#3 Clemson Makes STATEment, Dominates #15 NC State 41-7 on Homecoming to Remain Undefeated
- 2018-10-21 09:32:05
CLEMSON, SC - Well, that game went just about exactly to the script I laid out in my preview and prediction the other day. I wrote that NC State would load up to stop the run, so Etienne probably wouldn't rush for nearly as many yards as he has been, but Trevor Lawrence would pass for 300 yards for the first time in his career, and the Tigers would roll to a 41-17 win. Sure enough, Etienne rushed for just 39 yards, and Trevor passed for 308. Lawrence knew coming into the game that all the pressure was going to be on him to make plays, but it didn't phase him one bit. He was 26-39 with a touchdown and no interceptions.
And though Etienne didn't rack up the rushing yards as he had in the previous four games, he still managed to find his way into the record books, becoming the first Clemson player in history to rush for 3 touchdowns in 3 consecutive games. He now has 14 touchdowns to lead the nation and has scored an astonishing 13 of them in a span of 17 quarters played over the last 5 games! It's fitting that James Davis and C.J. Spiller--Thunder and Lightning--were in Death Valley to see Etienne do something no Clemson back has ever done before. The two beloved former Tigers were on the field together for the first time since Dabo's first season as interim head coach 10 years ago, and they received a standing ovation from the entire Death Valley crowd.
The twin towers, Higgins and Ross, were outstanding in the passing game. Higgins went for 111 yards and caught Lawrence's only touchdown pass, and Ross had a career-high 5 catches for 75 yards. Trevion Thompson had his best career game with 4 catches for 45 yards in the first half, nearly scoring a touchdown on one catch and setting up one of Etienne's TD runs. Old reliable, Hunter Renfrow, caught 5 passes for 41 yards, extending his streak to 35 straight games with a catch. In all, 12 different players caught a pass in the game.
For the second straight game, the defense was even better than I thought they would be, allowing just 7 points and holding Finley to 193 pass yards. State had the nation's #6 passing offense coming into the game, averaging 335 yards per game through the air. They only sacked Finley once--ironically, by Tanner Muse in the first quarter--but Finley gets rid of the ball quickly, which is why they had allowed the third-fewest sacks in the nation coming into the game. The defense came up with 10 tackles-for-loss, though and won the battle of 3rd down. I wrote in my preview that I thought 3rd down was going to be one of the big things to watch because the Tigers' defense has been one of the best in the nation for years on 3rd down, and State had the best 3rd down offense in the nation coming in, converting 61% of the time. On the day, State was just 2 of 12 on 3rd down and had 6 three-and-outs. The Tigers also came up with 3 turnovers, a season high. Big Dex recovered the Tigers' first fumble in 3 games after Finley dropped the snap, and K'Von Wallace and Jalen Williams both came up with pivotal interceptions. NC State brings out the best in Wallace every year. Amazingly, he has intercepted Ryan Finley in each of the last 3 meetings. His interception at the goal line last year in Raleigh sealed the victory when the Wolfpack was driving in an effort to tie the game. Wallace told me after the game that NC State didn't recruit him, so he always has a chip on his shoulder when he plays them. He dropped two big interceptions in the Texas A&M game earlier this season--one of which landed in the receiver's hands for a touchdown to make it a 2-point game--and he bobbled it today but was able to hold on. Grabbing that elusive INT wasn't enough for Wallace, though. He returned it 46 yards to the NC State 4-yard line to set up a field goal just before halftime.
Jalen's interception was also a big momentum play for the Tigers. State had taken its opening possession of the second half down to the Tigers' 30 and were threatening to score when Williams dropped into coverage and came up with his second career pick. He also had a nice return of 19 yards. The Tigers' secondary struggled with the dropped interceptions through the first 4 games. In addition to the pair of drops Wallace had at A&M, Muse also had one, and Fields dropped two of the easiest interceptions he will ever see in consecutive games at Georgia Tech and at Wake. Fortunately, the tide has turned, and the Tigers have recorded interceptions in each of the last 3 games--4 picks in all--after going the first 4 games without one. The Tigers have created a turnover in 16 straight games and are back on the plus side in turnover margin for the season!
Just as the Wake game, the Tigers managed to empty the bench with the big lead. Chase Brice played well once again, going 6-9 for 72 yards. He also led the Tigers on their longest touchdown drive of the day, going 84 yards. He made a couple beautiful throws into the end zone that went incomplete. Freshman RB Lyn-J Dixon got into the game and rushed for 25 yards on 4 carries, scoring a touchdown after reaching the end zone twice at Wake in the last game. Jake Venables also made his Clemson debut at linebacker, and his first career tackle was for a loss! I asked Brent how proud he was after the game, and he said he didn't even realize Jake made a tackle. I was glad to give him the news because the proud father got an ear-to-ear smile on his face when he heard. Fellow freshman linebacker Mike Jones, Jr. also saw action for the first time and made two tackles. Both of them will red shirt, so they will be able to play in 3 more games this season.
As well as the Tigers played, they weren't perfect. The defense caught a lucky break on a busted coverage when Kelvin Harmon, the Pack's best receiver, dropped a long pass for a would-be touchdown. Also, Dabo's son Will botched a fake field goal in the first half, costing the Tigesr points and giving the ball back to State. Dabo told me after the game that they had exactly the look they wanted, that they saw on film, and that it probably would have gone for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the snap was a little off center, and Will tried to leave his crouch position a little too soon, dropping the snap. The Tigers also had a false start by Garrett Williams on 4th and goal at the one-yard line just before halftime, followed by a delay of game, forcing them to kick a field goal. The Tigers had their jumbo package on the field with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins blocking for Adam Choice, but they never got to run the play. Huegel was good on his field goal, though, making it 24-0 at the half.
Huegel was 2-2 on his field goals. Freshman BT Potter came in to attempt a field goal in the 4th quarter, but Dabo called a timeout so he could run Alex Spence onto the field. Dabo told me after the game that he wanted to give the graduate Alex Spence an opportunity on Homecoming. Unfortunately, Spence missed from 36 yards.
The 34-point win tied the second-largest margin of victory over a ranked opponent in program history. The Tigers are an astonishing 15-2 in their last 17 games against the top 25. It was another brilliant, complete performance by the Tigers--their second in a row after the gritty win over Syracuse with Trevor Lawrence knocked out of the game. The Tigers have remarkably beaten NC State 7 straight years and 14 of the last 15! The divisional rivalry formerly known as the Textile Bowl has become as one-sided as ever. After 3 straight dog fights with the Wolfpack, the Tigers flexed their muscles and made a statement to the nation that they are the team everyone thought they were preseason and then some. This was the Tigers' second-largest margin of victory over a ranked opponent in program history. I thought they deserved to move back to #2 regardless of what Ohio State did Saturday, but the Buckeyes made it a forgone conclusion with their blowout loss at unranked Purdue, which had all the ear marks of their loss to Iowa last season. The Tigers are still the most complete team in the nation--the only one ranked in the top 10 for both total defense and total offense. And their strength of record is better than Alabama's. They have arguably the best defense in the nation and are as balanced as can be on offense--they have demonstrated that in the last two games, rushing for 471 yards at Wake and passing for 380 against State. The scary thing is that this team has not even scratched the surface of its offensive potential! The Tigers go back on the road next week, looking to win back-to-back trips to Tallahassee for the first time in school history, and the first College Football Rankings will be released on the following Tuesday.
As usual I'll have Dabo's Sunday evening teleconference for you right here, so stay tuned!
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