Robert Griffin III, the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Baylor, called Clemson’s offense “archaic” on the ESPN broadcast — and Swinney didn’t argue.
“The criticism is warranted because of where we are right now,” Swinney said. “That’s what we display, so with the way we’ve performed, you’re going to get criticism and you’re going to get comments and things like that and you know what? Hey, that comes with the territory because the expectation and the standard at Clemson and who we are, we’re not meeting that. It’s just that simple.”
Swinney had hoped that a stout defense, which did not give up a touchdown until Saturday, could carry Clemson until the offense jelled. But the offensive futility left the defense gassed as North Carolina State (3-1) sluiced through it as the game progressed. Neither did it help that two of Clemson’s defensive stalwarts — linebacker James Skalski (shoulder) and defensive tackle Bryan Bresee (knee) had their shoulder pads off by the end of the game. (In overtime, Clemson freshman tailback Will Shipley was helped to the locker room with an apparent left knee injury.)
Actually, Clemson was fortunate just to get to overtime.
North Carolina State kicker Christopher Dunn missed two late field goals — from 51 and 39 yards, the latter on the final play of regulation — that would have won it.
When his last kick sailed wide left, the Clemson sideline erupted, certain that they would make the most of another chance. And when Uiagalelei found Ross clearing free in the end zone to put Clemson ahead by 21-14, Swinney slapped his quarterback on the helmet as he came to the sideline for a job well done.
“C’mon D,” someone yelled from the sideline. “One stop.”
It was something they could not manage. Turner committed defensive holding to give the Wolfpack the ball at the 3. And on 3rd-and-goal, quarterback Devin Leary found slot receiver Thayer Thomas wide open in the end zone after he ran through traffic.
Swinney and other coaches pleaded with the officials to throw a flag for offensive interference, saying it was an illegal pick play. But their cries were halfhearted — perhaps because even on the visitors sideline it did not go unnoticed that the play mimicked the one Clemson won a national title with when a pick freed Hunter Renfrow to catch the winning pass.
But that was nearly five years ago, and one of many signs for Clemson on Saturday night of how their circumstance has changed.