CLEMSON — It was week 11 of last season when Pittsburgh marched into Death Valley on a dreary Saturday and shocked the world with a last-second field goal to defeat the eventual national champions.
Friday night, the Tigers suffered a similar fate as Syracuse defeated Clemson by a field goal — marking only the third time in their last 40 games the Tigers have walked into their team meetings following a loss.
"It sucked. It hurt. We don't lose many games around here, so it's good that it does suck,” wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “You don't want to go in there and everything be all right. You want guys to be hurting. I think it was good from that aspect. You have a lot of guys that wish they could have made this play or wish they could have made that play. So just a lot of learning."
Learning from a loss is what propelled the Tigers to their first national championship in 35 years last season.
But the big question facing Clemson following this year’s loss is: How will they respond?
"You never want to experience this, but really any great team or season or great moment there's always some adversity at some point during that process. For us, we want this to be the one time that it happens,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “That we learn from it and can look back and push ourselves forward like we did after Pitt. If we don't learn from those mistakes, then we've got some other good teams on our schedule.
“So that's the message that we as the coaches are trying to challenge these guys. The message is not that we lost a game, the message is going to be how do we respond? We know how last year's team responded. How is the 2017 team going to respond? That's a big part of what we're going to be focusing on these next two weeks."
The next time the Tigers take the field, they will begin the final five games of the regular season, opening with Georgia Tech Oct. 28 following an open date this week and ending with the annual rivalry game with South Carolina
With the margin for error to make a return trip to the playoffs now gone, the goal for the Tigers is to remember that, even after a loss, they still have a proven formula for winning a championship.
"We know who we are, so let's not think that we're not going to win these close games anymore because we lost to Syracuse in a close game,” Renfrow said. “Just remembering who we are and know that we have a proven way to win a national championship."
Can the Tigers’ parlay the loss into a third straight national title appearance? That is yet to be determined.
But for this team, the loss to Syracuse could have been just what the doctor ordered as the Tigers may have been fighting the complacency that can come with winning.
"I think the loss helped us, as weird as that sounds,” Renfrow said. “You start to look at the little things that you've done and the little things that you've gotten away from at the start of the season, because you've had success. You say, all right, I don't need to catch 30 balls after practice. I don't need to go catch punts. It allows you to internally evaluate yourself and be able to get back on the same track.”
With the fans and media already pointing out the obvious parallels from last season, according to tight end Milan Richard there is one big difference — this is a completely different team.
But even with a new team this season, the belief is the Tigers have what it takes to finish strong.
"This is a new team. Last year was different -- different guys are here, some of the same guys are back, but it's a different team, different makeup, different chemistry,” Richard said. “But I think we'll be prepared. We'll be fine; we've just got to finish strong.
"We don't lose often, so when we do, it's hard and it's tough. But when we do, it's a good reminder for us."