RALEIGH, N.C. — During the preseason, Clemson had two scrimmages where the defense was penalized just once.
Head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables bragged about the Tigers’ ability to stay disciplined and the mature focus of the unit. That carried over into the first three games of the season, as the Tigers’ defense was flagged very little.
However, that was not the case in Saturday’s 27-21 double overtime loss to NC State. Clemson (2-2, 1-1 ACC) was penalized 13 times for 94 yards, and nine of those were called on the defense for 75 yards. And they were all costly.
“I will say in a game like this, and in these circumstances, they are disappointing,” Venables said after the game. “It is important that you don’t do something that is going to hurt yourself. We have to play smarter and not do things to hurt yourself. Just playing smarter and be more disciplined. That is critical.”
Four of those penalties resulted in automatic first downs … two were personal foul penalties and two were for defensive holding, including a critical holding penalty by Nolan Turner in the first overtime that led to an eventual touchdown. The Tigers were also flagged five times for invading the neutral zone.
“It was a tough night to learn a lesson,” Venables said.
The offside penalties aided NC State, giving the Wolfpack (3-1, 1-0 ACC) manageable third downs. They finished the night 11 of 21 on third down. Twice Clemson jumped offside during the Pack’s first score, which set up third-and-medium and third-and-short plays.
“We jumped offside multiple times. We put them in a lot of manageable third down situations. We have to do a better job from a discipline standpoint,” Venables said.
One of the biggest conversions came in the fourth quarter, with NC State driving for a potential game-winning field goal. On third-and-three from the Clemson 30-yard line, with 40 seconds to play, linebacker Baylon Spector was called for crossing the neutral zone.
“They do something that is very unique,” Venables said. “They are not only barking you offside, but even if you do not touch them, they are reaching out to you in the neutral zone. So, it is designed in a way that the rules allow it. If you jump in the neutral zone, but you don’t touch anybody, and even though you get back, they reach out and touch you. So now, you ‘have drawn them offside.’ You lured them into a false start. So, whatever.”
Regardless, Spector says he has to be smarter in those situations.
“That was on me. It is just a bonehead mistake. I own up to it,” Spector said. “Thankfully, we got another chance, but it was definitely a bonehead mistake by me.”
The most costly penalty came in the first overtime. With Clemson on top, 21-14, following a 9-yard D.J. Uiagalelei touchdown pass to Justyn Ross, State faced a third-and-goal from the Clemson 7. Quarterback Devin Leary’s pass in the end zone to Emeka Emezie was too tall. But Turner was flagged for holding, giving the Pack life at the Clemson three. A few plays later, Leary found Thayer Thomas for a 2-yard touchdown pass to force the second overtime.
“I just know that we have to be better in those situations,” Spector said. “I just know that obviously, we gave up a lot of third down conversions. A lot of those were due to disciplinary plays by us. We just have to continue to get better and continue to fix those mistakes.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!