Clemson Syracuse Football

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney paces on the sideline during the first half at Syracuse on Oct. 13. The Orange upset Clemson 27-24.

AP

CLEMSON — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is full of aphorisms.

“Bring your own guts,” “best is the standard,” “a nameless, faceless opponent” and “a windshield mentality” are just a few.

But one of the ones that has emerged over the last few seasons is, “The only team that can beat Clemson is Clemson.” So the question must be asked: Did Clemson beat itself Friday night or were the Tigers beaten by Syracuse?

While the coaching staff and players are quick to give credit to the Syracuse Orange for the victory, they also believe they did not play up to their standard.

"First of all, you've got to give Syracuse credit. They played a great game on all three sides of the ball: Offense, defense and special teams,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “So you've got to give them credit and their coaches did an outstanding job and had some good wrinkles for us. So I give them credit No.1.

“No. 2, when I go back and watch the video, I definitely feel like we don't have to do anything extraordinary. If we just execute some basic things, we probably win the game. I think that's the mindset that we like to have. If we execute the things that we can control, then we should win the game and we didn't do that Friday night."

The sentiment was shared by tight end Milan Richard, who said that Friday’s loss was a combination of both Syracuse executing and the Tigers’ inability to do the same.

“We have huge respect for anybody we play, but if we play to our standard, we feel like nobody can beat us,” Richard said. “So did we play our best game? No, but Syracuse played a heck of a game and deserved to win and we earned the loss by not playing well.”

‘Just what the doctor ordered’

All Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney wanted to do Saturday was watch film and begin the process of correcting all that went wrong for his Tigers in Friday’s loss, but before he could get to work on his team’s problems, he had to make a trip — to Alabama.

The Crimson Tide were recognizing the 1992 national championship team before Alabama faced Arkansas. Swinney, a walk-on wide receiver, was scheduled to attend. So he begrudgingly got a few hours of sleep before hopping on a plane for the short flight to Alabama.

The trip turned out to be exactly what the Tigers’ head coach needed — perspective.

“Well, that was awesome. I wasn't real fired up about going,” Swinney said. “We got in about 5 and got a few hours’ sleep and caught a plane to Tuscaloosa. I thought it was great to be with my teammates and especially to be with Coach (Gene) Stallings. It was awesome, really just what the doctor ordered, get perspective.”

While Swinney enjoyed spending time with his former teammates, it was seeing his former coach that made the trip worthwhile.

“But to have that time with Coach, because obviously he's not doing great, he's had a couple strokes and a heart attack a couple weeks ago,” Swinney said. “For him to still make the effort to be there, it was important that those who could got there.”

Even though not in the best of health, Stallings was still upset with Swinney’s Tigers on Saturday following their loss to Syracuse the night before.

“He was fussing at me,” Swinney said. “He was mad about our loss. He was up thinking about it at 3 a.m., eating grapes.”

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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