Clemson had its nation-leading 40-game home winning streak snapped on Saturday, losing to rival South Carolina 31-30 in a mistake-filled performance that effectively eliminates the Tigers from College Football Playoff contention for a second straight season.
The home winning streak was an ACC record, and it was the longest since Nebraska won 47 in a row from 1991 to 1997. Equally as stunning is the way Clemson blew a 23-14 halftime lead.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Clemson had been 60-0 at home under Dabo Swinney when leading by nine or more points at halftime.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has beaten back-to-back ranked opponents, defeating Tennessee last week and now Clemson, its first win in the rivalry game since 2013.
Swinney said South Carolina “flat out earned” the victory.
“Today just wasn’t our day. It was their day,” Swinney said. “That’s football. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. It’s an incredibly disappointing day, but we won seven in a row. You can’t lose sight of that. We lost two home games since Florida State in 2013. So it’s a bad day, but we’ll show back up Monday and keep moving forward.”
The No. 8 Tigers went into the game with an outside chance at making the playoff, 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 one touchdown with one interception as South Carolina harassed him all game long. The only thing Clemson had going for it on offense was running back Will Shipley, who ran for 132 yards and a score.
But with the game on the line late, South Carolina managed to pin Clemson deep multiple times and Uiagalelei failed to get much going on offense.
Clemson had one more chance to get the ball back late, but Antonio Williams fumbled a punt with 2 minutes, 5 seconds left. South Carolina recovered and held on for the win. Clemson managed 86 total yards in the second half.
The Tigers had three turnovers in all and allowed South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler to make multiple big plays in the passing game throughout. Rattler threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
“We’ve had a lot more good days than bad days. We’re not entitled for it to always go our way,” Swinney said.
Unlike other games this season in which Uiagalelei struggled, Swinney elected to stick with him and did not turn to backup Cade Klubnik.
Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said there was never a strong consideration to switch quarterbacks in the game.
Swinney noted field position and other mistakes worked against Uiagalelei. The Tigers did have three drops in the game, their second most in a game this year.
“Couple bad decisions, a couple missed throws. That’s football,” Swinney said. “When you get in a rhythm, it’s really good, and sometimes it’s tough sledding when it’s not clicking for you.”
When asked whether there would be an open quarterback competition headed into the ACC championship game, Swinney said he was not going to get into it.
Swinney must now find a way to get his team focused on what is ahead: the ACC title game against North Carolina on Saturday. This is the first time since 2012 that both teams enter the championship game off a loss, taking some luster off this matchup.
Clemson did not win the ACC last year, so the Tigers will have an opportunity to win a title. Though he has defended Uiagalelei at every turn, there will be legitimate questions he must answer about his quarterback situation moving forward.
“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, get some wind back in their sails. It’s always about what’s next. A lot of people, their season is over with, but for us, we’ve got a championship game this week and an opportunity to be on top of the ACC, and that’s always been a goal for us.”