Call it ugly. Call it surprising. Call it an upset. Call it embarrassing. At the very least, the Clemson's 37-13 thrashing at the hands of NC State is certainly head scratching.
Not so much because of the opponent, but the timing of the loss.
This was the type of game you might have expected early in the year, perhaps while QB Tajh Boyd was still getting the complex Chad Morris playbook down. But to have your worst loss since the first game of the 2008 season during a year you were at one time a BCS title contender is mind boggling.
The Tigers came out of the gate flat, looking uninspired from the start. As has happened seemingly too often this year, a promising drive (the only one of the first half) turned into a mere field goal after driving into the Wolfpack red zone. From there, everything unraveled.
The offensive line couldn't block. Tajh Boyd was harassed more than a Herman Cain staffer, and had limited time to get the ball out of his hands. Couple that with Sammy Watkins sitting out to rest his shoulder, and you have a recipe for disaster.
And if Boyd wasn't getting sacked, he was fumbling the ball, or throwing a pick. And though he certainly cannot be blamed for the disappointment on the field, it's obvious he's going to need to learn to scramble from the pocket more. That will come with time.
The defense was virtually non-existent, which wasn't a total shock, considering how poor the defense has been all season. Missed tackles galore, poor angles on tackle attempts and limited pass-rush success allowed NC State QB Sean Glennon to look like he was lining himself up to grab Andrew Luck's top draft status. It was brutal.
It was so bad that blame can honestly be placed at the feet of nearly every player and coach. The team was outhustled, beaten down physically in the trenches and Dabo Swinney, Chad Morris and Kevin Steele were all outcoached.
This type of outcome would've been easier to swallow perhaps back in September. But since Clemson created their own buzz by knocking off three straight ranked opponents and racing out to a 8-0 start, Clemson has lost two of their last three games.
It would be easy to say that this game didn't mean much with the Tigers already earning their place in the ACC title game, but with one loss Clemson was still a few spots away from being back in the national title hunt. That dream is now over.
The concern now is that with one week to prepare for their bitter rivals South Carolina, how will Clemson respond? Is the emotional hangover from such a rough loss too much to overcome? And will this play into the mindset for the ACC title game in two weeks?
Coming into the season, many believed Dabo Swinney was on the hot seat. He has basically killed any possibility of losing his job with the great job he's done this year, but what happens now?
If he goes on to lose against the Gamecocks, then to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game and then loses a bowl, Clemson ends at 9-5. And in the big picture, coming into the year, perhaps that's where most Tiger fans saw this team ending.
But to get to that point with such an unexpected late-season spiral would be devastating.
Kevin Steele may not last past this season if the defense doesn't turn around.
Dabo may find himself facing questions again of unpreparedness like he did during the post-game press conference today.
And the players crusading on their "Shock the World" might just first have to shock their own fans into believing this team isn't a fraud, but a legit squad that has what it takes to overcome a big loss and beat their rivals.
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