CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson running back Adam Choice needed a few extra days to put the seventh-ranked Tigers’ first loss behind him. Now, after a week off to correct mistakes and refocus, Choice believes his team is ready to return to its winning ways and continue its push for the College Football Playoffs.
The Tigers (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have not played since Syracuse beat them 27-24 on Oct. 13 , a loss that put a dent in their sense of invincibility.
“Losing’s never fun,” Choice said. “You can’t win them all. Well, you can but it’s rare. You just have to accept it and move forward.”
And that means a revived Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1), which has only lost to ranked opponents this year; a setback to Tennessee to start the season and No. 8 Miami two weeks ago.
The Tigers took a deep dive into the things that went wrong at Syracuse, co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. He took blame for not getting the Clemson offense into an early rhythm. Elliott said he did not do enough to get the Tigers’ run game started as Clemson finished with 113 yards on the ground, its second fewest in a game this season.
It also did not help when quarterback Kelly Bryant, coming off an ankle sprain against Wake Forest three weeks ago, left the Syracuse game with a concussion in the second quarter. Bryant spent much of the off week with the strength and training staff, completing concussion protocol and continuing to rehab his sore ankle.
Bryant is expected to practice this week and start against the Yellow Jackets.
“I’m feeling really good,” Bryant said Monday.
When Bryant went out, backup Zerrick Cooper could not rally the Tigers to victory. Cooper threw for just 88 yards on 10-of-14 passing. Third string freshman Hunter Johnson, a heralded prep quarterback who enrolled last January, did not play.
Elliott said Cooper’s experience puts him ahead of Johnson in knowing how to run the Tigers system.
“We’re not used to this situation, having time to sit and think about coming up short,” Elliott said. “Obviously, (we) want to get that taste out of our mouth.”
The Tigers proved a year ago that it’s possible to rebound from a defeat and win a national title. Then-third ranked Clemson fell at home to Pitt, 43-42, in mid-November, but won its next five games to walk away with the title. The Tigers, however, to help with No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Washington losing later that day, essentially keeping Clemson in playoff contention.
Two weeks ago, the Tigers dropped five spots in the rankings and were surpassed by several undefeated programs like No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Wisconsin all looking to make a playoff statement.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he can’t worry about potential scenarios, just about making the Tigers better. The typically positive coach put an upbeat slant on the defeat and the chance to improve for the long haul.
If “you never lose or never fail, then you kind of depend on yourself,” Swinney said. “But when you have adversity in your life, it makes you focus and depend on the things that matter.”
Safety Tanner Muse spent part of the weekend off watching Georgia Tech’s 38-24 win over Wake. He also tuned into Syracuse’s 27-19 loss at Miami, saying “you wish you would’ve gotten a win against them even though they played great.”
The Tigers hope to avoid feeling that way again.