Clemson came into Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday looking to put its offensive woes to bed, but Week 4’s result only further prolonged the issue at hand.
The Tigers lost for a second time in September for the first time since 2014. It was also Clemson’s first loss to an unranked opponent in 36 games.
The result became more than apparent when Clemson’s offense failed to get any sort of rhythm going offensively. After D.J. Uiagalelei’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Justyn Ross gave Clemson an early lead, the Tigers weren’t able to do much of anything. Clemson had 7 three-and-outs and a Uiagalelei interception to show for it.
The offense gave a labored defense no time to breathe. And while NC State’s offense didn’t operate at will, it was enough to win.
Clemson ran 49 total plays. NC State ran 96 plays. The Wolfpack had the ball for 41 minutes and 18 seconds. The Tigers? 18:12.
The game should’ve never been as close as it was. Three missed field goals and further missed opportunities kept giving Clemson chances it probably didn’t deserve.
The magic would run out in Clemson’s second offensive possession of overtime.
What went wrong?
Everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Clemson Tigers in Saturday’s 27-21 loss to N.C. State and it starts with the offense.
Offensive struggles? Check. Injures? Check. A worn-out defense? Check.
Tony Elliott’s unit, which has been heavily criticized for its lack of progress, failed to take a step forward. In fact, the offense took a step back after converting a 5-play, 80-yard drive in just 1:33. From there, Clemson was riddled with offensive miscues that resulted in three-and-out after and three-and-out.
It was a nightmarish day for Clemson offensively and that bled into what the Tigers were able to do on defense. Coming into the game, Clemson had yet to allow an offensive touchdown through three games. That obviously changed Saturday. That wasn’t unexpected, but what wasn’t necessarily expected was the offense playing so poorly that it expedited a defense dealing with injuries and a whole lot of fatigue.
By the time the Tigers had to be on the field for back-to-back possession in overtime, the defense had nothing left to give. While they were able to prevent the Wolfpack from converting a mandatory two-point conversion, the damage was already done.
Speaking of damage, Clemson did more than just lose to the Wolfpack. They likely lost three key cogs in James Skalski (shoulder), Bryan Bresee (knee) and Will Shipley (knee), who all didn’t return to Saturday’s loss.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
The game should have been over when Clemson failed to take advantage of NC State missing a 51-yard field goal. The Tigers had the ball at their own 34-yard line with 6:17 to play. What happened next was the culmination of an entire game of offensive frustration across one single drive. Ross got nothing on a screen pass. Shipley gained two yards on a run. Uiagalelei hardly had any touch on a crucial third-down conversion. Punt.
However, the Tigers lived to see another day, whether they deserved to or not, after Christopher Dunn, Jr. missed a would-be game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.
Saturday’s true game-changing moment was when Devin Carter scored the game-winning touchdown for the Wolfpack, cradling an improbable touchdown reception in the back corner of the endzone. Devin Leary’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Carter was enough cushion to send NC State home winners.