Head games

Larry Williams, Senior Writer
Tiger Illustrated

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In the first-base dugout at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Monte Lee is in possession of a feeling that would make him millions if he could duplicate it and sell it to other coaches.

That vibe, when things are going badly in the middle of a game, that things are going to be just fine.

"I haven't seen stuff like that in my career, where it seems like somebody steps up and makes a really great play for us to win a ballgame every day. It's just a special group of kids. It's fun to sit in the dugout and coach these guys, because even when you're down you just feel like somehow, some way they're going to get it done."

A few hundred yards south of the baseball stadium, across Jervey Meadows and past the moat and inside his football castle/theme park, Dabo Swinney knows the feeling. His players' ability to be calm and confident in frantic situations produced a 7-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, including that drive in the last two minutes you might have heard about to beat Alabama for the national title.

But last year was merely the latest example of the close-game mastery under Swinney: Since Swinney's 2010 team lost five games by six points or less, his past six teams have gone 18-3 in games decided by seven points or less.

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These excellent trends in two Clemson sports that fans care about become hard to ignore in the discussions of a regrettable trend in another sport that fans care about. As Brad Brownell prepares for his eighth season, unquestionably the biggest objective is trying to reverse the struggles in close games. The Tigers were 4-12 last season in games decided by six points or less, and they're 7-20 in those games over the last two seasons.

If a few of those go the other way, Brownell doesn't walk into his boss' office a few weeks ago wondering if he'd leave it without a job. If a lot of them go the other way, Brownell is beloved by fans and he walks into his boss' office to get a raise.

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