CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) emerged from a downtrodden 15 days after their first loss of the season to rise again and stake their claim as a national championship contender after drubbing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 24-10 on a rain-soaked night in Death Valley.
It was clear Saturday night that Clemson was the dominant team, needing only two plays and 22 seconds to strike first — as quarterback Kelly Bryant found Deon Cain on an out route that Cain turned into a 38-yard touchdown. But it was at the 6:48 mark in the in the third quarter that the Tigers found their swagger, and possibly their way back to the playoffs.
Following a Will Spiers punt, the Yellow Jackets took over at their own 21-yard line and the unusual happened.
The defensive line, led by Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, began bobbing and weaving in an orchestrated dance known as “Swag Surfin’” while the Tigers’ inhouse DJ played “Swag Surfin” by Fast Life Youngstaz over the speakers.
The Tigers held the Yellow Jackets to minus-2 yards on the series while signaling to the college football world they had their swagger back.
“It was awesome. It’s the perfect situation. It’s wet and raining. It was the perfect song for that," Austin Bryant said. "We had a lot of fun just playing, being with your brothers on the field. We prepared all week for just this moment. We only get seven opportunities in Death Valley a year, so when you’re out there, you just got to enjoy it.
"I mean we just know each other. We all love to have fun and there's no greater joy for us than to be at Death Valley at night with the crowd rocking, playing music - -that's just us guys having fun and enjoying the game."
For a group of college kids that had spent the last 15 days hearing how bad they played in the road loss to Syracuse, the rain could not have been better — returning them to their youth and reminding them how much fun it is to play the game of football.
"It was awesome. It felt like we were 10 years old again outside playing backyard football,” Bryant said. “It was a physical game, wet, just messy, hard to hang onto the ball, so it was definitely one that I'll always remember."
For other members of the Tiger defense, the rain served as a battle cry.
Because, according to linebacker Dorian O’Daniel — who finished the night with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack -- if you don’t enjoy playing in the mud and the muck in the pouring down rain, maybe football is not for you.
“Before the game, as soon as we came out and saw it was pouring — you can’t really dodge the rain,” O’Daniel said. “Me and a couple of other guys were saying, 'If you have to have a pump-up talk or have to be forced to have fun in this kind of environment, this kind of weather, you don’t need to be out here and we don’t want you out here.'
“I think that everyone felt the same way, so that kind of chemistry and that energy carried throughout the game.”
For a team that definitely lacked any semblance of swagger 16 days ago at Syracuse, the last two weeks were a difficult time of soul searching as players looked to find what was missing.
Yet on a rainy October night it appeared that the adversity suffered in the loss to Syracuse may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Tigers.
"To sit around and think about it was torture,” Bryant said. “You know, I think the adversity made us better. We came out here and played one of our best games of the year and that's all you can ask for going forward.
"We feel like we put some bad stuff on tape against Syracuse and we know that wasn't who we really are. So this week we wanted to get back to what Clemson defense is all about and I think we did that tonight by being physical, playing fast and just doing our jobs."