Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said “let” was a big word on Sunday when a reporter asked about how his players said they have let too many teams back in games after building big leads.
The latest such game came in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game when the Tigers failed to put Virginia Tech away after building a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Tigers ultimately hung on to win the game, 42-35, when cornerback Cordrea Tankersley intercepted Jerod Evans’ fourth-down pass at the Clemson 14-yard line with 1:11 to play in the game.
“I think ‘let’ is a big word,” Swinney said during a teleconference after learning No. 2 Clemson will play No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve. “The other team has good players, too, and good coaches, and sometimes the other team makes some plays.”
The Hokies definitely made big plays after Clemson went ahead 35-14 on a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Deshaun Watson with 4:45 to play in the third quarter. But Evans completed a 42-yard pass to tight end Bucky Hodges on Virginia Tech’s next drive to spark an offense that tallied 162 total yards in the fourth quarter.
The Hokies scored touchdowns on three straight possessions after Hodges’ 42-yard completion, and had an opportunity to tie or win the game when they drove to the Clemson 23-yard line with under two minutes to play.
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente later said in the postgame press conference that he already decided he was going for two and the win if the Hokies scored on that final drive.
Clemson (12-1) has played with fire several times this year after building double digit leads. The Tigers held on to beat Auburn, Troy, Louisville and Florida State after building double digit leads earlier in the game. They also had issues putting people away last year, too.
“I think the big thing for us this year has been — with last night really being the one different game — but we’ve won that (turnover) margin or had one or less, we haven’t really been in close games. But last night we won the margin, and it was still a close game. And that’s a credit to Virginia Tech.
“They’re a champion, too, and it’s not that we just let them back in. We had a big lead, but those guys fought back. I don’t think we were complacent or anything like that, but those guys made some plays and had some well-designed plays and played with a lot of fight and heart and they worked their way back into it. But at the end of the day, we finished it off, so we just want to find a way to win from this point forward. It’s not about anything but having one more point than the opponent.”