After third-ranked Clemson’s wild 24-17 win over N.C. State on Saturday, much of the talk centered around N.C. State kicker Kyle Bambard’s missed field goal that sent the game to overtime, Deshaun Watson’s go-ahead touchdown pass to Artavis Scott in the extra period and Marcus Edmond’s interception that sealed the game.
Rightfully so. But a play in overtime that hasn’t gotten much attention was arguably as pivotal as any of the aforementioned.
On the first possession of overtime, Clemson faced a critical fourth-and-1 situation from the 16-yard line.
The safe move was to kick the field goal and hope the defense forced N.C. State to settle for the same and extend the game.
However, head coach Dabo Swinney gutsily elected to go for it. He subbed in the jumbo package, and running back C.J. Fuller plowed forward for the first down.
Had the run been stuffed, Clemson likely doesn’t win. But Fuller picked up the necessary yard, and four plays later, Watson connected with Scott for the score before Edmond finished things off.
“I just had to get the first down by any means necessary,” Fuller said of the play. “Just get the first down.”
After starter Wayne Gallman sustained a concussion on a run early in the first quarter that forced him out of action for the rest of the game, and Adam Choice suffered a stinger, Fuller was depended upon to carry the load at running back for the Tigers.
The redshirt sophomore from Easley, S.C., carried the ball a career-high 16 times for a career-high 56 yards.
“I thought he had a good demeanor about himself,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said after the game. “I’ll get in there on the tape to see, technically, how he was, but we knew going up against that front it was going to be difficult to run the football at will against those guys, and I thought he did some good things in pass protection.
“Really encouraged with his performance.”
Fuller, whose previous career highs were 10 carries for 36 yards against Wake Forest last season, said it felt good to handle the bulk of the backfield responsibilities.
“It felt real good,” Fuller said. “I was just ready for my number to be called.”
It’s not the easiest thing to go into a game expecting to play a reserve role and then end up being the featured back.
Fuller said it wasn’t a difficult adjustment, though.
“It really doesn’t change things because of the way we practice, and the coaches preach to us every day to be ready when you’re number is called,” Fuller said. “So, it really didn’t phase me. I was just ready to go in.”
Filling in for a first-team All-ACC running back in Gallman isn’t an easy task, either.
But Fuller got the job done.
“C.J. Fuller came in and really settled us down a little bit at the running back position,” Swinney said. “He did a good job.”