Of all the outcomes Clemson’s game against Syracuse could’ve ended in, this is just about the worst one the Tigers could’ve asked for.
Not only did they lose, but they did it in decidedly un-Clemson fashion. You wouldn’t have been alone in thinking that were Clemson to lose, it would’ve been in a defensive slugfest that tilted on the results of just one or two plays — not a loss to an offense that tore the stout Clemson defense to shreds and stymied what was shaping up to be an explosive offense of its own.
And that’s even before you get to the implications of Kelly Bryant’s injury. With the way he looked even before suffering what probably is a concussion late in the first half. Whether or not he should’ve even been in the game is a question worth asking, and I think the answer is no.
The dust has cleared, though, and Clemson is 6-1. The Tigers will process what happened, figure out how to adjust — whether Bryant’s a part of those immediate plans remains to be seen until we know the full diagnosis of his health — and they head into the bye week.
And the bye coincidentally lining up with the week after the first loss of the year is almost poetic, in a way. It marks the second part of the season, and it marks where Clemson is going to have to decide how this season’s going to go.
Dreams of an undefeated season are gone. The longest winning streak in the FBS, gone. What’s left is a group that’s going to have to decide if they’re going to roll over and hang their heads after a loss that snuck up on them, or if they’re going to play with a sense of determination and urgency that will propel them down the home stretch.
They can take a look at last year and see that, yes, making the playoff is still an entirely plausible scenario even after a gut-wrenching loss. The only difference between the loss to Pitt and this one to Syracuse is that the Orange are a divisional opponent, which could have more implications down the road.
Win out, and Clemson’s probably still going to make the ACC Championship barring Syracuse going undefeated the rest of the way — the Orange still have to play Miami, Florida State and Louisville all on the road, so there’s no telling how likely that is — but the Tigers can’t afford another game like this one.
Dabo Swinney knows how to get the most of his players, and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t have them ready to play every game the rest of the way. We’ll see if that’s the case on the other side of the bye when Clemson hosts Georgia Tech.
It has to be the case. Clemson’s season depends on it.
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