No. 3 Clemson rolling with winning formula of close calls
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson isn't dwelling on how the third-ranked Tigers pick up their wins, just as long as they continue to be successful in the end.
It has been a frenetic month of mid-game mistakes and lasts-minute rallies for the Tigers (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who pulled off their latest escape Saturday night in a 37-34 win at Florida State.
Clemson has needed dramatic comebacks in three of its four October games, including in signature wins over No. 5 Louisville and the 19th-ranked Seminoles . In Watson's view, the end justifies the sometimes sloppy means in the Tigers second straight 8-0 start.
''Players make plays, this is what we are built for,'' Watson said Monday. ''We practice this every Wednesday, being down and having the opportunity to win the game.''
Clemson hopes to start a more dominating run to the finish the regular season, starting with Saturday's home game against Syracuse (4-4, 2-2). The Tigers have beaten 3-0 against the Orange since Syracuse joined the ACC.
The Tigers have had their share of heart-stopping finishes so a comfortable victory would be welcomed.
Clemson trailed Louisville 36-28 in the fourth quarter before Watson rallied his team for a pair of touchdown drives in the final seven minutes of the 42-36 victory Oct. 1. Two weeks later, the Tigers sweated out a missed, 33-yard field goal by North Carolina State that would've won the game to prevail in overtime, 24-17.
This time, Clemson was down 28-20 in the third quarter and 34-29 with 3:23 remaining. But Watson and the Tigers responded with an efficient, smooth 75-yard TD drive ended by tight end Jordan Leggett's 34-yard catch and run where he leaped at the end and extended the ball across the goal line before falling out of bounds.
Clemson's defense then forced two incompletions and notched two sacks after the Seminoles had advanced inside the Tigers' 40 looking for a tying field goal.
''I'm ecstatic about the way we've been able to finish this season,'' Clemson defensive back Ryan Carter said. ''Of course, I wish it weren't always this close.''
Leggett ended with five catches for 122 yards, setting a single-game school record for receiving yards. He was named the ACC receiver of the week. Leggett's teammate, guard Tyrone Crowder, was the league's offense player of the year as he helped Clemson's offense gain 511 yards on Florida State.
Clemson's closing stretch features four opponents who'll all be heavy underdogs at pulling off the upset. Syracuse hung with the Tigers a year ago at the Carrier Dome before falling 37-27.
Orange coach Dino Babers said the Tigers are a different-level opponent for his team. ''There are a lot of guys that are going to be millionaires on both sides of the football, offensively and defensively, playing for them,'' he said.
After Syracuse comes Pitt, who Clemson faces Nov. 11 at home. The schools have not met since the Gator Bowl after the 1977 season. Clemson finishes ACC play at Wake Forest, which has not beaten the Tigers since 2008.
If Clemson is still undefeated then, it concludes the year with South Carolina, which has lost the past two rivalry games and won't be anyone's pick to spoil a second-straight perfect season.
''We know we've got a target on our backs and we're going to get a team's best game,'' Carter said. ''We see it on the field and we know it is coming.''
Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said last week that former Baylor coaching great and past American Football Coaches Association president Grant Teaff stopped by to visit the Tigers staff. Teaff told them he'd watched several games and that the team's apparent belief in ultimate success during dire circumstances is a characteristic championship teams typically develop.
''We haven't won a championship yet and we've got things to clean up,'' Scott said. ''Ultimately, our goal is to win games and I think our guys have bought into that.''
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