CLEMSON, SC - Just what the doctor ordered! The Tigers had one more tune-up before the big showdown with No.3 FSU, and they finally won the turnover margin 4 to 1! They had lost the turnover margin in their first two games and 8 of their last 9, so let's hope this game was a harbinger of a new trend. Mark Wahlberg needs to come to more games! The celebrated actor was in Tiger Town for parent's weekend because his daughter is a Clemson student. The night crowd in Death Valley was electric, and the game started with a bang, as Nate Wiggins intercepted a pass on the opening possession for a pick-six, sending the crowd into a frenzy. It was his second pick-six in five games going back to the ACC Championship and the second for the Tigers in as many games, as Woodaz had one last week.
The Tigers kept the momentum going, forcing a punt on the next possession, and the offense marched down the field for another touchdown. Cade was 5-5 on the drive with a beautiful 30-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Tyler Brown for his first career score. Unfortunately, Robert Gunn's growing pains continued in the kicking game, missing the PAT off the upright. The defense forced a three-and-out, and Tom Herman tried to catch the Tigers off guard with a risky fake punt on 4th and 9. They almost converted, but Spector made a great tackle one yard short of the line to make, and the Tigers took over with great field position. Unfortunately, Gunn's struggles continued, missing a 31-yard field goal that he hooked badly left. Welcome to life after BT Potter! Gunn has plenty of talent and a big leg, but he's already missed an easy field goal, a PAT and had two low kicks blocked, including a chip-shot. Catman had a rough start to his career as well but turned into one of the best ever for the Tigers. Let's hope Gunn turns it around soon! The Tigers can't afford to leave any points off the board next week against the Seminoles.
The crowd's angst over the missed field goal didn't last long because the defense provided another big spark when Khalil Barnes intercepted a pass on the very next play. The true freshman made a name for himself in the Orange and White Game with a game-winning pick-six, and he made the most of his opportunity on Saturday night, starting at nickel for Mukuba, who missed his second straight game with a minor injury. The Owls deliberately tested Barnes early, knowing he was a true freshman, but Barnes was equal to the task. He was beat deep on one long pass that should have been a touchdown, but Thompson fortunately overthrew it. Barnes had a tackle-for-loss on the first possession, and he nearly had a scoop-and-score later in the game! He ripped the ball out of the receiver's hands and returned it inside the 10-yard line, but the ball touched the sideline before he picked it up. Barnes is a baller, as Dabo told me after the game, and the Tigers are in great shape at safety!
The Tigers capitalized on the turnover, scoring in 4 plays, as Cade found Briningstool in the back of the end zone for his first TD of the season. That quickly put the Tigers up 20-0 in the first quarter, and the rout was on. The defense forced another three-and-out, and the offense went back to work. Shipley ran for 19 yards, and Cade followed that with a keeper for another first down. On 3rd and 13, Cade found Adam Randall for a 28-yard completion to the Owls' 19, and Mafah broke a big touchdown run on the next play. Just like that, the Tigers led 27-0.
The Tigers didn't let up on the pressure, though. On the ensuing possession, the Tigers almost came up with another interception on 3rd and 5 and would have forced a punt, but Denhoff was called for roughing the passer. That hit knocked QB Casey Thompson out of the game, which made the hole even deeper for the Owls. As I wrote in my preview, punter Logan Lupo, who sat out the last two seasons, kicked the Owls' only field goal attempt this season and made it from 37 yards. They rolled the dice with him from 46 yards, and he missed to keep the shutout in tact. Oddly enough, the Owls had the ball 6 times without scoring but punted just twice due to the failed fake punt, missed field goal and two interceptions.
The Tigers' offense went back to work, and Cade hit Randall for another long completion, this time 28 yards. The ball was tipped by Antonio Williams, who ran the wrong route, but Randall showed great concentration to make the catch. Cole Turner, after missing last week's game due to a minor injury, drew a pass interference call in the end zone and appeared to injure himself again on the play, leaving the game. Let's hope he can play next week because he's the fastest player on the team! Cade made a nice 16-yard run to the 2-yard line, and they went quarterback sneak with Cade under center on 3rd and goal from the one. It's rare to see a sneak with the QB under center these days, and thank goodness Cade didn't fumble the snap! It was nice to see that executed successfully. That made it 34-0 at the half.
Most of the 3rd quarter was fairly uneventful with several punts, including a muffed fair catch by true freshman Tyler Brown, who had the first score of the game and took over for Antonio Williams on punts with his big return last week. He reminded us that he's still a true freshman on the muff, but the defense rose up once again. The Owls took over at the Tigers' 40, and on 4th and 21, Wade Woodaz caught his second interception in as many games, returning it 59 yards to the Owls' 13. He very nearly had another pick-six like last week but lost his balance at the end of the run. That woke up the crowd again, but the Tigers were unable to pay it off with points. They were a chain link short on 4th and one at the Owls' 4-yard line and turned it over on downs. After a bad pass interference call on Pride got the Owls out of their own end zone, the Tigers forced another punt. Rather than bench Tyler Brown for the muffed punt, Dabo gave him an opportunity to redeem himself, and he did just that! The true freshman returned the 52-yard punt 44 yards to the Owls' 26-yard line to fire up the crowd again. Just like his big return last week, the offense responded with complimentary football, and Tyler Brown was rewarded for his return. The Tigers scored their first points of the quarter when Cade converted a 3rd and 10 to Brown for 17 yards, ran for 7 yards to the Owls' 2 and then found Brown on a slant in the end zone.
The Tigers cruised into the 4th quarter with a 41-0 lead, but the backups came in on defense and allowed the Owls to mount their first scoring drive of the game and avoid the shutout. I give credit to Tom Herman for going for it on 4th and goal from the 2. He could have kicked an easy field goal to avoid the shutout, but that would have been a pretty wimpy decision, and the Owls rewarded him with a touchdown.
Backup QB Hunter Helms came into the game and, just like last week, he led a touchdown drive on his one opportunity. Helms was 4-5 on the drive, completing passes to Sapp, Stellato, Haynes and Hamp Greene. Domonique Thomas, or "Quadzilla," did the rest with a 19-yard run and a 2-yard touchdown run. Incidentally, true freshman "Tink" Kelley made his debut, returning the kickoff 14 yards to the 20. Dabo is hoping to redshirt him this season, but he has been high in his praise of Tink and says he's a lot like Tyler Brown. He will be able to play in 3 more games and keep his red shirt, but that will depend on how things play out with the receiving corps.
Like last week, the defense was dominant for the first 3 quarters with 6 three-and-ours and 4 turnovers. Freshman TJ Parker had another impressive game with a sack and a TFL. He might steal Mascoll's starting spot if he keeps this up. Jalyn Phillips had the other sack on a safety blitz. One of the few negatives of the game is that the backup defenders allowed another touchdown on a trick pass with just a minute left in the game, making the final 48-14. Still, it was the best 4-quarter performance yet for the Tigers, following up the outstanding last 3 quarters against Charleston Southern, and just what they needed to give them some confidence and momentum going into the huge showdown with No.3 FSU next week. Death Valley is going to be rocking at high noon!
I'll have more in a bit after I watch the tape. In the meantime, our post-game interviews, highlights and notes are below. And don't forget to check back in The Valley forum on Sunday evening for our teleconference with Dabo!
WITH THE WIN...
Head Coach Dabo Swinney won his 163rd career game to pull within two victories of College Football Hall of Famer Frank Howard’s career record at Clemson (165).
Clemson improved to 2-0 all-time against Florida Atlantic.
Clemson kept Florida Atlantic among the 45 opponents against which the Tigers have a perfect all-time record.
Clemson faced Florida Atlantic Head Coach Tom Herman for the first time and improved to 161-73-3 all-time (and 44-7 since 2011) when facing a coach for the first time.
Clemson improved to 61-2 at Memorial Stadium in the College Football Playoff era (since 2014). Clemson's .968 home winning percentage in that span is the best in the nation.
Clemson improved to 38-4 against non-conference opponents at Death Valley under Dabo Swinney.
Clemson improved to 28-7 in night games since the start of the 2018 season. The win also moved Clemson to 47-10 at night since 2015.
Clemson won its 19th consecutive night game in Death Valley, a streak that dates to the middle of the 2013 season.
Clemson improved to 22-3 under Dabo Swinney in night games in Death Valley.
Clemson improved to 88-9 in regular season play since the start of the 2015 season. Seven of Clemson’s nine regular season losses in that span have been decided by a final margin of 10 or fewer points.
Clemson improved to 34-6 under Swinney in games in which the Tigers enter ranked lower in the AP Poll than they did in its previous contest. Clemson dropped from No. 25 to unranked (receiving votes) in the latest AP Poll.
Clemson improved to 126-16 against AP-unranked teams under Dabo Swinney and improved to 103-6 in those games since the start of the 2012 season.
Clemson is now 77-5 when scoring first since 2015.
Clemson improved to 35-1 since 2015 when intercepting multiple passes in a game.
Clemson has now won 108 of its last 112 games when leading at halftime. Clemson led at halftime, 34-0, Florida Atlantic’s first time being shutout in a first half since its 2021 season opener against Florida.
Clemson improved to 129-3 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson now has a 125-5 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson is now 72-4 when winning the turnover margin since 2011.
Clemson has now won 108 of its last 109 games when holding teams under 23 points (dates to 2010).
Clemson finished +3 in the turnover margin to win the turnover margin for the first time this season and for the first time since a +3 performance in turnovers in the 2022 ACC Championship Game.
Clemson recorded four takeaways, its most since the third game of last season, a four-takeaway effort against Louisiana Tech.
Clemson has now scored at least 40 points in consecutive games for the first time since last season’s games against Louisiana Tech and Wake Forest.
Prior to Clemson surrendering a fourth-quarter touchdown, Clemson scored 86 consecutive points without surrendering a point to an opponent dating to the second quarter of last week’s game against Charleston Southern. It was Clemson’s longest such streak since scoring 91 consecutive points against Boston College and Wofford in 2019.
According to Stats Perform, the 86-point streak was one of three Clemson streaks of 85-plus points without allowing a point since 2000, joining the 91-point streak in 2019 and a 96-point streak in 2000 against Missouri and Wake Forest.
Clemson recorded 10 tackles for loss and has now produced double-digit tackles for loss in consecutive games for the first time since November 2021 against UConn and Wake Forest.
Clemson did not allow a sack, its first such game since last year’s NC State game. Clemson has now won 38 consecutive games when not allowing a sack; Clemson’s last loss in which it did not allow a sack came at Boston College in 2010.
Quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 16-of-27 passes for 169 yards with three passing touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 35 yards with a touchdown on the ground.
Klubnik followed a four-touchdown passing performance a week ago by throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another. He became the first Clemson quarterback to be responsible for four touchdowns in consecutive games since 2020, when Trevor Lawrence threw for three touchdowns and rushed for one against Miami (Fla.) before throwing for five touchdowns against Georgia Tech.
Clemson has recorded at least one takeaway in 16 consecutive home games, the nation’s longest active streak according to Stats Perform. Ole Miss entered the day with a takeaway in 17 consecutive home games but did not record a takeaway in a home win against Georgia Tech on Saturday evening.
Clemson opened the scoring on a 46-yard interception return for touchdown by cornerback Nate Wiggins.
The interception was the second of Wiggins’ career. It was also his second career pick-six, joining his 98-yard interception return in the 2022 ACC Championship Game.
Wiggins became the first Clemson player with a pick-six in consecutive seasons since Rex Varn against Maryland in 1977 and NC State in 1978. (Note: Dorian O’Daniel (2017) and Arlington Nunn (1990) had multiple pick-sixes in a single season, but Wiggins became the first since Varn with one in back-to-back years).
Including an interception return for touchdown by Wade Woodaz a week earlier, Clemson has now recorded a pick-six in back-to-back games for the first time since doing so last season against South Carolina and North Carolina.
Wide receiver Tyler Brown recorded his first career touchdown reception on a 30-yard pass from Klubnik in the first quarter.
Clemson did not convert the PAT attempt following Brown’s touchdown, snapping a streak of 126 consecutive made PAT attempts for Clemson, dating to Clemson’s last miss against Boston College in 2020.
Nickelback Khalil Barnes recorded his career interception, picking off quarterback Casey Thompson in the first quarter.
Barnes’ first career interception came in his third career game. It represents the earliest in a career a Clemson player has recorded an interception since freshmen Jonathan Meeks and Rashard Hall each recorded an interception in the third game of the 2009 season against Boston College.
On the ensuing possession after Barnes’ interception, Klubnik hit tight end Jake Briningstool for a seven-yard touchdown.
The touchdown reception was Briningstool’s first of the season and the sixth of his career. It was his first since scoring at Florida State last October.
Clemson led, 20-0, after the first quarter. Clemson’s 20 first-quarter points were its most in an opening frame since 2021 against South Carolina State (28) and its most against an FBS opponent in a first quarter since 2020 (31 vs. Pitt).
Running back Phil Mafah recorded a 19-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter. It was his 10th career rushing touchdown.
Mafah has now rushed for a touchdown in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Clemson has scored at least one rushing touchdown in a national-best 70 of its 72 games since the start of the 2018 season.
Defensive end T.J. Parker recorded his first career sack in the second quarter.
Klubnik recorded his third career rushing touchdown on a one-yard plunge in the second quarter.
Safety Jalyn Phillips recorded his first career sack in the second quarter.
Linebacker Wade Woodaz recorded a fourth-down interception in the third quarter, his second career interception and his second in as many games.
Woodaz became the first Clemson player with an interception in back-to-back games since cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. against Wake Forest and South Carolina in November 2021.
Woodaz became the first Clemson linebacker with an interception in consecutive games since Isaiah Simmons in the 2019 ACC Championship Game and 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
Brown recorded a career-long 44-yard punt return in the third quarter, Clemson’s longest punt return since Will Taylor’s 51-yard return against South Carolina State in 2021.
Brown’s punt return set up a five-play, 26-yard scoring drive that he capped off himself with a two-yard touchdown pass from Klubnik.
Brown finished the game with three receptions for 49 yards with two touchdowns. He became the first Clemson freshman wide receiver with two receiving touchdowns in a single game since Justyn Ross against Notre Dame in the 2018 Cotton Bowl.
Running back Domonique Thomas scored his first NCAA touchdown on a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Thomas had seven total touchdowns (six rushing) at NAIA Union College in Kentucky before walking on at Clemson.
Prior to the game, Thomas was featured on ACC Network for his story of perseverance, leaving Union College to pursue his dream at Clemson after his mother and grandparents were tragically killed in a tornado in his hometown of Ohatchee, Ala.
Linebacker Kobe McCloud recorded his first career forced fumble in the fourth quarter. It was recovered by defensive end Zaire Patterson, his first career fumble recovery.
With 45 all-purpose yards in the contest, Shipley (3,300) passed Buddy Gore (3,273) for 12th on Clemson's all-time leaderboard for career all-purpose yards.
Wide receiver Adam Randall recorded two receptions for a career-high 51 yards.
Captains for the contest were wide receiver Beaux Collins, quarterback Hunter Helms, defensive end Justin Mascoll, and defensive end Xavier Thomas.