Great teams make their own luck

Oct 15, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) carries the ball during the first half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson was lucky to come out of Saturday’s game with NC State with a victory. The Tigers did not play well as a team. The offense turned the football over four times. The defense allowed NC State to convert on 7-of-15 third downs and was gashed on the left side of the line during the Wolfpack’s 55-yard drive at the end of regulation, which ate up the last 6:39 off the clock.

Clemson should have lost, but it didn’t. Instead, it got lucky. NC State’s Kyle Bambard, who also missed a kick earlier in the game and had another blocked, missed what could have been the game-winning kick from 33 yards out as time expired, giving the Tigers’ a second chance to win the game and another chance to stay the course and get back to the College Football Playoff.

Sometimes, on the road to a championship, a team gets a little lucky. The ball bounces the right way and it keeps them on course. Is that what we all witnessed on Saturday?

I guess we will know that answer in a few months, but as of right now, the Tigers are very lucky to be 7-0 heading into the bye week.

I’ll be honest with you Saturday’s game got me thinking. How did Clemson not lose that game? For the majority of the game, NC State outplayed them, outhustled them and I believe they wanted it more than the Tigers.

But the more I thought about it, I figured out why Clemson won the game. The Tigers made the plays in crunch time, when they had to make them, and NC State did not.

I know what you are thinking right now. “Will, what are you talking about? You just wrote above they were gashed by NC State on that final drive in regulation. You wrote that NC State outplayed them. Clemson did not make the plays.”

But they did. On that final drive in regulation, after slowly moving the ball down to the Clemson 12-yard line, with runs of 4, 5, 6 and 7 yards at a time, NC State decided to get cute at the most crucial moment. With the clock ticking down, and clearly in field goal range, Dave Doeren’s team calls a pass. Why?

Why not just run the ball to the middle of the field and keep the ball there. Instead, Ryan Finley is sacked for a four-yard loss by defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, pushing the ball back four yards to the Clemson 14. Those four yards turned out to be huge as Bambard’s field goal missed just right of the goal post. That ball probably sneaks inside the right goal post if he was kicking that ball from 29 yards away instead of 33.

Clemson made a play when the opportunity presented itself. NC State did not.

In overtime, the Tigers again made the plays when they had to. Granted, just like the entire game, it was not all pretty, but they made the plays when they counted and the Wolfpack did not.

On fourth-and-one from the ‘Pack’s 16, C.J. Fuller ran two yards for a first down. Then on second-and-eight from the 12, quarterback Deshaun Watson throws the ball where only his guy can get it and tight end Jordan Leggett makes a great catch to move the ball to the one-yard line.

After the snap bounced off Watson’s hands and went over his head, where he recovered it at the 10, the junior came back with a perfectly thrown pass to Artavis Scott in the end zone for a touchdown. In crunch time, Clemson made the play, NC State did not.

Then on NC State’s only play of overtime, Finley throws a pass down the seam and into the end zone to wide receiver Bra’ Lon Cherry. But Finley underestimated Clemson cornerback Marcus Edmond, who leaped up and snagged the football before Cherry knew what to do. In crunch time, Clemson made the play, NC State did not.

So why is Clemson undefeated today? Did it get lucky? Absolutely! But, and I’m sure you heard this before, great teams make their own luck.

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