Clemson is in dire need of a reset...and getting key players back in the fold

Scott Keepfer
Greenville (S.C.) News

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – It’s time for a reset.

If Clemson’s double-overtime defeat at the hands of Notre Dame revealed anything, it reminded us that the Tigers aren’t as perfect as we thought they were.

Perception exceeds reality sometimes, and perhaps this is one of those instances.

Several notable streaks that the Tigers built over the past few years came to an end against the Irish, including a 50-game winning streak in Saturday games, a 36-game winning streak in regular-season games, a 28-game winning streak against ACC opponents and a school-record 14-game road winning streak.

Clemson still has won 27 consecutive home games, but most other streaks have fallen by the wayside now, and that’s OK. In fact, that may be a good thing.

Maybe it was high time to restart some of those streaks at one, which is what Clemson will have an opportunity to do two weeks hence at Florida State.

Now that the veil of dominance has been pulled back, exposing a team that’s more mortal than we’ve grown accustomed, other teams are going to come gunning for you with a renewed sense of confidence.

Notre Dame showed them not only that it can be done, but perhaps more importantly, how it can be done.

That recipe includes capitalizing on an offensive line that has four new starters and isn’t playing like a formidable unit.

If opponents are stacking the box against you, that’s an indication that they perceive your running game as a potential weakness, and that’s not good. Ultimate success generally eludes teams that are unable to run the ball effectively.

The bottom line for Clemson is that any rushing attack that includes Travis Etienne should never be held to 34 yards. That qualifies as a “must fix.”

“The biggest thing for us is just finishing blocks and being in position with hands and feet,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We have an opportunity (with the bye week) to evaluate ourselves and look at our scheme. We’ve got to put them in better positions so we can take advantage of our opponent’s aggressiveness. That’s what we’ll do this off week.”

Again, time for a reset.

Clemson is going to have to reset health-wise, and the upcoming bye week should help in that regard.

While D.J. Uiagalalei’s performances during the past two games have exceeded anyone’s rightful expectations and certainly bode well for the future of the program, the Tigers need Trevor Lawrence back in the fold.

Perhaps more importantly the Tigers need three key defensive players — Tyler Davis, James Skalski, and Mike Jones Jr. — to return to the lineup as well. Their absence was painfully evident Saturday night.

If Notre Dame’s players can emerge COVID-19-free after thousands of students swarmed them on the field Saturday night, more power to them. It’s just not something I’d be willing to roll the dice on at this point in a season.

The Fighting Irish have upcoming road games at Boston College and North Carolina, which loom as far greater challenges than any remaining on Clemson’s schedule.

If Clemson and Notre Dame should meet in Charlotte for a rematch in the ACC Championship Game next month, I’d be surprised if the outcome were the same as Saturday night.

According to something known as the “Playoff Predictor,” Clemson’s odds of making the College Football Playoff fell from 70 percent to 45 percent with the loss at Notre Dame.

I’d contend that the opposite is true.

If the Tigers can push such a highly regarded team to two overtimes at their place — without Lawrence, three defensive stalwarts and several others sidelined by injury in the game’s late stages — imagine what the team might be capable of with that quartet back in the fold and driven by the recent memory of what unfolded below the outstretched arms of Touchdown Jesus.

“We’re 7-1 and we’ve had a great season to this point,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We can’t be 11-0, but that’s the only thing we can’t be.

“You’ve got to just tip your cap to Notre Dame and congratulate them. If we handle our business, maybe we’ll get a chance to meet again.”

Stay tuned, because the thinking here is this season could still be a long way from being over.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney signals to his players in the second quarter Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) talks to Tigers quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) in the first quarter Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish took down No. 1 Clemson, 47-40 in two overtimes.