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Tigers have come a long way in two years

Oct 7, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates a touchdown by Clemson Tigers running back Tyshon Dye (22) during the fourth quarter at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The first time Deshaun Watson got an opportunity to show American what he could do when given the opportunity, he was impressive.

It was two years ago on the same field he will play on tonight at Doak Campbell Stadium when then freshman showed what he was capable of doing. In his first extended action of his college career, Watson came off the bench to throw for 266 yards on 19-of-28 passing, plus a rushing touchdown as well to top things off. Keep in mind he did that on the road against the defending national champion Florida State, who was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.

But as good as all of that was, the only thing Watson remembers about that night is walking off the field and wondering, “How did we just lose that game?”

Clemson lost to the Seminoles, 23-17, in overtime that night, despite outgaining them, 407-317. Two missed field goals, a bad snap and a fumble at the FSU 14 with less than two minutes to play were the Tigers undoing.

“We had so many opportunities that we did not capitalize on,” Watson said. “We played so well, but we fell short. I was walking off the field feeling like we should have won the game, but at the end of the day we didn’t. It was a great lesson for the whole team, and especially for us young guys that got to play.”

Third-ranked Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) learned a lot from that lesson. Since that night in Tallahassee two years ago, the Tigers have won 30 of their last 32 games, including a 24-17 overtime win against NC State two weeks ago, which was eerily similar to that overtime loss in Tallahassee.

Like at FSU, the Tigers blew golden opportunities to score after moving the football consistently up and down the field all afternoon. The only difference in the two is Clemson found a way to win the game this time around, instead of losing it.

“That’s what good teams do,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Did we get lucky? Absolutely, we were given another life. But you still had to go make play in overtime to win the game, and that’s we did. In the end, we still found a way to win the game. That’s why we tell our kids to play 60 minutes or until the game is over.

“Our guys did that, and they found a way to win.”

The Tigers are hoping  tonight’s 8 p.m. game against No. 14 Florida State will not come down to that because if it does, the Tigers might not be able to survive against a Seminoles’ defense that is very opportunistic when it comes to turnovers.

FSU (5-2, 2-2 ACC) has forced 15 turnovers this year, and its offense has cashed in on most of them.

“You have to have a little luck on your side.” Watson said. “You have to keep fighting and you have to keep believing. That is pretty much it. Sometimes the ball does not bounce your way. That’s why the ball is not round. It does not bounce straight to you.

“(NC State) got a lot of opportunities that they did not take advantage of, and when we had those opportunities to come back, we took advantage of it.”

If the Tigers have learned anything about what happened here two years ago, and two weeks ago for that matter, they have to take advantage of their opportunities when they get them.

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