Clemson’s season came to an end with a 24-6 loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Monday. Here are five things we learned from the game:
Clemson believes it wasn’t ready to play
The Tigers were outplayed in all three phases and suffered a double digit loss for the first time since 2014. Alabama physically dominated the game from the opening kickoff when Tigers running back Travis Etienne was blasted after a short return. Clemson receiver Ray-Ray McCloud believes Clemson’s struggles started with preparation.
“A lot of people feel like watching film, we see Bama lost, and we just feel like, ‘Oh we can beat them too,’ and we don’t come with the same mindset as last year when we were the underdogs,” McCloud said. “This year we were underdogs as well but we were No. 1, and we’ve been here. We felt like we knew we could win instead of preparing a little harder, I feel like.”
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Clemson’s offensive line was no match for Alabama’s front
The Tigers’ offensive line was whipped all night as Clemson allowed nine tackles for loss and five sacks. Clemson averaged 1.9 yards per carry, and in addition to the five sacks, Kelly Bryant was hit on several other plays. The Tigers were forced to be one dimensional, passing the ball 36 times, while running backs combined for only 13 carries.
“We knew we were going to be tested. That’s the strength of their team is their defensive front. We knew they were going to come out with their hair on fire, and it was going to be a lot like last year. We were going to have to weather the storm,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We tried to establish some tempo, and we weren’t able to do that. And then once those guys get locked in, put their hands down, screw their cleats in the dirt and come after your quarterback and you’ve got to throw it, that gives them the advantage.”
Kelly Bryant shouldn’t be judged on his numbers
Clemson’s junior quarterback struggled, but the rest of the offense deserves plenty of blame as well. Receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow had balls go off their hands, the Tigers had no running game, and on one of Bryant’s two interceptions he was hit as he threw. Bryant still had a strong season overall in leading Clemson to the ACC championship and back to the College Football Playoff.
“The first thing I tell him is how proud I am of him. To come into this season where not a lot of people even thought he was going to be our starting quarterback, and then be able to lead us to 12 wins, lead us to an ACC championship, his play is one of the reasons that we were here tonight,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “One night’s not going to define a player or define a season or anything like that … We just didn’t execute, and when you play a good team like this and don’t execute, then it shows up the way it did tonight.”
Clemson’s senior class will be remembered well
The Tigers won 50 games over the past four years, which is an ACC record. Clemson’s seniors helped take the program to new heights, led by Dorian O’Daniel and Ryan Carter. Both of those players started on last year’s national title team, as did offensive lineman Tyrone Crowder.
“Regardless of whatever happened now in this moment they’ve done so much for this program and the culture and the build up that we had to get to this point, they’re a big reason for it,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “The seniors winning 50 games in their careers, being one of the winningest Clemson senior groups in the history of the school, there’s not too much that you can really say or be mad at them about.”
The Tigers will be back soon
Clemson should be back in the College Football Playoff sooner rather than later. The Tigers have a young team and just signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Clemson has several underclassmen making decisions in regard to the NFL draft and could receive a boost if players opt to return.
“My expectation is to be right back here next year, right back in the middle of it, right back in the thick of it,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “We have got a heck of a team coming back. We’re going to have a much more experienced team next year than we had this year. And they will be eager to get back to work.”