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Clemson Does It Again

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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After rallying to 21 consecutive points and ultimately winning a 29th consecutive game, the Tigers will next play LSU in an attempt to defend their title.

Entering the College Football Playoff, there was one consensus criticism around Clemson; the Tigers, though dominant, haven't played a tough schedule. Many wondered how they would respond if or when they were challenged? Consider that question answered. Down 16-0 early to Ohio State, Clemson, not surprisingly, responded with the conviction of a champion. After rallying to 21 consecutive points and ultimately winning a 29th consecutive game, the Tigers will next play LSU in an attempt to defend their title.

One of the most impressive and least discussed aspects of Clemson's historic winning streak is the fact that victories have come a number of different ways. This is a team that has the ability to adapt to circumstances. Obviously, the Tigers have been dominant. During this past regular season, only North Carolina even played Clemson within 14 points. The year prior, just Boston College played the Tigers within 21 the last ten games of the year, College Football Playoff routs over Notre Dame and Alabama included.

That said, Clemson, on its current run, has also stood tall in the face of adversity. A late two-point conversion stop prevented the Tar Heels' upset bid. A season ago, reserve quarterback Chase Brice came through with a key fourth down completion when Trevor Lawrence was injured. The Tigers have won throwing the football, running the football, playing elite defense and, see the Fiesta Bowl, overcoming a significant early deficit.

Clemson, above all else, wins.    

While many were quick to point to the Tigers' lack of schedule strength during Ohio State's fast start Saturday night, Clemson simply went to work, remaining true to and trusting of proven playmakers and a well-established gameplan. That consistency has remained a program fixture. The Tigers, trailing in the first half, scored critical touchdowns on highlight-reel runs by Travis Etienne and Lawrence, who made multiple defenders miss on a 67-yard sprint. Mere moments after many were writing Clemson off, the Tigers entered halftime with all of the momentum. 

As expected, two heavyweight contenders exchanged big plays and blows over the final two periods. Again, Clemson's resolve was tested after a Justin Fields to Chris Olave touchdown pass on 4th down gave Ohio State the lead once more. Just when it seemed the Buckeyes, into Tiger territory late, were going to run the clock down with a two-point advantage, promptly and fittingly, the Tigers responded. Clemson stopped a screen on 3rd-and-short, then held the line as Ohio State tried, using some trickery, tried to draw the Tigers offsides.

Once the stage was set, with Lawrence and company getting a late opportunity down just a handful of points, you knew the defending national champions, led by a quarterback who has never lost, would come through; that, the Tigers did. Lawrence and the Clemson offense was clinical on a game-winning final possession, moving down the field with relative ease. It took the Tigers merely four plays to drive the length of the field and reach the endzone, with Lawrence finding Etienne on a short pass turned big play. Lawrence converted the ensuing two-point conversion to Tee Higgins for good measure. 

Brent Venables' Clemson defense, ranked number one in the country, put the proper exclamation point on yet another statement performance. With Ohio State on the move, the Tigers, coming through when it matters most, made one more signature play; an interception by safety Nolan Turner, of all places, in the endzone.

Critics have clamored for Clemson to play a powerhouse program all season. The Tigers did just that, with the result, against a dominant, talented and undefeated Ohio State side ranked higher in the polls, being more of the same. Another game, another Clemson victory. The Tigers will next play in a national championship game for the third time in four years.

For those questioning Clemson's competition, the Tigers, on their 29-game win streak, have defeated Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State and SEC foes Texas A&M and South Carolina twice, in addition to going undefeated in ACC play. Clemson now has LSU, in New Orleans, for a chance at back-to-back championships.

Dabo Swinney's Tigers continue to chase perfection and, somehow, pull ahead. Clemson is college football's new standard, with expectations and outcomes, regardless of setting or foe, that continue to stay the same.

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