Dabo Swinney has a philosophy. He believes a little bit of pain along the way can be helpful to a program’s success. Depending on how they handle the pain, of course.
Few football programs have handled the pain of disappointment as well as Clemson under Swinney. During his second year at Clemson, the Tigers had just their fourth losing season since 1977. The program bounced back the next year by winning its first ACC Championship in 20 years and began its current streak of nine consecutive 10-win seasons.
At the end of the 2011 campaign, the Clemson program gave up the largest amount of points ever in a bowl game, allowing 70 points in a loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl Classic. The next season, the Tigers bounced back to win 11 games and beat No. 9 LSU with a last-second field goal in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
After losing to Alabama in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the Tigers went back to the title game the next year and this time they beat Alabama.
One of the more disappointing losses in the Swinney era came during Clemson’s trip to Syracuse in 2017. On a Friday night at the Dome, the Orange stunned Clemson, 27-24.
“I think, if anything, for that team, it challenged our backups,” Swinney said. “Our starting quarterback got hurt. We just weren’t quite ready to play at the level that we needed to play at. We weren’t sharp defensively. We just weren’t sharp. We just weren’t ready to go. We did not play or respect the opponent the way that we need to take care of in that game, and it cost us.”
It was one of the worst losses in the Swinney era. The Orange did not win another game the rest of the year and finished the season 4-8.
“(Syracuse) won the game. They flat out outplayed us and earned it.” Swinney said.
How did the Tigers respond to that stunning defeat? Clemson went on to win another ACC Championship—its third in a row at the time—and was the No. 1 seed in the CFP.
They have not lost a regular season game since that faithful night in the Dome.
Clemson, who will host Syracuse on Saturday at Death Valley, has won 34 straight regular season games, including 23 straight in the ACC. Overall, counting the last three ACC Championship Games, the Tigers have won 26 games in a row over conference opponents.
“If anything, it may have brought a little more focus to some details. A little more since of urgency we needed to have, especially with some of our backup players and we just went to work,” Swinney said. “We were a good team that got beat by a team that outplayed us on that day. A team that we were better than on paper. But I think, to me, it is a great reminder that the game is not played on paper.”
It is a reminder that Swinney is passing on to his current players this week as the to-ranked Tigers get set to host a 1-4 Syracuse team that is coming off a loss to Liberty and will be without its starting quarterback.
“We got embarrassed in 2017,” wide receiver Amari Rodgers told Kelly Gramlich on The Roar 105.5 FM in Clemson. “Coach Swinney has been reminding us of that. It’s in the back of our minds during this week.”
Rodgers was a freshman in the 2017 game when Clemson went in as a 27-point favorite. The Tigers are a 46-point favorite against the Orange, as of Tuesday, for Saturday’s game.
“(A win) is earned through performance and it is all about how you play that day. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Swinney said. “I think just a little pain along the way, and how you handle those things, make you better.”
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