Clemson didn’t play well against NC State on Saturday, but Dabo Swinney’s squad overcame adversity to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Most every college football team has to have a near-loss or two to an inferior opponent in its quest for a national championship.
Last year, Alabama’s title hopes were hanging by a thread against Tennessee until Derrick Henry scored on a 14-yard run with 2:24 left and the defense made a late stand to win a close game at home.
Ohio State had a scare in State College against Penn State two years ago, needing two overtimes to close out the Nittany Lions.
Even Florida State’s flawless 2013 campaign saw the Seminoles get behind Boston College 17-3 before rallying back for a win over the heavy-underdog Eagles.
On Saturday afternoon, it was time for Clemson to receive its lesson in College Football Survival 101.
With star running back Wayne Gallman out with a head injury, the Clemson offense had trouble running the football against NC State’s stingy defense, finishing with just 117 yards on 39 attempts. To make matters worse, the Tigers couldn’t get out of their own way, turning the ball over four times.
In the end, though, Dabo Swinney’s squad survived Dave Doeren’s team’s upset bid, as the Tigers won 24-17 in overtime when cornerback Marcus Edmond picked off Ryan Finley’s throw in the end zone on the Wolfpack’s first offensive play of OT.
Clemson escaped a tremendous effort by the ‘Pack. In the process, it also realized what Ohio State came to know last season: despite being littered with talent, it’s easier to hunt than be the hunted.
Deshaun Watson threw the first Pick-Six of his career, as turnovers again plagued the Tigers. Last year, despite going unscathed in the regular season, Clemson lost the turnover battle on six occasions. So the Tigers have played with fire before. On Saturday, it almost cost them against a Wolfpack team that entered with the No. 8 total defense in the country—one spot ahead of Clemson’s unit.
After NC State marched 55 yards down the field over 14 plays, draining roughly seven minutes off of the fourth-quarter clock, a 33-yard game-winning kick went slightly right to keep Clemson’s CFP hopes alive. It was the third missed field goal of the game for the Wolfpack.
Then, in the extra session, Jordan Leggett and Artavis Scott—who caught the game-winning score—made some clutch tough catches to help out the offense before Edmond’s interception.
A bullet dodged, showing once again that college football in the CFP era is about surviving and advancing.
The Tigers’ control of the ACC Atlantic division nearly disappeared, as NC State would have essentially controlled its own destiny. Now, fellow CFP chasers Louisville and Florida State remain on the outside looking in.
NC State was the last unranked team to beat Swinney and Co., and it happened in 2011. The Tigers made sure that their 45-game win streak over unranked opponents stayed alive.
Now, the Tigers have an off week to potentially get Gallman back and to clean up their mistakes before the much-anticipated showdown with ACC Atlantic foe FSU.
In front of its Homecoming crowd at Memorial Stadium, Clemson survived a major scare to keep its College Football Playoff chances intact. But, as we have seen so many times with past champions, such scares are inevitable on most every championship journey.