RALEIGH, N.C. -- There are few narratives in the college football universe more popular than Clemsoning.
Its in the Urban Dictionary, by the way. And it does have a real meaning: The act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.
When N.C. States Shadrach Thornton scampered for a 21-yard touchdown with 11:03 to go in the second quarter, screams of Clemsoning echoed throughout the Twitterverse in emphatic all-caps.
Gleeful fans of every conference - including other ACC teams - were trying to predict a Clemsoning before it happened. Or, as they saw it, while it was happening.
The Wolfpack were the home team and had all the momentum. No. 3 Clemson looked tentative on offense. N.C. State has upset top-ten teams before at home. This had all the ingredients.
Except it didnt happen.
I think that a lot of people were looking for us to come in and have a letdown game or Clemsoning type of game, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said, putting air quotes around Clemsoning for emphasis, then avoiding what looked like an impulse to roll his eyes at the very notion of it.
Im confident in the type of team we have. Im confident in the type of players we have. The coaching staff does a great job, Boyd said. It wasnt perfect by any means and it wasnt pretty by any means, but youve got to love going on the road and getting a win.
Boyd is right. Clemsons 26-14 win wasnt pretty. But it didnt need to be. Clemson took awhile to get going offensively, but the defense held up for much of the first half until it did, excepting that Thornton touchdown.
And that Thornton touchdown was the moment panic could have set in, because the Clemson offense just couldnt seem to get into a rhythm.
Clemson had the ball two more times after the N.C. State touchdown and went three-and-out both times. N.C. State, though, did the same.
With 5:10 to go in the second quarter, Clemson was facing a third and nine. Boyd found one of the ACCs best receivers in Sammy Watkins for a 28-yard completion to the N.C. State 27-yard line. Facing a 3rd and 12 to plays later, he found Watkins again for 11 yard to the N.C. State 18.
Fourth and a yard, down 7-6, close to halftime. Decision time. But it wasnt a hard one for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
Listen, were on the road and thats just confidence in my offensive line, Swinney said. I just really didnt hesitate. I felt like that my defense was playing really (well). We were down in there in pretty good field position. I just thought it was an opportunity for us to get one right there, and we were able to get it done.
Boyd had a seven-yard run on the 4th and 1, with the N.C. State crowd going crazy, sensing a huge play in the game. Turns out, they were right. But not the way they wanted.
The next play, Boyd found Sam Cooper for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give Clemson a 13-7 lead, which it kept going into half.
If its a run play thats stuffed at the line or Clemson ends up losing on the road by a few points, Swinney wouldve been the one blamed for the loss. And he knew that. But he didnt care. His players sensed that, and they fed off of his confidence in them.
Everything might not be perfect, but I think the coach trusts us enough in situations. I think there were a couple other times where it was close and (Swinney) was like, Lets just go get it done, Boyd said. When its a designed quarterback run, Im going to do everything in my power to make sure I go get it.
Coach and quarterback are a perfect match in that way. They believe in themselves, and each other. Boyd was visibly frustrated early in the game as he overthrew receivers and took two first-half sacks.
There was no panic on the Clemson sideline, though. To the contrary. Swinney said he urged his staff and his players to stick with the plan. He told offensive coordinator Chad Morris: keep going to Tajh.
(Boyd) might be down a series here or there, but sooner or later hes going to get going and I thought he was tremendous tonight, Swinney said of his senior quarterback. He ran the ball well too, had some really good tough runs for us but two huge, huge throws.
Its not like Clemsons offense - or just Boyd - turned back into itself after that play, though. Instead, Boyd became a surgeon, completing 9-of-11 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. It wasnt explosive, it wasnt flashy - but it was just what Clemson needed.
They won with defense, too. Which is crazy to think about after the 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia in 2011.
Probably the best defensive performance that Ive seen here in awhile, in a long time since Ive been here, Boyd said.
And yes, as the old saying goes, you have to be lucky and good. Clemson was both, as there were a few breaks that went against the Wolfpack, like N.C. State senior wide receiver Bryan Underwood stepping out of bounds midway through the first quarter on his way to a touchdown.
It was a very close call, but one that wasnt reviewable because the play was blown dead. And two plays later, Tiger defensive end Vic Beasley hit quarterback Pete Thomas for a 6-yard loss and forced a fumble, which Clemson recovered at the N.C. State 48.
Clemson was facing second and 22 before Boyd found Martavis Bryant for 20 yards, and then ran for a first down on 3rd and 2 himself. Two plays later, Clemson had a touchdown and a 20-7 lead with 5:25 to go in the third. It felt like an irreversible momentum shift, and it was.
The turnover was a spark for us, Swinney said. (Clemson had no turnovers.) We talk a lot about our plan to win, winning that turnover margin, having a couple more big plays than the opponent, making a difference in special teams, not having critical errors and tonight, the turnover was huge. I thought it was the key spark that kind of lit it for us in the second half.
And yet, the Clemsoning narrative persisted. It will likely continue to, unless the Tigers go undefeated this season or their only loss is to an excellent Florida State team.
In case the concept wasnt abundantly clear already to the national audience, ESPNs crew made sure they mentioned it. They even made a graphic to explain to the ignorant what exactly Clemsoning meant. And this was late in the game.
Sure, Clemson got a few breaks in this game. And yes, it seemed at times like the loud Carter-Finley crowd and the pressure of what a loss like this might mean was getting to the Tigers. But they didnt want to apologize for the win, or how it looked. They just wanted to go home 3-0.
Youre going to have your makes and breaks of the game. I think though for this offense, we always find a way to go out and make a play when its needed, Boyd said.
Thats just credit to the guys and credit to the mentality that they have. When we really need it, well go get it done. We would like to execute on a better basis, but stuff happens like that. I think were hitting a little stretch right here, so well get into the groove of things.