LEADOFF: Two seconds later, Clemson would’ve gone for tying field goal

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LEADOFF: Two seconds later, Clemson would’ve gone for tying field goal

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Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, from Gainesville, celebrates after throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to beat Alabama and win the national championship Monday night. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Good morning. This is Leadoff, the early buzz in Atlanta sports.

Clemson was two seconds away from kicking a game-tying field goal rather than scoring a game-winning touchdown.

Coach Dabo Swinney, during a day-after-the-game news conference in Tampa, provided interesting insight into his thinking on the play call that won the national championship, the two-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow. The play began with six seconds on the clock and ended with one second remaining.

Swinney said Clemson, trailing 31-28 at the time, would have called the same play if there had been five seconds on the clock rather than six. But if there had been only four seconds remaining, the Tigers would have kicked the field goal and taken their chances in overtime.

“Five seconds, yes, we run the same play,” Swinney said. “I felt like it was going to be a four-second play. It’s going to be in and out. I felt like I could get a timeout with one second. Less than (five seconds remaining), we kick the field goal, and we go into overtime and see what happens.

“Our mentality was to play to win. I was trying to hang on to a timeout. I was just kind of guarding it with my life. That’s why we clocked the ball with 22 seconds, because I didn’t want to get in a situation where we’re having to run what we call red field goal. The clock is running, you try to run your guys out there on a red field goal situation. It’s a long way to go, guys coming off the sideline, and I just didn’t want to get into that situation, so I was trying with everything I had to keep one timeout.

“… I felt good about (the play call) with Deshaun because it was going to get him on the move, so I knew we wouldn’t get a sack. So I felt very confident with six seconds that we could manage that situation, and if we didn’t hit it right there, then we would have kicked the field goal for sure. But when we had it down there and 30 seconds, 20 seconds, we were playing to win. We were not playing to kick a field goal. We were playing to try to win the game, and we were able to put it in No. 4’s hands, and he got it done.”

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Deshaun Watson is moving on to the NFL, but he is convinced Clemson’s football program will be just fine without him.

“Clemson is only going to get better, and it’s just going to keep growing and keep growing,” Watson said Tuesday.

“You think this is the best of Clemson? Just wait the next five years. It’s going to be even more exciting, more awesome.”

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Less than 12 hours after the end of college football’s national championship game in Tampa, the event was formally handed off to Atlanta, which will host next season’s title game.

At a news conference at the Tampa Convention Center, the local host committee delivered to its Atlanta counterpart a football helmet bearing the College Football Playoff logo, signifying that responsibility passes to Atlanta for the Jan. 8, 2018, game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Attached to the helmet: stickers with the names of the championship game’s first three host cities.

The Atlanta delegation praised Tampa’s handling of the game and expressed confidence the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium and its proximity to downtown attractions and hotels will build on the CFP’s momentum. But the delegation also had a request beyond its control: a game as compelling as Clemson’s come-from-behind, last-second victory over Alabama.

Leadoff appears Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

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