CLEMSON -- In the team hotel Friday night, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stressed one point: win the fourth quarter.
Clemson struggled in close games throughout the first two months of the season, losing by six points or fewer at Auburn, at North Carolina and at Boston College. The Tigers (5-4, 3-3 ACC) have struggled in close games during the Swinney Era, entering Saturday with a 1-8 record in games decided by five points or fewer in two-and-a-half seasons under Swinney. Against N.C. State on Saturday, Clemson won the fourth quarter and an elusive close victory for Swinney. It was the Tigers' first one-point win since its 25-24 victory against Texas A&M to open the 2005 season. Clemson hopes such success carries over in a key Atlantic Division showdown Saturday at Florida State.
"We have not won the close games," Swinney said Sunday. "We found a way to win. A great job by the guys to keep going."
Of course winning close games is made more difficult with struggling kickers.
Richard Jackson replaced Chandler Catanzaro as the Clemson kicker Saturday but missed two field goals to drop Clemson's season mark to 50 percent (7 of 14) on field goal attempts. Clemson's opponents have made 11 of 13.
Missed field goals have hurt Clemson all season.
Catanzaro missed a game-tying field goal at Auburn in overtime. Catanzaro missed two field goals at Boston College, kicks that could have sent the game to overtime or altered Kyle Parker's questionable second-half decision making. Catanzaro also missed a key field goal at North Carolina. Jackson fared worse Saturday, though Swinney said the first miss could be attributed to a poor Matt Skinner snap.
Swinney said Sunday he will reopen the kicker competition this week between Catanzaro (7 of 12 this season), Jackson (0 for 2) and Spencer Benton (no attempts).
"I'll be watching that very closely," Swinney said. "I'll probably let all three of our guys battle it out and name a starter on Thursday."
Florida State has historically had its own kicking issues, and the Seminoles missed a last-second, game-winning field goal in a loss to North Carolina on Saturday night. It's a loss that gives Clemson hope in the Atlantic.
To win the division, Clemson needs to win out and also have N.C. State and Maryland each lose one of their three remaining league games.
"It's November and we do have a chance," Swinney said. "We definitely have an opportunity out there. For us it's about trying to get better, worrying about what we can control ... all that stuff will work itself out."
Swinney reported no new injuries Sunday. Swinney said receiver Jaron Brown (knee) will return against Florida State, and he said defensive tackle Miguel Chavis (foot) has improved and will also likely be able to play ... Swinney gave game balls to Da'Quan Bowers (two sacks), DeAndre McDaniel (key interception), Jarvis Jenkins (field goal block), Dawson Zimmerman and Kyle Parker.
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).