As Saturday night melded into Sunday morning in the depths of Bobby Dodd Stadium, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney reminded his deflated players of what they still had to play for, a consolation message after dreams of an undefeated season were smashed in a 31-17 loss at Georgia Tech.
If Swinney is searching for a cautionary tale about the trappings of emotional deflation, he does not have to look beyond Clemson's own history. The last Clemson team to open a season with eight straight wins, the 2000 team, also lost to Georgia Tech and followed the loss by dropping two of its final three games.
While the Tigers (8-1, 5-1 ACC) likely lost any chance of remaining in the national title game mix with the loss in Atlanta, falling from No. 5 to No. 11 in the new BCS standings released Sunday, they can clinch their second Atlantic Division title in three years with a win at home versus Wake Forest on Nov. 12 when Clemson returns from its bye. A win against Wake advances Clemson to the ACC title game, allowing the Tigers a shot at their first ACC title since 1991.
With two more wins, Clemson can reach 10 wins for the first time since 1990.
"I said, 'Let's not walk out of here thinking we are some bad football team,' " said Swinney of his postgame talk with his team. " 'Let's not walk around with our head down like somebody stole our dog.' "
Tajh Boyd, who lost as a starting quarterback for the first time since his junior year in high school, said all the right things after the loss.
"We've still got all of our objectives in sight," Boyd told reporters.
"We can still win the division, play in the ACC championship and win the ACC championship. We've got to come back and be as strong as we can be and continue to work hard."
This bye comes at an ideal time for Clemson, offering two weeks to mentally regroup and remember the pitfalls of 2000.
Reshaping and refocusing might be especially important with this team considering the youth on the roster as 42 of the 85 scholarship players are freshmen.
"The open date is coming at a good time," Swinney said.
"We have a lot of guys that need to get well mentally and physically. We have to stay on task. We have a football team that's disappointed.
"It's been a grind."
Sammy Watkins recorded his third 150-yard game of the season at Georgia Tech, which is not only a single-season record, but the career record at Clemson. Perry Tuttle and Aaron Kelly each had two 150-yard receiving days in their careers.
When left guard Brandon Thomas recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, he became the first Clemson offensive lineman to score a touchdown since 1966, when Harry Olszewski scored against South Carolina.
Clem--FG Catanzaro 34, 8:45. GaT--O.Smith 1 run (Ju.Moore kick), 2:59.
GaT--FG Ju.Moore 23, 12:01. GaT--O.Smith 3 run (Ju.Moore kick), 5:44. GaT--Washington 3 run (Ju.Moore kick), :37.
Clem--Watkins 48 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 13:34. GaT--Sims 11 run (Ju.Moore kick), 11:30.
Clem--B.Thomas recovered fumble in end zone (Catanzaro kick), 14:47.
Att.--55,646 (at GeorgiaTech).
Time of Possession
RUSHING--Clemson, Bellamy 8-67, Howard 7-22, Watkins 1-7, Boyd 8-(minus 1). Georgia Tech, Washington 27-176, Sims 15-68, Jones 4-52, Lyons 9-42, O.Smith 7-37, Peeples 2-16, S.Hill 1-(minus 2), Team 2-(minus 6).
PASSING--Clemson, Boyd 23-40-2-295, Watkins 1-1-0-9. Georgia Tech, Washington 4-9-1-60.
RECEIVING--Clemson, Watkins 10-159, Hopkins 6-66, Allen 4-32, Ja.Brown 2-26, Meeks 1-17, Howard 1-4. Georgia Tech, S.Hill 2-47, Melton 2-13.