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Clemson using Tide loss as motivation heading into fall camp

The Associated Press

SUNSET, S.C. — Clemson’s loss in the College Football Playoff to Alabama in January is never far from players’ minds as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“It definitely helps,” kicker Greg Huegel said of the setback. “It’s something in the back of your mind to help you push through.”

If that’s the case, the Tigers have received plenty of motivation from the Crimson Tide the past few seasons.

After coming close in a 47-42 loss to Alabama in the national-title game following the 2015 season, the Tigers bounced back the next year with a thrilling 35-31 win in a CFP championship rematch.

Part 3 of the playoff drama featured Alabama defenders accounting for a pair of third-quarter TDs to help the Tide pull away for a 24-6 victory.

It may be Clemson’s time to rally from a playoff loss.

“They’ll be reminded of the shortcomings,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said about Clemson players. “We don’t want to focus on the disappointments, but we also have make sure that we own them, that we’re honest about them.”

Most of Clemson’s problems last year came on offense, where new QB Kelly Bryant showed poise and toughness on the ground, but inconsistency through the air. The Tigers finished with 3,297 yards passing, their fewest in a season since 2010.

Bryant was battered by ’Bama, held to 124 yards passing and forced into two costly interceptions.

It’s an experience the rising senior has worked to overcome, quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter said. He challenged Bryant to grow as a leader and not to let him take a backseat to more experienced players. They’ve also worked on quicker reads and identifying coverages.

Kelly will be pushed by freshman Trevor Lawrence, an early enrollee who surpassed Georgia prep records for total yards and touchdowns of Clemson national-title hero Deshaun Watson. The challenges make Bryant dig in harder to come out on top.

“When Kelly’s back is against the wall, he always seems to get better,” Streeter said.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney does not want to dwell on their latest season-ending loss.

“We learn from it. It’s disappointing at the time,” Swinney said. “But a lot of those guys aren’t here anymore. It’s a new team with new challenges.”

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