Clemson misplaced 'on switch': Tigers in need of momentum

Sammy Watkins

CLEMSON -- Clemson football players and coaches believe in a shapeless force. They believe in momentum.

Earlier this year versus Auburn, Sammy Watkins' 65-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter gave Clemson its first lead of the game and the third deficit they had overcome in the opening three games.

Momentum captured.

At Maryland, Watkins' 89-yard kick return for a touchdown with seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter gave Clemson the lead for good, coming all the way back from an 18-point deficit.

Momentum captured.

At N.C. State, the Clemson had three second-quarter turnovers inside the Tigers' 15-yard line.

Momentum lost.

At South Carolina, after making so many plays this season, Watkins dropped what would have been a long touchdown in the first half. Again, momentum lost. What if Watkins had caught the ball? That's what some in the West Zone wondered this week.

The momentum No. 21 Clemson built with an 8-0 start has been lost in losing three of four games entering its ACC title game meeting with No. 5 Virginia Tech (11-1) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte on ESPN.

Chad Morris' offense is built around momentum: the greater the number of plays, the faster they are executed, the better the result. Clemson led the nation with 626 plays through eight games, averaging 78 plays per game, but has averaged 64 plays per game in its three losses. Clemson had a season-low 60 plays at South Carolina.

Can Clemson get momentum back? Quarterback Tajh Boyd believes so.

"A lot of people don't think there's an on-and-off switch, but I think there is," Boyd said.

Right tackle Landon Walker explained the impact of momentum.

"I think it's just the way guys carry themselves on the sideline," Walker said.

"I believe it creates a whole other force within yourself when you grab momentum. When we gave N.C. State the ball three times inside the 20, that creates a negative thought inside guys' heads."

To get momentum back, Morris said the Tigers need the return of the big play, of quick-scoring drives.

Clemson entered the Georgia Tech game second in the nation with 50-yard plus plays but has dropped to eighth, with just one such gain over the last four games.

"On our (what-it-takes- to-win) chart, we want to get six or more explosive plays in the pass game, four or more of 12-plus yards rushing," Morris said.

"Usually, when you couple explosive plays with (winning) turnover margin, 98 percent of the time you'll win the game."

In short, to get momentum back, someone has to make a play.

"At Boston College, Tajh throws a ball down the sideline and (Watkins) goes and makes an over-the-top catch over a defender and takes it away," Morris said, "probably one of the better catches all year long.

"Was it a great throw? It was a good throw, but it was a great catch. Those are the things you've got to have, some three-play drives, some four-play drives."

To earn its first ACC title since 1991, someone has to flip the momentum switch for Clemson.