Clemson had ended his nation-leading 40-game winning streak at home on Saturday, losing to rival South Carolina 31-30 in an error-filled performance that effectively put the Tigers out of contention for college football for a second straight season playoff eliminated.
The home win streak was an ACC record and the longest since Nebraska won 47 straight wins from 1991–97. Equally impressive is the way Clemson gambled away a 23-14 halftime lead.
According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, Clemson had led 60-0 at home under Dabo Swinney when he led by nine points or more at halftime.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has beaten back-to-back opponents, beating Tennessee last week and now Clemson for their first win in the rivalry game since 2013.
Swinney said South Carolina “deserved it with all its might”.
“Today just wasn’t our day. It was her day,” Swinney said. “This is football. You have to take the good with the bad. It’s an incredibly disappointing day, but we’ve won seven in a row. You can’t lose sight of that. We’ve lost two home games since Florida State in 2013. So it’s a bad day, but we’ll get back up on Monday and move on.”
The No. 8 Tigers came into the game with an outside chance to make the playoffs, but the truth is, this team hardly looked like a playoff contender all season. Once again, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei struggled, going 8 of 29 for 99 yards and a touchdown with an interception as South Carolina harassed him all game. The only thing Clemson was aiming for on offense was running back Will Shipley, who rushed for 132 yards and a score.
But with the game at stake late, South Carolina managed to pin Clemson deep multiple times and Uiagalelei didn’t get much going on offense.
Clemson still had a chance to get the ball back late, but Antonio Williams fumbled a punt with 2 minutes and 5 seconds left. South Carolina rebounded and held on to victory. Clemson rushed for 86 total yards in the second half.
The Tigers had three total turnovers and allowed South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler to make several big plays in the passing game. Rattler threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
“We had a lot more good days than bad days. We don’t expect it to always be like this,” Swinney said.
Unlike other games this season where Uiagalelei struggled, Swinney chose to stay with him and didn’t turn to Cade Klubnik.
Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said there was never any serious consideration about changing quarterbacks in the game.
Swinney noticed field position and other errors worked against Uiagalelei. The Tigers had three drops in the game, their second-highest in a game this year.
“A few bad decisions, a few misses. This is football,” Swinney said. “When you get into a rhythm it’s really good, and sometimes it’s hard to sled if it doesn’t click for you.”
When asked if there would be an open quarterback contest for the ACC championship game, Swinney said he wouldn’t go into it.
Swinney must now find a way to keep his team focused on what lies ahead: Saturday’s ACC title game against North Carolina. This is the first time since 2012 that both teams have gone into the league game with a loss, which takes some of the luster out of this encounter.
Clemson didn’t win the ACC last year, so the Tigers have an opportunity to win a title. Though he’s defended Uiagalelei at every turn, there will be valid questions he needs to answer about his future quarterback situation.
“We’re 10-2. We’re not 2-10. It’s a tough day and a painful day,” Swinney said. “We all know how important this game is, but it’s absolutely our responsibility to help them push through, pick them up and get some wind in their sails again. It’s always about what comes next. For many people, their season is over. But for us we have a league game this week and an opportunity to be at the top of the ACC and that has always been a goal for us.”