Facing a critical short-yardage situation in the final moments of its game against Pittsburgh on Saturday, second-ranked Clemson’s offense turned to what had worked all season to that point.
With 1:02 left in the fourth quarter and the ball at Pittsburgh’s 35-yard line, the Tigers opted to bring in their jumbo package on fourth-and-1. The formation had been successful all season, but this time, running back Wayne Gallman was stopped short of the sticks on a toss play to the left side.
Pittsburgh then took over at its own 35-yard line with 58 seconds remaining. Six plays later, Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt booted a 48-yard field goal in the waning seconds, lifting the Panthers to 43-42 upset win on the road.
“We talked about it on third down. If we didn’t get it, we could have punted it and pinned them deep, but we’ve lived the vat all year and made some big plays,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said of his decision to go for it on fourth down. “But we didn’t get it done, so that’s on me. Simple as that. We had plenty of opportunities to win the game and didn’t do it.”
Earlier in the game, Clemson lined up in the jumbo formation on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, and Gallman plowed ahead behind Wilkins and Lawrence for a touchdown that tied the game at 14-14.
Two weeks earlier in the fourth quarter at Florida State, Clemson sent out the jumbo package on fourth and 1 from Florida State’s 43-yard line before running the same toss play to Gallman, who picked up 11 yards to help set up an important field goal in Clemson’s eventual win.
And two weeks before that in overtime against N.C. State, Clemson successfully converted an essential fourth down out of the jumbo package on a run by C.J. Fuller up the middle, which led to Watson’s game-winning touchdown pass.
So, the Tigers decided to try it again in a similar scenario against Pittsburgh.
“We did some of the stuff that we’ve done all year. That heavy set we were in, I think we were five-for-five all year up until that point of getting what we needed,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “Have to give them credit. They were ready. Earlier in the game, we went with the downhill run, so we tried to set it up and go outside, and they made the play and we didn’t.”
“We went with what’s kind of got us here, and unfortunately, we’re not able to do it one more time.”
Prior to the fourth-down attempt, Gallman was also tackled short of the line to gain on a third-down run.
Overall, Clemson passed 70 times for 580 yards while running it 25 times for just 50 yards.
The saying that football is a game of inches held true on Saturday. Had Clemson picked up a yard, the outcome would have been different.
“It was just a situation where we had success on that play in a similar situation and we scored a touchdown out of the same set when we ran the ball inside, and so we thought they’d be prepared for that,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said after the game. “And then again, you’d be questioned if you throw it on fourth-and-1, why you didn’t run it.
“So, we put our best package out there that we thought was going to give us an opportunity to be successful, and we came up short.”