like the one the Tigers endured in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday night, won’t completely quiet that talk. At the same time, however, they could go a long way toward ending it in the long run.
At times, the Tigers were a step slow, both offensively and defensively, showing the rust of a 12-day early-season layoff. But they showed grit, guts and heart, which was enough for a hard-fought 26-14 victory.
Clemson improved to 3-0, 1-0 in ACC play; N.C. State fell to 2-1, 0-1.
Here's Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the game, per orangeandwhite.com:
I’m glad to get that one over with. We can’t load the buses up soon enough, I’m telling you. I don’t think you know everything about your team until you go on the road, and especially when you go into a place like this where there’s a passionate fanbase and some adversity, and you’ve got to battle through it. I’m really proud of our guys and how they competed for four quarters.
The game swung midway through the third quarter. Clemson held a tenuous 13-7 lead when Wolfpack tailback Bryan Underwood broke free for an apparent 83-yard touchdown run, giving State a huge shot of momentum.
However, officials ruled that Underwood had stepped out of bounds at the Clemson 47. The play was blown dead and could not be reviewed, by rule, since it was outside of a zone starting at the 5-yard line where those plays can be examined.
So the ball moved back to the 47. Two plays later, defensive end Vic Beasley strip-sacked N.C. State quarterback Pete Thomas, with linebacker Spencer Shuey recovering.
Five plays later, Tajh Boyd connected with wideout Martavis Bryant for a dagger of a 30-yard touchdown to give Clemson a 20-7 lead.
Over the last 12 days, Clemson players and coaches insisted that they had learned from the program’s last trip to Raleigh in November 2011. On that day, the nation’s No. 7 team came in flat and uninspired and left on the wrong end of a 37-13 beatdown after committing four turnovers.
They were almost as flat Thursday night, and Swinney should’ve felt fortunate to take a 13-7 lead to the locker room, as Clemson’s offensive line struggled giving Boyd time to pass. After whiffing on a pair of sacks on the opening drive, starting right tackle Gifford Timothy was yanked and replaced with sophomore Shaq Anthony.
That didn’t work either, as senior left tackle Brandon Thomas moved to right tackle—just as he did in the Chick-fil-A Bowl—with sophomore Isaiah Battle sliding in at left tackle.
The Wolfpack held the Tigers to field goals on two of their first three drives and pushed them backward on two others, with Boyd’s touchdown toss to tight end Sam Cooper providing the slim halftime margin.
Said Boyd to reporters, also per orangeandwhite.com:
It just wasn’t smooth. I don’t know if it was anxiety, 12 days off, but it wasn’t as rhythmful as we wanted it to be. For us, for what we try to accomplish, we have to go out there and move the ball each half.
I don’t think I did such a good job of weathering the storm in the first half. I don’t know what it was, but for us, the rhythm wasn’t there.
Boyd finished the night with a solid stat line. He completed 24 of his 37 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, numbers which won’t hurt his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
He also threw two touchdown passes to junior wideout Martavis Bryant, who continues to rebound from a shaky season opener against Georgia. Clemson needs the 6’5” Bryant to play big with junior Charone Peake, the Tigers’ No. 2 receiver, sidelined for the season with a torn knee ligament.
But the real story was Clemson’s defense. Clemson only outgained N.C. State 415-378, but the Tigers defensive line consistently harassed Thomas, with Beasley and freshman Shaq Lawson standing out as revelations. Clemson forced two N.C. State turnovers while committing none, and it held the opponent to 3-of-16 on third down.
On this night, the Tigers got no style points, but it hardly matters. There have been numerous nights over the past decade where performances like this have produced ugly results.
“Good teams find different ways to win through the course of the season,” Swinney said. “I think you saw that tonight.”
Rolling out of Raleigh 3-0? That’ll do just fine.