There's not a more uneasy feeling than allowing another team to control your destiny, and while Clemson has been dealing with that regarding the big picture, Saturday's 24-17 win over North Carolina State hit closer to home.
Kyle Bambard sailed a 33-yard field goal try wide right on the final play of regulation to force the first overtime game in Death Valley since 2005. It would've ruined Clemson's undefeated season and possibly caused irreparable damage to national championship aspirations.Whether a Bambard make would have knocked Clemson out of the College Football Playoff remains to be seen over the long run, but it certainly would've made life far more difficult for a team hoping to return to the national championship game.
The Tigers were leapfrogged by Michigan in Sunday's AP Top 25, moving down a spot to No. 4, while remaining third in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll. Alabama and Ohio State top both rankings.
Call Clemson fortunate to have survived and overcome what could've been multiple critical mistakes against NC State, but even as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recognized having luck on his side, he wasn't about to apologize for it.
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"You've got to win games like that to have a special season," Swinney said. "I understand that and I told them that, but these guys take a lot of pride in their performance and we know we have to play better."
Swinney drew from his own playing experiences on Alabama's 1992 undefeated national championship team, relating to his team you've got to survive close calls, even some accompanied by luck, to be able to reach an elite level few rosters ever attain.
The Final Play.#ALLIN #Clemson pic.twitter.com/STEo4GlI7F— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 15, 2016
Swinney's facts were slightly off on a few of the memories he shared from that Crimson Tide team that topped off a 13-0 campaign with a 34-13 victory over Miami for the national championship. Alabama survived an early 13-0 scare from Louisiana Tech and seven-point victories over both unranked Southern Mississippi and at 13th-ranked Tennessee.
Swinney enjoyed some self-reflection he later shared while watching the abundance of joy overcoming his team's locker room in the aftermath of Saturday's gut-wrenching win.
"It was a lot of fun to see them," Swinney said. "You've got to win games like that."
It's one thing to win a tight game under difficult circumstances and quite another to allow a large underdog the chance to win the game with one, final, makeable kick. Clemson out-gained NC State by 98 yards in running 17 more plays, but almost gave the game away with four turnovers. One resulted in an interception return for touchdown and two lost fumbles resulted in giveaways inside NC State's 10. One of those was a Tyshon Dye lost fumble at the 1 while the Tigers were also unsuccessful on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Even a sigh of momentary relief is loud in Death Valley... #ClemsonLOUD pic.twitter.com/VBv4CD2hoM— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 15, 2016
"Right now, we've beat everybody but Clemson," Swinney said of his team's penchant for near-debilitating miscues in turning it over nine times the past two home wins. "We're trying to beat Clemson, but haven't quite achieved that yet. Obviously we're finding ways to win against good teams. There's something to be said for finding a way to win, and that's all I can say. It's not always pretty and you have to win games like that along the way."
Swinney expects his team to learn and improve from Saturday's close call when the team comes back after this week's bye to play Oct. 29 at No. 13 Florida State. Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) could lose to the Seminoles (5-2, 2-2) and still remain in the driver's seat for the ACC Atlantic Division title by holding head-to-head tiebreakers over both Louisville and NC State.
"(Our players) think they're supposed to win," Swinney said. "That's a mentality that's been ingrained in these guys no matter what. We're in control of our destiny in our division, which is the next goal, and anything that comes after that we have to earn. We're right where we hoped to be, but I can assure you there is no one satisfied in that locker room."
This article was written by Eric Boynton from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.