Clemson unranked and seeking answers back to the top
By PETE IACOBELLI
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson is struggling to score points, is no longer a contender for the national title and has fallen out of the Top 25.
It marks an end to the Tigers' domination of opponents, being part of the national picture and in the rankings for almost seven years. Fans shouldn't expect the Tigers (3-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) to quickly bounce back in the rankings.
They head into a bye week after their bumpy start and still haven't figured out a way to pull away from league teams they used to defeat by four or five touchdowns.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wasn't concerned about his team's position when they were No. 1 in the country and isn't spending time fretting about being out of the rankings for the first time since November 2014.
"That doesn't have anything to do with us beating Syracuse at all," Swinney said this week of Clemson's matchup with the Orange on Oct. 15.
The Tigers do have an off week before their Atlantic Coast Conference game against Syracuse. Swinney said his team desperately needs the time to recover from a bevy of injuries - "We're a mashed unit," he said. Clemson has cost four starters for much of the season.
Reigning ACC defensive rookie of the year Bryan Bresee at defensive tackle and freshman tailback starter Will Shipley are out for the year with torn knee ligaments. Starting safety Lannden Zanders needed shoulder surgery and also won't play this year.
Defensive tackle Tyler Davis is early in his two-month recovery from a torn bicep.
Promising five-star freshman receiver Will Taylo r, also Clemson's primary punt returner this season, is out for the season after tearing his ACL against Boston College.
Clemson was also missing experienced offensive lineman Will Putnam with a toe injury while leading receiver Justyn Ross took a shot to the lead and is in the concussion protocol.
"Been a crazy year from that standpoint," said Swinney, who expects Ross back for Syracuse.
Healthy players alone may not fully correct Clemson's issues on offense.
The Tigers had averaged better than 44 points a game the previous three seasons, yet have only 57 points combined against their four Power Five opponents in 2021.
Clemson was favored by more than two touchdowns against Boston College this past week, holding on to win 19-13 on four drives that ended with field goals and not touchdowns.
Two weeks earlier at home, the Tigers outlasted Georgia Tech 14-8 - a team they had defeated 73-on the road a season ago.
Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who replaced NFL No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence this season, believes the team is closing in on the dominance of the past.
"We took a step in the right direction," he said this week.
Clemson had chances to pile on against Boston College, but came up short, Swinney said. There were missed connections between Uiagalelei and his receivers, especially after Ross, who has 23 catches for 231 yards, left the field right before halftime and did not return.
"We just missed some really good opportunities to put the game away," Swinney said. "Missed throws, critical drops."
Uiagalelei took his own steps at improving, coming out on the empty Death Valley field after midnight following the Boston College win to work on quarterback drills.
Clemson, heavily favored this summer to win its seventh straight ACC championship, may spend the rest of the season on the outside of any title chase.
The Tigers are already trailing in the ACC Atlantic race behind Wake Forest. North Carolina State holds any tiebreaker over Clemson after its 27-21 overtime against the Tigers.
Clemson's remaining schedule is also devoid of any attention-grabbing opponents - its last two nonconference opponents are UConn and South Carolina - that could catapult them back up the rankings.
Swinney will dial back some competitive work during off week practices because of his banged up team.
"Hopefully," Swinney said, "we'll be feeling better mentally and physically."
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Updated October 5, 2021