CLEMSON — The inevitable happened last Friday night — the Clemson Tigers lost a football game.
It was bound to happen, whether this season or next season or five years from now, the Tigers were going to lose a game. It’s the law of averages.
The way it occurred on Friday night was not how the Tigers wanted it to happen. Losing to a team that is simply better than you — fine. Losing to a team that you were favored by more than 24 points — not fine.
For those following the program, you could see this coming. While preparing for Syracuse, much of the talk during the weekly interviews was about getting to the bye week — not about their upcoming opponent.
This week, the Tigers are having to come to grips with whether they overlooked the Syracuse Orange.
"Yeah, at times you know you come out and you score immediately on the first drive and you think, 'Ah man, this might be a walk in the park.' But obviously, it didn't happen that way,” running back Tavien Feaster said. “Maybe (we did look ahead), I can't account for every guy. But obviously the little things backfired on us this week — we shouldn't have did that."
The Tigers were clearly not ready to play last Friday night as the Syracuse offense made the vaunted Clemson defense look pedestrian at best. And a Syracuse defense — that while improved still ranks near the bottom of the ACC — made the Tigers’ offense look lost for much of the night — accounting for only 17 of the team’s 24 points.
Wide receiver Diondre Overton admitted Tuesday that the Tigers overlooked Syracuse, thinking after beating the Orange 56-0 last season that this season would be just as easy.
"It's possible (overlooking Syracuse),” tight end Milan Richard said. “You kind of get to a point where you feel unbeatable, and then reality kind of hits and you're like, 'Woah, wait a minute, we've still got to put the work in and the time in each week.' You definitely want to go a season without losing one, but the fact that we did lose I think kind of gave us a little more perspective."
That job now is to take the loss and learn from it.
"(I learned to) prepare every week. Don't ever underestimate the opponent and you should bring your A-game every week,” Feaster said.
The mission of the Tigers heading into last week was simple: Spring through the finish, according to head coach Dabo Swinney.
Instead of sprinting through the finish, the Tigers stumbled out of the starting blocks. Now, with one loss in the books already, the goal is to respond the right way over the last five games — hopefully securing a spot in the ACC Championship and the College Football Playoff in the process.
“I think we understood that we needed to spring through the finish and that's kind of something that we talk about here is sprinting through the line and finishing strong,” Richard said. “So, that's something that we definitely wanted to do in that game, as far as playing fast and playing to our standard and then relax some this week. But it didn't happen that way. So now we're here, and we've got to respond.
"Faceless, nameless opponent — that's how we play and you all know that. We don't ever change. Best is the standard no matter who we're playing."