Clemson saw their 40-game winning streak at home lead the nation on Saturday, losing to rival South Carolina 31-30 in an error-filled performance that effectively eliminated the Tigers from the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive season.
The home winning streak was an ACC record, and the longest since Nebraska won 47 in a row from 1991-97. Equally astonishing is how Clemson lost a 23-14 lead to half-time.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Clemson was 60-0 at home under Dabo Swinney while leading by nine or more points at halftime.
South Carolina, meanwhile, has beaten back-to-back ranked opponents — beating Tennessee last week and now Clemson — its first win in rivalry play since 2013.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said South Carolina “deserved” the win.
“Today just wasn’t our day. It was their day,” Swinney said. “It’s football. You have to take the good with the bad. It’s been an incredibly disappointing day, but we’ve won seven games in a row. You can’t lose sight of that. We’ve lost two home games since then. Florida State in 2013. So it’s a bad day, but we’ll come back Monday and keep going.”
The No. 8 Tigers entered the game with an outside chance to qualify for the playoffs, but the truth is, this team hardly looked like a playoff contender all season long. Once again, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei struggled, going 8 of 29 for 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception as South Carolina harassed him throughout the game. The only thing Clemson had on offense was running back Will Shipley, who rushed for 132 yards and a score.
But with the game late, South Carolina managed to pin Clemson on several occasions and Uiagalelei failed to do much on offense.
Clemson had another chance to get the ball back late, but Antonio Williams fumbled a punt with 2:05 left. South Carolina recovered and held on for the win. Clemson passed for 86 total yards in the second half.
The Tigers had three turnovers in all and allowed South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler to make several big plays in the passing game throughout. Rattler threw for 360 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We’ve had a lot more good days than bad days. We don’t have the right to have it always go our way,” Swinney said.
Unlike other games this season where Uiagalelei struggled, Swinney opted to stick with him and did not turn to replacement Cade Klubnik.
Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said there was never a strong consideration for swit.ch quarterbacks in the game.
Swinney noted that court position and other errors worked against Uiagalelei. The Tigers had three drops in the game, their second most in a game this year.
“A few bad calls, a few missed shots. That’s football,” Swinney said. “When you get into a rhythm it’s really good, and sometimes it’s hard to luge when it doesn’t click for you.”
When asked if there would be an open quarterback competition before the ACC Championship Game, Swinney said he wasn’t going to get into it.
Swinney must now find a way to focus his team on what lies ahead: the ACC Championship game against North Carolina on Saturday. It’s the first time since 2012 that both sides have come into the league game after a loss, which takes away some of the shine from this game.
Clemson didn’t win the ACC last year, so the Tigers will have a shot at a title. Although he has defended Uiagalelei every time, there will be legitimate questions for him to answer about his quarterback situation going forward.
“We’re 10-2. We’re not 2-10. It’s a tough, painful day,” Swinney said. “We all know how important this game is, but it’s absolutely our responsibility to help them through, to pick them up, to put some wind back in their sails. It’s always about what’s next. A lot of people, their season is over, but for us, we have a championship game this week and an opportunity to be on top of the ACC, and that has always been a goal for us.”