CLEMSON, S.C. - After three straight nail-biting defeats to fall to 2-3, Clemson faces another save-the-season stretch starting Thursday night at North Carolina State.
But unlike 2003 - when Clem-son was 5-4 following a 45-17 loss at Wake Forest, then won four straight against Florida State, Duke, South Carolina and Tennessee in the Peach Bowl - or last year when the team won five of their final six after opening 1-4, the Tigers feel they're oh-so-close to major success.
"We're a couple of plays away from being undefeated," receiver Curtis Baham said.
Clemson coach Tommy Bow-den's message to the players during Clemson's off week was simple and concise - make one more play.
"That's been kind of our motto," Bowden said Monday. "It's the theme of the day."
One more play certainly might've made the difference the past three games.
Clemson was 2-0 for the first time in four seasons when Miami came to Death Valley on Sept. 17. The Tigers trailed by 10 points, yet rallied for a tie before falling 36-30 in triple overtime.
A week later against Boston College, Clemson again came back from a 10-point deficit and again fell in overtime, 16-13.
On Oct. 1 at Wake Forest, the Tigers were down 21-7 in the first half but held a fourth-quarter lead at 27-24.
However, the Demon Deacons got a touchdown pass with 33 seconds left for the 31-27 victory.
"We've been pretty successful the last couple of years in this situation," quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said.
One major difference, Bow-den said, is the team has played smarter and harder than almost any of his seven seasons. If the Tigers struggled like they did to start last year - its four defeats came by an average of almost 17 points - Bowden might consider lineup changes or style shake-ups.
But every contest this year has come down to the end and been decided by six points or less.
"It's important I don't flinch as a coach because we're pretty close," Bowden said.
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