Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Digest: The Tigers avoid hangover, win ACC title game; Clemson holds its own in upset

TIGERS SNAP ALAHA BUT DOMINATE ALL EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Defeating a rival team that plays more at your opponent’s pace. Getting back on track after an ugly start. Winning despite losing a quarterback, now leading the offense on a steady path to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division standings. Coming into this past Saturday, Clemson’s Elite Eight ambitions appeared unassailable. As the No. 2

seed in the ACC tournament, the Tigers were a two-touchdown favorite over Pittsburgh, the other half of the loser’s bracket. They were an unquestioned national championship favorite. As such, Clemson had to win its first two games — against Pitt and Syracuse — in order to make the ACC championship game. Yet the Panthers took a 20-point lead, stormed back, hit an absolute buzzer-beater and left Death Valley with a

stunning 54-52 victory. In its final regular-season ACC game, Clemson went 1-for-4 on its last-second attempts, something it rarely does in ACC play. While the Tigers scored the final 41 points of the game, they also managed a significant assist from the Panthers in the final seconds. Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant, as usual, played a pivotal role in Clemson’s victory against the Panthers. He threw for 316 yards and

four touchdowns, and he ran for 81 yards and a score. But when Bryant took a sack with 2:51 remaining and the Tigers facing a fourth-and-5, he opted to keep the ball and waltz into the end zone to give Clemson a 49-47 lead. Then, just under a minute later, Bryant ran for a 15-yard touchdown and the Tigers held on for their fourth straight win — a crucial victory for the Tigers as their playoff run has to end at some

point. After reeling off six straight wins to close the regular season, Clemson (11-2, 7-1 ACC) is now a seven-point favorite over Boston College in Saturday’s ACC championship game in Charlotte. Now Clemson has a chance to win 11 games for the fifth time in the last seven seasons, and it will no doubt look to pass a team that lost Saturday’s contest. The Panthers fell to 8-5, 3-5 ACC, and now fall to the loser’s

bracket, where they will be hunting for a signature victory. THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY We have no doubt the Crimson Tide will be back on top in short order, as their upcoming resume is massive. There are games remaining against multiple-loss opponents, either already ready to cede control of the No. 1 ranking or picking up steam for postseason play. Alabama still has to play Auburn, No. 12 Mississippi State and perhaps

No. 14 Texas A&M in the SEC championship game, and that is the season’s finish line. But the lone blemish on Alabama’s glorious resume was the stunning 24-7 loss to Clemson on Nov. 11, a game Alabama would go on to win the next week. The loss damaged Alabama’s outside shot at the national championship game, but the Crimson Tide still has room to grow as a team. That was obvious when Alabama’s run game was so reliant

on freshman Tua Tagovailoa, the game plan worked in the South Carolina game. But Alabama went in with a different offensive philosophy against LSU — an offense that, at times, featured a dual-threat quarterback — and the Crimson Tide attempted just eight passes. Alabama turned the ball over once in the season opener at Michigan, but over the last two games, Tagovailoa threw five interceptions and had two

interceptions returned for touchdowns. Saturday’s slate — No. 14 LSU (9-4, 5-4 SEC) visits No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 8-1 SEC) at 7 p.m. EST — will be one final chance for the Crimson Tide to improve their overall profile. If the Tide win, they will win the SEC West and head to Charlotte, N.C., where they will try to knock off the ninth-ranked Tigers.

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