Clemson has smooth sail­ing ahead

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Pete Ia­co­belli

No. 3 Clemson used a dra­matic win at home over Notre Dame last year to kick start its run to the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence ti­tle and the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

No. 3 Clemson used a dra­matic win at home over Notre Dame last year to kick start its run to the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence ti­tle and the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. The Tigers’ 42-36 vic­tory over No. 7 Louisville on Satur­day night looks like a sim­i­lar boost — and the Tigers ap­pear to have few hur­dles on the way back to the top.

“My mind is on the na­tional cham­pi­onship,” Clemson quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son said.

Wat­son proved that against the Car­di­nals (4-1, 2-1 ACC), who over­came a 28-10 deficit to lead 36-28 in the fi­nal pe­riod. That’s when Wat­son, a Heis­man Tro­phy fa­vorite en­ter­ing the sea­son, took over by lead­ing the Tigers (5-0, 2-0) to two touch­downs and throw­ing the last of his five TDs to wide open tight end Jor­dan Leggett with 3:14 to go for the win­ning points.

Clemson’s de­fense with­stood a fi­nal push by Louisville, whose drive ended a yard short of a first down with 33 sec­onds to go. Tigers coach Dabo Swin­ney called it “Clemson tough.”

“We’re built for games like this,” he said.

Th­ese Tigers may be built for even more — and there’s lit­tle to slow down an­other run to the play­offs.

Clemson, which moved up two spots in the AP Top25 , has a strong­hold on the ACC At­lantic Divi­sion, need­ing to lose at least twice to open the door for Louisville to play in the con­fer­ence ti­tle game in Or­lando, Florida.

The Tigers got a sim­i­lar drama-filled win over the Fight­ing Ir­ish , 24-22, when de­fen­sive tackle Car­los Watkins stopped quar­ter­back Deshone Kizer short on a ty­ing 2-point con­ver­sion at the end. Clemson’s of­fense took off af­ter the vic­tory, av­er­ag­ing more than 44 points and 554 yards a game the rest of the way.

“Even though we hadn’t been play­ing our best be­fore the game or dur­ing the game, our guys never gave up their be­lief,” co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jeff Scott said. “They be­lieved in each other that they could get it done.”

Like in 2015, the Tigers big­gest reg­u­lar-sea­son hur­dle ap­pears to be Oct. 29 at Florida State, which was pum­meled by Louisville last month and fell to North Carolina on an im­prob­a­ble 54-yard field goal as time ex­pired. Clemson has not won in Tallahassee, Florida, since 2006 and dropped its last game there, 23-17, in over­time when Wat­son took over as the team’s start­ing quar­ter­back.

Clemson starts the rest of its sea­son Fri­day night at Bos­ton Col­lege, which has not beaten the Tigers since 2010. The Tigers other re­main­ing ACC foes — North Carolina State, Syracuse, Pitts­burgh and Wake For­est — are a com­bined 0-11 against Clemson over the past four years.

Pitt has not faced Clemson since join­ing the ACC.

There’s also Clemson’s yearly sea­son-closer with ri­val South Carolina. Just a few years ago, the Game­cocks had won five straight against the Tigers but don’t ap­pear to have the of­fense in coach Will Muschamp’s first year to hand with Clemson’s play­mak­ers.

The ACC ti­tle game could mean re­matches from a year ago with Mi­ami (58-0 Clemson win) or North Carolina (45-37 vic­tory in the league cham­pi­onship). Or maybe Vir­ginia Tech, which moved into the rank­ings at No. 25.

There are plenty of things to clean up. Wat­son had four turnovers (a fum­ble and a ca­reer-high three in­ter­cep­tions) against Louisville. Clemson’s de­fense bot­tled up La­mar Jack­son and held the Car­di­nals to 205 yards in the open­ing half, then gave up 26 points on five straight sec­ond-half pos­ses­sions to sur­ren­der the lead.

Louisville put up 568 yards, more than Clemson’s al­lowed to any­one over the past two sea­son in­clud­ing to Alabama in the 4540 na­tional cham­pi­onship loss last Jan­uary.

Swin­ney said that like last year, the Tigers are far from a fin­ished prod­uct. Nor do they have to be right now. It’s a long sea­son of ebbs and flows— and Swin­ney likes the flow his team has go­ing right now.

“At the end of the day, you ei­ther have the heart or you don’t,” Swin­ney said. “You have the will to win or you don’t. What can you say?

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