Back Clemson: Clutch and Still Coming

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Clemson: Clutch and Still Coming

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Since 2011, Dabo Swinney's Tigers are an unfathomable 23-4 in one-possession games.

Saturday night in College Station was what college football is all about: two big-name programs, the favorite fresh off three straight playoff appearances, over 100,000 fans in a storied venue and, with iconic head coaches on the sidelines and countless athletes on the field, a dramatic fight to the finish. A narrow, perhaps fortunate, 28-26 Clemson victory at Texas A&M has resulted in some relative early questioning of Dabo Swinney's Tigers. Truth is, wins like those are part of the process for championship teams. Success, even for the best, comes in many forms.

One of the downsides of consistency is the idea of perceptive depreciation; do something well for a long period of time and some start to expect it, nitpick it, even, when outside expectations aren't fully reached. This past weekend included, Clemson is now 45-4 since late November of 2014, with three of those losses by a total of nine points and two of them in the College Football Playoff. The recent matchup with the Aggies may prove to be the Tigers' toughest challenge on the 2018 regular season schedule.

Week two wasn't a step-back from the program's recent run, rather a high-profile continuation of it; Clemson went into one of the most-intimidating stadiums in the country in primetime, played one of four head coaches in the game with a national title ring, took a talented opponent's best shot, rotated quarterbacks, was largely outexecuted, outgained and outproduced -- and won. How many programs nationally could make such a claim? It was a brutally-tough FBS opener; the Tigers didn't necessarily play well, yet still rank second in the national polls.

For many, the lasting theme from the matchup will be the clip of Texas A&M wide receiver Quartney Davis fumbling out of the endzone on, with an ensuing two-point conversion, a potentially game-tying score. The turnover resulted in a Clemson touchback, instead. Less than a minute-and-a-half later, the Aggies were back in the endzone nonetheless, when Kellen Mond found Kendrick Rogers on a magical 24-yard touchdown strike. It was a remarkable comeback from Fisher's Texas A&M and a wild scene at Kyle Field.

With the game then on the line, the Tigers did what great teams do: they came through when it mattered most. The Clemson defense, with overtime merely a few feet away, responded with an overwhelming pass rush, forcing a holding penalty and a hurried throw that was ultimately intercepted by K'Von Wallace. It was just one play, but, in that defining moment, the Tigers were better. Sometimes the margin between winning and losing, especially at the highest level, is that thin.

The late College Football Hall of Fame head coach Darrell Royal once said that you've got to be in a position for luck to happen, that luck doesn't go around looking for a stumblebum.

In leaving College Station with a victory, Clemson, as Swinney said postgame, simply found a way. Sure, a simple box score review will show that Texas A&M turned the football over twice, the aforementioned endzone fumble included, and missed two field goals in a two-point loss. The Tigers, correspondingly, did not turn the ball over and scored four touchdowns in not settling for three-point attempts. Which team doesn't make the big mistake is often more important than which team does make the big play.  

Under Swinney, Clemson has developed a culture of clutch. More so, it's a conviction. In crunch time, the Tigers continue to show a remarkable confidence and poise. That moxie, perhaps more than anything else, is the new Clemson brand. 

In 2015, the Tigers' first march to the final four, they won consecutive games against Louisville and Notre Dame by a total of five points, picking off the Cardinals on the edge of field goal range and stopping a two-point conversion try against the Fighting Irish. In Clemson's title season, a short fourth down conversion attempt ended a Lamar Jackson upset bid, a missed NC State field goal resulted in an overtime win and a two-minute score was the difference at Florida State. Even in the championship bout, Deshaun Watson responded to a late Alabama touchdown with a now-legendary game-winner with :01 left.

Since 2011, Swinney's Tigers are an unfathomable 23-4 in one-possession games.

The Texas A&M showdown was far from a perfect performance for Clemson -- and that's kind of the point. There are obvious rooms for improvement for a team is quite clearly already one of college football's absolutely elite. Expect the Tigers to only get better from here. Who knows what the future holds, but Clemson has a firm grasp of how to win, regardless of the type of victory it may be.

Credit the Aggies, but don't discredit the Tigers. In the spotlight once again, Clemson won once again. That, for the Tigers, is a trend.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports