RALEIGH -- The attire told the story of Clemson's stunning and complete 37-13 defeat Saturday at N.C. State.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd's white jersey was stained green after taking a beating on the Carter- Finley Stadium turf, sacked five times and hit on numerous other occasions as the Clemson line, without starting left tackle Phillip Price, was sieve-like in pass protection.
Price wore street clothes on the sideline, as did star freshman receiver Sammy Watkins in the second half, unable to play because of sprained shoulder. Without Watkins available, Clemson (9-2, 6-2 ACC) had a glaring lack of speed, the same issue handicapping the offense last season. Clemson receivers were unable to separate from defensive backs or plant fear into a Wolfpack
defense, which zeroed in on Boyd with creative pressure packages.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Clemson is not a "one-man team" in reference to Watkins. But Coach Dabo Swinney said even before the season he liked his starters but was concerned with inexperience in the reserve ranks. Without Watkins and Price, Clemson appeared nothing like the team breaking numerous offensive records, instead suffering the program's worst loss from a margin standpoint since opening the 2008 season with a 24-point loss to Alabama.
"We looked like an immature team out there tonight," Swinney said. "I'm really embarrassed."
After so much success early in the season, Boyd said No. 7 Clemson had become "complacent."
Clemson struggled to perform with a loss of incentive, entering Raleigh having already clinched a division title. N.C. State (6-5, 3-4) was playing for -- and earned -- bowl eligibility.
Did Swinney sense his team looking ahead to South Carolina next Saturday (7:45 p.m., ESPN) or the ACC title game on Dec. 3?
"I thought we had a great practice all week," Swinney said. "We certainly didn't play the way we practiced. We had four turnovers and we put our defense in really, really poor position to start the game."
Three N.C. State scoring drives started inside the Clemson 14 yard-line in the second quarter, leading to 17 points. The Wolfpack led 27-3 at the break. One fumble was caused as Boyd was hit in his back after a protection breakdown on his left side.
Was Swinney surprised over Clemson's pass-protection breakdowns with guard Brandon Thomas moving to tackle to replace Price?
"Not really," Swinney said.
Clemson has committed 11 turnovers in its last three games, after committing eight in its first eight games. Morris said emphasis on ball security has not changed in practice.
"Over the last three weeks, just our inability to protect the football has been a glaring concern," Morris said. "It's unacceptable (especially) when you do such a great job the first eight games."
While the offense played like the 2010 version, the defense missed 2010 stalwarts like Da'Quan Bowers and Marcus Gilchrist.
"I don't think we handled (adversity) very well," Steele said. "We had opportunities to keep them out of the end zone, and our job is to keep them out of the end zone, and we didn't do it. It doesn't matter where they get (the ball)."
While the defense has been a work in progress all year, Morris expressed concern regarding his offense's confidence.
"We are not playing with near the confidence level we were playing with earlier in the year," Morris said. "I'm real confident we can get (confidence) back. We have to."
If not, a season of promise could be lost.