Last week, after Clemson University escaped Auburn University with an unimpressive victory, I asserted that, as long as the record remains perfect, there is no such thing as an ugly win.
I stand corrected.
Clemson’s 30-24 win Saturday against Troy would break some mirrors.
The Tigers apparently are still waking up from the dreamland of preseason hype. There is still crust in their eyes. Their hair is disheveled. They are limping to the sink to get rid of that morning breath.
But if they do not hurry, they are going to miss their ride— that four-passenger van headed to the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers allowed routine catches to slip through their fingers. They squandered short fields. They misfired punts. They misplayed kicks. They overthrew some passes. They missed some tackles.
That unsightly six-point margin extends the expiration date on Clemson’s voucher for a return trip to the Playoff, but those travel plans will be cancelled if Clemson does not wake out of its funk.
Normally, averaging 24.5 points and 406.5 points per game is satisfactory, even exceptional. Not for Clemson’s collection of talent.
Not for returning Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, who passed for 4,104 yards and rushed for 1,105 last season.
Not for a receiving corps that averaged 240.1 yards per game last year and replaced its only departure by welcoming back Mike Williams from injury.
Not for running back Wayne Gallman, who averaged 109.1 yards per game last season.
Not for a team that was projected to shatter records but has moved with the rhythm of a warped, scratched record.
“Once you get out of rhythm everyone starts to press,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “This performance is not to our standard. Playmakers just didn’t make plays when their numbers were called.”
The Tigers ran with the efficiency of a Hummer. They rushed 16 times through their first 13 drives. Gallman accounted for merely six of those carries.
Clemson allowed Troy to gain 53.4 percent of its offense on eight chunk plays, including a 66-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-one play in the second quarter.
Ray Ray McCloud turned a certain touchdown into a touchback, as he flicked the ball in celebration of a 75-yard punt return before he crossed the goal line.
Clemson converted two of its first 11 third down plays, while allowing Troy to convert one of its first 14. Yet, when Clemson pieced together three consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter, the defense surrendered its first consecutive touchdown drives of the season.
“It was one of those funky days when we didn’t complement each other,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “When the offense started moving the ball there in the fourth quarter, we couldn’t slam the door shut. You’ve got to slam the door.”
Venables contended that the defensive miscues are correctable, and he asserted that they will be corrected. He can adjust some alignment. He can switch some calls.
But the offense is a different story.
We can speculate that it is a lack of focus. We can assume it is a hangover from the preseason praise. We can question play-calling. We can criticize execution.
But there is no clear cause for the stagnation.
Maybe it is us. Maybe we have already assumed too much. Maybe the promising paper projections forced us to uphold Clemson to too lofty of a standard.
Maybe we erroneously expected dominance, so we are not prepared to accept anything less than excellence.
Maybe we are too impatient.
Maybe, but I know a few folks who will not wait for Clemson to return to form, folks who will have no compassion for Clemson’s struggles, who will not lower their own standards to accommodate.
Georgia Tech, Louisville and Florida State.
These foes will greet Clemson with competent offenses and unforgiving defenses. They will not reimburse turnovers so graciously. They will not pardon poor passes. They will not meander aimlessly through extra possessions.
They will turn an ugly win into a hideous, soul-wrenching loss.
So, show up with that same crusty eye and unkempt hair to those meetings, Clemson, and watch someone else ride off to the Playoff in your seat.
Copyright 2016 WCNC