Once every few years, teams with unusual luck and destiny will grace college football. These teams leave everyone else wondering how on earth they pulled the win off yet again. 2013 Auburn and 2014 Florida State are the two most predominant examples in recent memory.
2016 thought it found its team of destiny in the Tennessee Volunteers, but it turns out that the Clemson Tigers have taken the throne of destiny in 2016. Clemson is undefeated with eight wins, but five that were within 8 points or less – Auburn, Troy, Louisville, NC State, and Florida State.
Each act in the play of destiny renders new twists and turns along what seems to be an inevitable outcome – the Tigers pulling off some magical new way to win each and every week. Often times it isn’t “adversity” because they dig the holes they are in, but they manage to rise above the mistakes and win the game.
Usually the better rushing team wins the game, but FSU outrushed Clemson significantly and still lost. FSU won the rushing battle as they gained 163 yards on 28 rushes for 5.8 yards a clip and four scores. Clemson countered with 38 rushes for 133 yards at 3.5 yards a clip and 2 scores.
The hidden rushing yardage is even more astounding – FSU gained 229 yards rushing in total (8.17 average) but technically lost 56 of their 66 negative rushing yards because sacks in college football count against rushing yardage, not passing yardage.
FSU’s offensive line is terrible and Clemson’s defensive line is the best in the nation as shown in both phases of the offensive game. The reason FSU rushed for so many yards is because Dalvin Cook is an electric running back whom can break a run at any time, and he broke several of those runs to both change the game and the stat sheet.
FSU’s freshman quarterback Deondre Francois lead his team to within a hairs’ breadth of victory as he passed for 286 yards on 35 attempts while tallying one touchdown and one pick. He is a great player with absolutely incredible toughness whom willed himself to fight through situation when many quarterbacks would give up. He was hit on virtually every passing play and he was a half second away from getting sacked on at least five more occasions.
FSU’s offensive struggles were furthered by their numerous false start penalties at home, a problem that is normally encountered on the road. They had 13 penalties for 111 yards while Clemson had nine penalties for 84 yards.
Fortunately for Clemson and unfortunately for Francois, his barely escaping sacks could not last all night long, and it caught up to him in the final drive of the game in which he was sacked on the last two plays.
The defensive line was incredible as Austin Bryant tallied two sacks, while Ferrell, Lawrence, and Wilkins combined for two sacks and a world of nightmares for Francois. However, the defensive MVP of the game was undoubtedly Kendall Joseph as he had seven tackles with one for loss and a sack. His impact showed up on more than the stats sheet as he flew around the field all night long, snuffing out runs and getting into Francois’ face on several occasions.
Clemson countered by winning the passing battle as star junior quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 378 yards on 43 attempts while notching two touchdowns and interceptions. Mike Williams caught seven of his ten targets for 70 yards, and Hunter Renfrow had a nice welcome back game with hauling five of nine targets for 62 yards and a score. Deon Cain showed off his deep ball skills as he and Watson finally connected (2 for 69, with a 40-yard catch).
The best pass catcher of the night was Jordan Leggett, who caught five passes for 122 yards and one incredible, game winning touchdown where he leapt over the pylon cam in a freakish athletic move.
Although he still struggles in blocking (which is not uncommon for college tight ends), Jordan Leggett is a clutch and dynamic player who will be sorely missed next year. He is a walking mismatch who has a great catch radius, solid hands, inspiring speed, and fights for every yard. When he is involved, another dimension of the Clemson offense is opened and the defense is on its heels.
Clemson’s inability to gain push on the ground for most of the night, as one of FSU’s strongest units limited Clemson’s offensive line all night long. While the run blocking was mediocre at best, the pass blocking was more than enough to give Watson time to work his magic. Although Watson took four sacks, he only lost thirteen yards total which helped to mitigate their negative impact.
Gallman was again the workhorse back as he rushed 20 times for 82 yards and two scores, and he looked better than the stats indicate. He is an elite running back whom has excellent vision, power, hands, blocking ability, and drive. While he lacks the top gear speed of other elite backs, one NFL team will be blessed with a true workhorse for his career.
Watson took on the role of complementary back once again as he rushed 17 times for 52 yards (66 gained). At times Watson looked off, discouraged, and at one point I thought he had lost his confidence for the first time in his career. Yet in Watson fashion, he proved me wrong and came to lead the Tigers on yet another game winning drive – this time on the road against one of the best teams in the nation.
Most of the coaching decisions were excellent, and the coaches put this team in a position to win. The only real mistake from the coaching standpoint is this: Why take the holding penalty to make it 3rd and 23 as opposed to declining it to force a 4th and 13? You (almost) never give an opponent extra chances to play, let alone in a fourth down situation at the end of a game. If Clemson’s defense was not incredible, that could have easily cost the Tigers the game and a shot at the playoffs – over something under your control.
Strange things happen in rivalry games, and although the records were different, the talent level was about even. This created the recipe for a heart-attack game akin to what just happened. A road win against a ranked rival is always a good win.
Clemson is a team of destiny, but we should still be asking one question: Since Clemson keeps winning with all of the miscues, what will this team look like when (not if) they start putting together complete games? Opponents should be trembling in fear, praying the storm waits another week.