It’s safe to consider this a down year for Clemson.
Under Dabo Swinney, that’s a rare thing. What you can consider a down year for Clemson does not compare to a down year for almost every other team in the country, but two losses in the month of September absolutely qualifies.
The No. 9 Tigers lost 27-21 in double overtime on the road to NC State on Saturday, snapping an eight-game winning streak for Clemson in the series. With the loss, Clemson dropped to 2-2 on the year. It marks the first time Clemson has lost two regular season games since 2014.
It’s been an incredible reign of dominance for Clemson in the ACC. For this year, the Tigers look mortal and the conference looks wide open. And on top of that, Clemson's College Football Playoff hopes could already be dashed.
Clemson's offensive struggles continue
The story in the early going has been the general ineptitude of Clemson’s offense. Clemson scored only three points in a season-opening loss to Georgia. Last week against Georgia Tech — a team that lost to Northern Illinois — Clemson scored 14 points and had only 284 yards of offense.
That continued on Saturday, and may even have been worse. The Tigers had just 214 yards of offense against the Wolfpack. They went 80 yards in five plays to take a 7-0 lead on their second possession. On their seven other first-half possessions, the Tigers combined for zero points and 37 yards.
As it has this season, Clemson’s defense kept it in the game. The score was just 7-7 at halftime.
NC State would jump ahead 14-7 in the third quarter, only for Clemson to tie the score at 14-14 apiece early in the fourth thanks to another 80-yard drive.
Later on, NC State had a chance to win the game in walk-off fashion but a last-second 39-yard field goal try by Christopher Dunn sailed wide. It was the third missed field goal of the half for Dunn, but the other two came from beyond 50 yards.
Dunn’s third miss sent the game to overtime, and it looked like NC State was destined for heartbreak. Instead, the Wolfpack pulled it out.
Both teams scored in the first overtime, and NC State opened the second overtime frame with a Devin Leary touchdown pass to Devin Carter, his second TD catch of the game. With the new overtime rules in effect, NC State had to go for a two-point try. It failed, but that would not matter.
On the ensuing drive, Clemson’s offense sputtered and the folks in Raleigh stormed the field in excitement.
— NC State Football (@PackFootball) September 25, 2021
The ACC race is now wide open
Clemson has won the last six ACC titles and at one point had an absurd 36-game winning streak in conference play. That was snapped when Clemson lost at Notre Dame last year, but the Tigers turned around and won the rest of their regular season games and blew out the Irish in the rematch in the conference title game.
Clemson obviously still should be considered one of the ACC front-runners. After all, it's just one conference loss. But the Tigers have serious problems and are starting to see injuries piling up. The offensive line lacks talent and cohesion, quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has underwhelmed, and the talent at the skill positions has not lived up to the hype.
From an injury perspective, defensive tackle Tyler Davis is out for several weeks and three other significant players — DL Bryan Bresee, LB James Skalski and RB Will Shipley — all exited Saturday's game with injuries.
Will any of Clemson's ACC competitors take advantage?
In the ACC Atlantic, Boston College is 4-0 but lost starting QB Phil Jurkovec to a wrist injury. Wake Forest is also 4-0 after beating Virginia on Friday night. NC State dropped a non-conference game to Mississippi State, but has plenty of experience and talent — as it showed vs. Clemson.
In the Coastal, North Carolina looks strong after opening its season with a loss to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech hasn't looked as sharp since that season-opening win over the Tar Heels. Miami, a perceived Coastal contender, is off to a 2-2 start.
The conference title race is officially wide open.