June 21, 2024

The story began with a man on the beach, just hoping to enjoy his last few weeks before starting a new job. It was a story Dabo Swinney, quite presciently, predicted would either be “great or terrible.”

Indeed, there are great man-on-beach stories, like “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and there are terrible ones, like “Weekend at Bernie’s 2.”

Alas, Saturday was the latter for Clemson.

The Tigers, in need of help in the kicking game, brought in Jonathan Weitz on Monday to take over the starting job. Weitz had been Clemson’s backup for four years, but he’d assumed his college career was done when the 2022 season ended, left for a study abroad in Paris — “He spent the spring looking at the Eiffel Tower,” said Swinney, who we assume also believes everyone in St. Louis lives under the arch — then moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was taking online classes.

But Clemson needed a kicker, Swinney placed a call, and Weitz arrived Monday to join the team. Due to NCAA acclimation period rules, Saturday was his first day in pads.

The story began like Shakespeare, with Weitz drilling his first kick to give Clemson an early 3-0 lead, but it ended in tragedy, with Weitz missing a chip shot from 29 yards out with 1:45 to play.

(Note: We haven’t read a lot of Shakespeare. We’re assuming they all have happy endings.)

The miss left the game tied, and in overtime, Florida State prevailed thanks to the second touchdown of the day from receiver Keon Coleman. It will certainly not be lost on frustrated Clemson fans that it was one of FSU’s transfers that proved the difference. Swinney has notoriously shied away from the portal. The beach, of course, is another story.

“I wish I’d been perfect today,” Weitz said afterward. “But that’s my story right now.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone at Clemson envisioned the story of the Tigers’ 2023 campaign to look like this either.

After a shocking loss to Duke in the opener, Clemson is 0-2 in ACC play for the first time since 2010, Swinney’s second full season on the job. The Tigers have won at least 10 games every year since.

It was, for so long, a game that seemed destined to end with a win, with Swinney delivering another memorable-if-goofy quip (“B.Y.O.K., bring your own kicker”), with the coach lording it over the collected doubters that, once again, he was right and they were wrong.

And then the kick went wide left, FSU scored in the first frame of OT, Cade Klubnik checked into a poorly timed screen pass on third-and-1, and Clemson’s hopes for another ACC title were all but extinguished.

Jordan Travis, playing with a wounded left arm, gutted out 289 yards and three touchdowns on a day when the running game offered just 22 yards for the Seminoles. Two years ago, he’d nearly quit football. Saturday, he presided over Florida State’s biggest win since at least 2016.

Kalen DeLoach, a holdover recruit from the Willie Taggart era, delivered the fumble return that kept FSU alive. It was almost enough to make FSU fans forget the turnover backpack.

All 289 yards of passing offense for the Seminoles came via transfers. It was a treatise on how to win in this new age of college football.

For the Seminoles, Saturday’s game was a statement. Their time is now.

For Clemson, the ending was less definitive.

Florida State is now firmly in command atop the ACC. Clemson’s title hopes are all but done. And yet, afterward, Klubnik quite reasonably said he hoped the fans saw how good the Tigers played.

Perhaps that’s the takeaway here. Florida State had its own long walk through the wilderness, but a steady accumulation of talent has the Seminoles on the mountaintop.

Clemson may not be in its own wilderness, but it’s certainly stuck in I-85 traffic, at least.

There was a time, not that long ago, that Swinney could pluck a kicker off the beach, throw a jersey on him, and turn him loose, knowing at Clemson, there was a steady supply of magic in the air.

The story ended differently Saturday, as it has all too frequently of late.

The magic belongs in Tallahassee now.


Harbaugh’s return

Michigan‘s long wait for the return of its head coach came to an end Saturday. Yes, Jim Harbaugh had to pack up his model trains, put away the ham radio and sign out of Netflix with four seasons of “Big Bang Theory” left to watch and get back to the business of embarrassing Rutgers.

In his absence, Michigan won all three games — all vs. lesser competition, all in convincing if not entirely satisfying fashion.

So, what happened with Harbaugh back on the sideline? A win against lesser competition in convincing, if not entirely satisfying, fashion — this time 31-7.

Rutgers scored first on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Wimsatt to Christian Dremel, and Michigan’s offense largely puttered through the first half, leading just 14-7 at the break.

But like Harbaugh’s three-week relaxation retreat, the fun had to come to an end eventually, with the Wolverines’ D netting a pick-six and Blake Corum finishing the job. J.J. McCarthy averaged better than 10 yards a throw, Corum scored twice, the defense held Rutgers to 3-of-13 on third and fourth down. It was, like each of the Wolverines’ games so far, fine. And given that Michigan’s next five games are also against lesser competition, fine is likely more than enough to keep chugging along.

Oh, sorry for the chugging reference. We know Harbaugh misses his trains.


Paint the town Orange

Garrett Shrader threw for a touchdown and ran for one — his sixth straight multi-TD game — while the Syracuse defense frustrated Army‘s option en route to a 29-16 win.

Syracuse is now 4-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time in 63 years. Back then, Syracuse traveled to road games via the Erie Canal and Varsity Pizza had just been promoted from the freshman pizza team to JV.

Up next for the Orange is Clemson, a team they had on the ropes a year ago with a 7-0 start to the season in their sights. In that game, however, the Tigers marched back from a 21-7 deficit and won 27-21 after holding the Orange scoreless in the second half, and Syracuse dropped six of its final seven games.


Johnson emerges for A&M

Fun fact: Max Johnson is still playing college football.

Yes, he somehow feels older than his Super Bowl champion dad, Brad, but that’s only because time moves differently at Texas A&M thanks to Jimbo Fisher’s offense breaking the space-time continuum.

play

0:44

Max Johnson puts it on the money for a 37-yard Texas A&M TD

Max Johnson airs it out deep to Evan Stewart for a 37-yard Aggies touchdown.

Nevertheless, it’s good for the Aggies that Johnson is still around because they desperately needed someone who could sling it against Auburn on Saturday.

After two early field goal drives, A&M’s offense went three-and-out on three straight drives to end the half. Starting QB Conner Weigman went down with an injury, and Bobby Petrino was already getting his agent to send over his CV to apply for Fisher’s job.

Instead, Johnson came on and tossed touchdowns on consecutive drives to open the second half, and a 67-yard scoop-and-score put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter. The Aggies won 27-10.

On the flip side, Auburn’s passing game was a complete mess. Payton Thorne, Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner all took snaps and finished a combined 9-of-23 passing for just 56 yards, with Auburn’s lone TD coming via the defense. And that performance may have reminded Petrino that he still has an application on file with Auburn’s human resources department.

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