There is no other way to say it. Clemson was outclassed in New Orleans on Friday night, and it had nothing to do with playing in the Superdome.
The Tigers were outplayed and outcoached, something that just doesn’t happen. The last time we saw that was way back in the 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia. Some might say last seasons national title game, but LSU was just that much better than the Tigers.
However, all is not lost. If there has ever been a head coach that has shown an ability to use a setback as a learning experience, it is Dabo Swinney. He is the master motivator and with a team that has so much youth, expect those guys to come back with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.
Another thing to consider is the fact that sometimes it just isn’t your night and it was pretty clear early on that the Tigers did not bring the best version of themselves to the Superdome.
Having said that, it seems many have already forgotten just how many obstacles this team overcame just to get back to the playoff this season, not to mention winning a sixth straight ACC Championship. It all started way back in the spring when Justyn Ross was lost for the season and the hits never stopped coming.
Shortly after that, the entire team was sent home and they were not brought back until around the start of the fall semester. Just in time to get in a fall camp. There were no team organized offseason workouts. Strength coaches had to put individual plans together for each player specific to what they had to work out with.
Some players had little to nothing to work out with and had to make the most out of what they had. When you are having to replace four starters along the offensive line, not having any kind of organized team workouts all summer long hurts when it comes to their ability to gel as a unit.
Once camp did finally get started, several players missed large portions of it due to safety protocols. Receivers Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata both missed most of camp. It isn’t a stretch to assume neither were in playing shape once the season started.
These are two guys, along with Ross, were supposed to be major contributors in the passing game this season and that just never materialized. As well as Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers played this season, the Tigers never had that one guy on the outside who was capable of taking the top off of the defense.
It’s also easy to forget that the two starting defensive ends never started a game this season. Yes, Xavier Thomas was able to get back and play in seven games, but not nearly to the level that was expected, and he has been out since the regular season finale. With him and Justin Foster both fully healthy, this defensive front looks entirely different, especially when it comes to defending the run.
Then there were the injuries. One after another and to key players. Tyler Davis, James Skalski, Mike Jones Jr, all guys who missed multiple games on the defensive side of the ball. For years Clemson has avoided the injury bug and it caught up with them this season.
And those are just the things that we know about. There is no telling how many more obstacles were placed in front of this team that never made it to the public eye. Personally, I am just glad we had a season to watch. We were so close to not having one at all.