Nearly 24 hours after electing to go for a fourth-and-four play from the Auburn 17 with 45 seconds left, instead of kicking a field goal which could have put the game out of reach, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says he would do it again if he is ever put in that situation.
Clemson, which survived two Hail Mary heaves from Auburn quarterback Sean White on the final two plays in Saturday’s 19-13 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, moved the football to the Auburn 23 and faced a third down-and-10 play with 50 seconds left in the game.
“If we execute, the game is over,” Swinney said on Sunday during his weekly teleconference call with the media.
Leading by six points, and with Auburn having no timeouts, Swinney and co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott elected to run running back Wayne Gallman around right end. Swinney said there was conversation about taking a knee at that point, but they wanted to run a little more clock off.
“We talked about that. We talked about all of those things,” Swinney said. “But we just wanted to try and take as much off the (clock). We knew that it was going to be close, but we just called a safe play right there.”
Gallman, a senior in the classroom and a junior on the field, was supposed to stay in bounds to make sure the clock kept running after the play was over, which would have taken it under 10 seconds. But when Gallman bounced outside, he thought he could get around the corner and make the first down. Instead, he was shoved out of bounds with 45 seconds to play and the clock stopped.
“We trust Wayne. He just ends up bouncing out and the competitiveness of him took over and he just made a bad decision in that moment,” Swinney said.
That moment caused Swinney and his staff to make a tough decision in the next moment. Do they kick it or do they go for the first down? A field goal try makes sense because it would have given the Tigers a nine-point lead and would have secured the victory. However, Clemson kicker Greg Huegel had already missed an extra point. One of his other kicks was low and his 40-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter was saved when holder Seth Ryan was able to get his hands on a high snap and get the ball down in time for Huegel to kick it.
These were all the things all three coaches were talking about in the moment.
“Most of the time, we would kick a field goal. But in that moment, in those circumstances and in that situation, and again, we were very aware of the situation and we were all in agreement on what we needed to do.
“We had already seen a high snap. We had seen a low kick, and our defense had played well.”
Also, Auburn had shown no ability to throw the football down field through the game’s first 59 minutes so Swinney was confident his defense could get the stop.
“With forty seconds and no timeouts, and they have to go eighty three yards against our defense, you know what, I’m going to take my chances with that,” Swinney said. “That was the decision for that moment.
“If it was a different circumstance offensively, we probably make a different decision there. You make decisions in the moments that give you the best chance to win the game, and that is what we did, and we won the game.”