SYRACUSE, N.Y. — With 6:10 to play in the game and the Clemson offense facing a fourth-and-6 from the Syracuse 41-yard line, head coach Dabo Swinney sent out his punt team.
The mission, seemingly, was to pin the Orange offense deep in its own territory in the hopes of getting another chance to either tie or win the game.
What happened on the play proved to be a microcosm of a night that nothing went right for the Tigers.
It was supposed to be a “safe play,” Swinney said. It was a play in which there were two very clear options: either roll out to the right and “Rambo” (rugby punt) the ball or, if he was uncovered, punter Will Spiers, a former quarterback, would throw the ball to safety Tanner Muse.
Somewhere in the confusion of trailing to a team that the Tigers were favored by more than 24 points to beat and looking for a spark, Spiers decided to throw the ball into triple coverage to Muse.
After Spiers drew the ire of Swinney for making the decision to throw the ball, the Tigers’ head coach took the blame for the call.
“Well, it was my decision. Everything out there is my decision. It was a very safe play,” Swinney said. “It’s a rugby punt. You only throw the ball if it’s wide open. He felt like he could drop it in there. It’s really just a punt-the-ball situation.
“It’s a safe play where you rugby the ball if they cover it, which they did, but we just didn’t execute. And that’s 100 percent on the coach.”
While Spiers, who entered the game averaging 43.8 yards per punt, appreciated Swinney taking the blame for the call, he understands that he has to know the time and place for taking a chance.
“I’ve got to do a better job of making the decision,” Spiers said. “I thought (Muse) had a step on the guy. But I should have just punted the ball anyway. I’ve got to move on from it. Next game.”
The Tigers did not get another chance on offense following the botched fake punt, as Syracuse ran out the remaining 6:10, securing the win.
With the Tigers out of field goal range and facing a fourth-and-6, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott admitted there was a discussion about whether to simply line up and run another offensive play.
As it turned out, the Tigers did run another offensive play — just not the one they had envisioned.
“There was a little bit of talk about (going for the first down), but with six minutes left, we wanted to try something else. We didn’t get it done,” Scott said.
The Tigers didn’t “get it done” on that play nor the other 56.
With the refrain from the coach es being that they did a “poor job” of having the team prepared for Syracuse, and with them bearing the blame for the Tigers’ loss, Swinney did the same when it came to Spiers.
“That’s a freshman (Spiers),” Swinney said. “I put him in that situation. It’s on me. Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job of coaching that (play).”
4 Tigers on All-America teams
Dorian O’Daniel, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence and Mitch Hyatt have all been named to midseason All-America teams.
Bryant and O’Daniel were both named to the first Associated Press Midseason All-America team announced Tuesday.
Lawrence, Hyatt and Bryant were all named to the Sporting News midseason team.