Monday, September 30, 2019

Schaible: Tigers move on after a close call in Chapel Hill

Photo Credit: Cory Fravel- 247Sports

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

“We don’t get defined by one game, whether it’s good or bad. We just move on.”

Those were the words of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after a 21-20 nail biting win at North Carolina on Saturday.

The players echoed similar sentiments assuring all of the assembled media that it doesn’t matter if they win by one point or even fifty points.

A win is a win. Even if it feels more like a loss?

The Tigers have qualified for the College Football Playoff in each of their last four seasons. In two of those years, they dropped regular season contests to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and the rare home defeat to the Nathan Peterman-led Pittsburgh Panthers.

However, there’s a reasonable chance that not a single team on Clemson’s schedule will finish the 2019 campaign ranked in the top 25. Therefore, a loss this season could result in a fatal blow to the team’s playoff streak. 

North Carolina gave everything it had on Saturday only to be stopped a couple of yards short of the pylon. A failed two-point conversion in the closing minute allowed Clemson to escape Chapel Hill with the one-point win.

“I told the players that we are not into moral victories,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “I told them in my 31 years of coaching, I’ve never been prouder of their effort because it’s a reflection of the way those guys fought tonight and I’m very proud of that.”

That same UNC squad lost to now 4-0 Appalachian State at home a week earlier.

The bye week is seemingly arriving at the perfect time for the defending champions. Despite recording blowout victories over Syracuse and Charlotte, it’s easy to state that Clemson has yet to truly showcase their A-game.

One of the more befuddling statistics of Clemson’s first five games has been the performance of sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

In the first three games of this season, Lawrence was picked off five times. He had only four interceptions during the entire 2018 championship run. 

While he has avoided turning the ball over the last two games, the multitude of inaccurate passes has been alarming. Sure, his numbers look fairly average compared to other quarterbacks. Lawrence by no means has been awful, just mediocre. Although, based on past performances, his play under center has been way off the mark.

“Obviously, we would like to win every game by four touchdowns, but it’s going to bring us closer and show us how to appreciate every win and, like we did tonight, just finding a way,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence and his teammates did, despite adversity, found a way. After struggling on third and long for much of the day, a perfect 38-yard strike to Tee Higgins put the Tigers up for good. 

On paper, the 5-0 Tigers should be able to coast to 10-0 before hosting Wake Forest on Nov. 16. Clemson will be heavy favorites in road contests against Louisville and NC State. But, as we saw Sunday, nothing is certain and there’s no such thing as a sure victory in another team’s stadium.

“It’s not easy to win,” said Swinney. “I know that we’re supposed to just destroy everybody like nobody has scholarships or coaches. We’re not perfect!”

And yet, anything short of a perfect record may not be good enough.