Clemson loses 24-17 to NC State, on pace for worst season since 2010

Things are getting uglier for Dabo Swinney and Clemson.

After losing in overtime at Miami last weekend, the Tigers followed that up with another road loss — this time at NC State, 24-17.

The loss, which dropped Clemson to 4-4, marked the first time Dabo Swinney’s program has suffered back-to-back regular season losses since 2011. It’s also the first time his program has had four regular season losses since 2010. That was Swinney’s second season as Clemson’s full-time head coach.

Clemson started the 2022 season with an 8-0 record. Since then, Clemson is 7-7.

And Saturday’s loss was comparable to many of the others. The Tigers outgained the Wolfpack 364 yards to 202, but there were just too many mistakes and missed opportunities. The two interceptions thrown by quarterback Cade Klubnik led directly to 14 of NC State’s 24 points. Clemson also had a missed field goal, multiple punts near midfield and an ugly missed tackle that turned what should have been a short completion into a long NC State touchdown.

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) passes the ball during his team's loss to North Carolina State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) passes the ball during his team's loss to North Carolina State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

NC State took a 7-0 lead four plays after Klubnik’s first interception of the game and later tacked on a field goal to go up 10-0. Later in the first half, Clemson got on the board with a Phil Mafah touchdown run but Jonathan Weitz’s 43-yard game-tying field goal try before halftime missed.

NC State’s offense barely moved the ball for much of the first half. To open the second half, NC State had a combined 18 yards on its first two drives. But then Klubnik gave the Wolfpack seven more points. A pass attempt from deep in his own territory was tipped at the line and plucked out of the air by Payton Wilson, NC State’s star linebacker.

Wilson returned that interception 15 yards for a touchdown to extend NC State’s lead to 17-7.

Things quickly got worse for Clemson. On their next drive, Swinney decided to punt on fourth-and-6 from the NC State 46. The punt resulted in a touchback. Three plays later, Wolfpack quarterback found Kevin Concepcion — NC State’s main offensive weapon — on a quick throw on third-and-short.

What should have been about a seven-yard gain turned into a 72-yard touchdown when Concepcion slipped through an arm-tackle attempt from Toriano Pride Jr.

That play, which gave NC State a 24-7 lead, accounted for 35.6% of the Wolfpack’s offensive output for the day. And it proved to be the winning score.

Clemson tried to mount a comeback. Another Mafah touchdown run and a 19-yard field goal had Clemson within 24-17 with 6:57 to play. The Tigers would get the ball back at their own 8-yard line with 4:23 to play, but they couldn’t even get past midfield. NC State got the stop it needed and ran out the rest of the clock to seal the win.

Could Clemson miss a bowl game?

Clemson made six consecutive College Football Playoff appearances between 2015 and 2020 with two national championships along the way. But in 2021 and 2022, Clemson did not play up to that standard. Things have gotten even worse this year.

Now 4-4, Clemson is in danger of missing a bowl game. Before Saturday's loss, the Tigers were doomed by turnovers in a Week 1 loss at Duke and then blew leads in losses to Florida State and Miami.

Three straight home games are ahead, but two of the opponents are No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 17 North Carolina. The other home game is against Georgia Tech before the regular season concludes on the road against rival South Carolina on Nov. 25.

Clemson hasn’t missed out on a bowl since 2004, last finished with a losing record in 2010 and could be on the precipice of the worst season of Swinney's tenure. How the mighty have fallen.

Swinney has long been resistant to change. He almost never uses the transfer portal and his program's struggling offense hasn't shown much improvement despite the outside hire of offensive coordinator Garrett Riley from TCU.

Even if the Tigers can turn things around in these final four games, Swinney is going to have to do some searching if he wants to elevate his program back into the upper echelon of college football.