1-0 and 13 to go! In front of zero fans, the 125th season of Clemson Football
has finally begun, and after the most scrutinized season opener in those 125
years, the Tigers performed about as well as they have in any opener and looked
like the No.1 team in the nation, as I expected. The backups were somewhat
underwhelming—the Tigers were outscored by Wake 13-10 in the second half—but they
are more talented than any team in the nation and gained some valuable early
experience. As usual, Dabo was able to clear his bench and play 78 of the 80
players who made the trip—2 more than their nation-leading average last season.
My score prediction was 55-6, and the Tigers were right on pace to hit that
mark with a 27-0 lead at halftime. However, the backup quarterbacks struggled
to mount scoring drives, and the third-stringers on defense gave up some big
plays in the second half, resulting in the 37-13 final. Keep in mind, too, that
the Tigers were without several key players due to illness, quarantine
protocols or injury. They included starting DE Justin Foster, starting CB
Derion Kendrick, co-starting CB Mario Goodrich, backup center Hunter Rayburn
and sophomore running backs Chez Mellusi and Michel Dukes.
Unlike so many teams after a turbulent spring and summer,
the Tigers’ starting group was a well-oiled machine on both sides of the ball.
Trev and Trav led the offense up and down the field, seemingly at will. Like
last year, Lawrence scored the first touchdown of the season with his legs, and
he did it again for the second TD, walking into the end zone untouched both times.
He was brilliant in his 2020 debut, racking up a 195.7 QBR while passing for
351 yards, 3 total touchdowns and no interceptions in just over a half of play.
He wasn’t perfect—he dropped a snap near the end zone that cost them 4 points,
took a bad sack and missed an open receiver for a 1st down—but it
was certainly a Heisman-worthy season debut, especially given everything it
took to get here. He would have had two pass TD’s instead of one, but Amari
Rodgers dropped a 40-yard pass in the back of the end zone because he lost
concentration. Trevor would end up with one of his two running TD’s instead on
As for the Tigers’ other Heisman candidate and two-time
reigning ACC Player of the Year Travis Etienne, it was another day at the
office. In just one half of play, he rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown,
averaging 6 yards per carry. He also had 3 catches for 47 yards. I thought he
was robbed on the Tigers’ first touchdown drive when he leaped over the pile
and reached the ball across the goal line. The replay showed that the ball
clearly breached the plane of the goal line, but the officials didn’t stop for
review, and Trevor ended up running it in himself on the next play. With sophomore running backs Chez Mellusi and Michel Dukes out, true freshmen Kobe Pace and Demarkcus Bowman (or "Thunder & Lightning 2.0) were able to get several reps and looked as good as advertised. They each averaged 3.7 yards on 6 carries, but you can see the nice combo of power and speed they possess.
As I predicted in my preview, Braden Galloway and the other
tight ends played an enormous role in the passing game for the first time since
Jordan Leggett in 2016. Galloway had 5 catches for 60 yards, sophomore Davis
Allen had a catch for 42 yards and the veteran of the group, JC Chalk, caught a
12-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The grandson of Dabo’s old
coach Gene Stallings would have been the last of the 4 tight ends that anyone
would guess to be the first to catch a touchdown this season! He has always
been utilized more for his blocking than his receiving, although it wasn’t his
first career TD.
With no Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross in the passing game, it
was senior Amari Rodgers and sophomore Joseph Ngata who stepped up at wide receiver.
Rodgers had 5 catches for 90 yards despite the 40-yard touchdown drop. Ngata
had 3 catches for 48 yards. Ladson had only one catch, but it went for 21
yards, and Powell added two grabs for 15. True freshmen EJ Williams and Ajou
Ajou each made his first career catch, and redshirt freshman Brannon Spector—the
new No.13—had a 16-yard reception. He also ran for 19 yards and almost scored
on a reverse.
The Tigers’ starting group on defense was equally
impressive. With Justin Foster out, true freshman Myles Murphy benefitted from
more playing time and made the most of it, recording his first two career
sacks! Fellow true freshman Bryan Bresee posted half a sack from his defensive
tackle position, and those two are going to wreak havoc together for a long,
long time! Fellow heralded freshman defensive lineman DeMonte Capehart did not
make the trip. Winston-Salem native KJ Henry, Regan Upshaw, redshirt freshman
LaVonta Bentley and Baylon Spector also contributed to the Tigers’ 6 sacks. Upshaw
almost forced a fumble, recovered by Spector, but the officials overturned it
as an incompletion. As a result, the Tigers did not come away with any turnovers,
which was a little disappointing. The Tigers’ youth on the back end was exposed
a little bit. CB Andrew Booth was beaten a couple of times, and Malcolm Greene
committed a costly late hit out of bounds that resulted in Wake’s only
touchdown. Actually, Wake shouldn’t have scored that TD in my opinion because
freshman CB Fred Davis was the victim of a bad pass interference call on 4th
and 14. But, again, it was valuable game experience for all of the Tigers’
younger players, and they will learn a lot from watching the film. As for the
starters, it’s clear that this defense is going to be as dominant as I thought
they would be—especially as they mature and they get DE’s Justin Foster and
Xavier Thomas back, along with corners Derion Kendrick and Mario Goodrich! One
last note on defense: starting DT Tyler Davis left the game with an undisclosed
injury. Dabo did not know the extent of the injury after the game, and I will
have an update on that for you Sunday night. Backup DT Etinosa Reuben, as I
expected, did not make the trip because he is recovering from a wrist injury. He
should be back in action soon.
Finally, what a great season debut for BT Potter! Dabo told
us that he had been remarkably accurate throughout spring and August camp, and
he exhibited that on Saturday night, going 3-3 with a career-long-tying
52-yarder that would have been good from 65! He has always been a weapon on
kickoffs with his tremendous touchback rate, but it looks like he will be a weapon
on field goals this season as well.
I’m sure Dabo feels better about having this game behind him
than any other of his 12 season openers, of which he has won 11, losing only at
top-10 UGA in 2014. The Tigers have won 23 straight games against ACC
competition and extend their nation-long Saturday game win streak to 43
straight. That trails only 1950’s Oklahoma all-time! The Tigers will look
toward their home opener against The Citadel next Saturday in Death Valley, and
I’m sure they’ve never looked more forward to getting in front of 19,000 fans.
Be sure to check back on Sunday evening for our Zoom conference call with Dabo
and an update on Tyler Davis. Click on the link below for highlights and all of our post-game
Clemson improved to 94-23-8 all-time in season-openers. Clemson has now won 29 of its last 36 openers, including an 11-1 mark in openers under Dabo Swinney and victories in each of its last six season debuts.
Clemson earned its 13th consecutive victory in true road games, breaking the school-record 12-game streak set across the 2015-17 seasons. Clemson’s 13-game winning streak in true road games is the longest active streak in the country.
Clemson improved to 68-17-1 all-time against Wake Forest. Clemson's 68 all-time wins against Wake Forest are its second-most against any opponent in school history, trailing the Tigers' 71 wins against South Carolina.
Clemson won its 12th consecutive game against Wake Forest, dating back to 2009. It marks Clemson's second 12-game winning streak in series history, trailing a 15-game streak from 1977-91. Clemson's 12-game winning streak against Wake Forest is the Tigers' longest active winning streak against an ACC foe.
Clemson earned a sixth straight road victory against Wake Forest, dating back to 2010. Clemson's last loss in Winston-Salem came in 2008, leading to Dabo Swinney being named Clemson's Interim Head Coach four days later.
Clemson has now recorded a six-game road winning streak against a single opponent for the eighth time in school history. It is Clemson's first such streak since 1989-99, when Clemson won six straight against South Carolina in Columbia.
Clemson defeated its 23rd consecutive ACC opponent, including postseason play, dating to October 2017 against Georgia Tech, adding to the longest such streak in school history.
Head Coach Dabo Swinney improved to 12-0 as a head coach against Wake Forest. Wake Forest is one of five ACC schools against whom Swinney is undefeated as head coach, a list that also includes Duke (3-0), Louisville (6-0), Virginia (4-0) and Virginia Tech (5-0). Swinney is also 2-0 vs. temporary ACC member Notre Dame.
Though 2020 is technically being played sans divisions, Clemson defeated a traditional ACC Atlantic Division opponent for the 15th straight time and for the 35th time in 36 opportunities.
Clemson pushed its winning streak in Saturday games to 44 to extend the longest Saturday winning streak in school history and the longest active streak in the country.
Clemson has now won 73 of its last 78 games overall dating to 2014.
Clemson has now won 44 of its last 46 games against ACC teams.
Clemson improved to 51-1 when scoring first since 2015.
Clemson has now won 79 of its last 81 games when leading at halftime.
Clemson improved to 101-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson now has a 100-2 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson has now won 82 straight games when holding teams under 23 points (dates to 2010).
Clemson improved to 47-1 since 2015 when outscoring opponents in the “Middle Eight,” defined as the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half.
Clemson is now 50-2 when having a 100-yard rusher since 2011.
Clemson has now won 23 September games in a row.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 22-of-28 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown, and also added two rushing touchdowns.
Lawrence posted the first game of 350-plus passing yards and multiple rushing touchdowns by a Clemson player since Tajh Boyd against NC State in 2012.
The game was Lawrence’s first of his career with multiple rushing touchdowns. Lawrence is the first Clemson quarterback to produce multiple rushing touchdowns in a single game since Kelly Bryant at NC State in 2017.
Lawrence scored the game’s first touchdown on a two-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, his 11th career touchdown run. It marked the second straight year that Clemson’s opening score of the season came on a Lawrence touchdown run.
Lawrence has now rushed for a touchdown in three straight games, dating to last season, matching his career long streak set in the first three games of 2019.
Lawrence’s first touchdown run was the culmination of a nine-play, 92-yard drive. Clemson produced eight drives of 90 or more yards a season ago.
Lawrence’s passing touchdown was the 67th of his career, tying him with Thaddeus Lewis for 10th-most in ACC history.
Lawrence produced his eighth career 300-yard passing game, joining Tajh Boyd (18), Deshaun Watson (13) and Charlie Whitehurst (eight) as the only players in school history to record at least eight career 300-yard passing games. The 351 yards passing were the third-highest total of his career (395 vs. Syracuse in 2019; 393 vs. South Carolina in 2018).
Dating to last season, Lawrence has now thrown 267 consecutive passes without an interception. He passed Mitch Trubisky (243 from 2015-16) for the fourth-longest such streak in ACC history. He is three attempts short of tying Drew Weatherford (270 in 2007) for third on that list.
Lawrence set Clemson records for passing yards (351) and total offense (327) in a season opener. The passing mark broke Charlie Whiteburst’s 288 yards against Wake Forest in the 2004 season opener, and the total offense number passed Kelly Bryant’s 313 yards against Kent State to open the 2017 season.
Lawrence’s 351 passing yards were Clemson’s second-most by any player in a game against Wake Forest all-time, shy only of Tajh Boyd’s 428-yard performance against Wake Forest in 2012.
Running back Travis Etienne rushed 17 times for 102 yards and caught three passes for 47 yards.
With his 18th career 100-yard rushing performance, Etienne broke Wayne Gallman's Clemson record for career 100-yard rushing games (17 from 2014-16).
Etienne entered the game with two career 100-yard games against Wake Forest (167 in 2018, 121 in 2019). With the 106-yard rushing performance in 2020, he tied the school record held by Kenny Flowers (vs. Duke, 1983-85) and Wayne Gallman (vs. South Carolina, 2014-16) for career 100-yard rushing games against a single opponent.
On a two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Etienne rushed for a touchdown in a 10th straight game, dating to last season, to move past Lester Brown (1978), Terry Allen (1988-89) and James Davis (2005-06) for sole possession of the longest such streak in school history.
Etienne has now scored a touchdown of any kind in 13 consecutive games, pulling within one game of the school record held by C.J. Spiller (14 straight games in 2009).
Etienne’s rushing touchdown was the 57th of his career, tying Florida’s Tim Tebow, Washington’s Myles Gaskin and San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk for the 15th-most by any FBS player according to official NCAA records that did not count postseason statistics until 2002.
With 149 all-purpose yards, Etienne (5,271) passed Sammy Watkins (5,129) for second on Clemson's career all-purpose yardage leaderboard. He now trails only C.J. Spiller, who holds the Clemson and ACC records at 7,588.
Etienne (5,271) entered the Top 10 in career all-purpose yards in ACC history.
Tight end Braden Galloway finished the game with a career-high-tying 60 yards on a career-high five receptions. His career highs entering the game in each category were three receptions (vs. Furman in 2018) and 60 yards (vs. LSU last season).
Tight end J.C. Chalk scored his first career touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Lawrence in the second quarter.
Tight end Davis Allen recorded a career-long 42-yard reception from Lawrence in the third quarter.
Collectively, Clemson’s tight ends finished with seven receptions for 114 yards with a touchdown.
Defensive end K.J. Henry, a Winston-Salem native making his first career start, recorded Clemson’s first sack of the season on Wake Forest’s opening drive. It was the third sack of his career.
Also on Wake Forest’s opening drive, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee recorded a half-sack, splitting a sack with linebacker Baylon Spector. Bresee became the first true freshman to record at least half-a-sack in a season opener since Dexter Lawrence and Tre Lamar in 2016.
Bresee also added a blocked field goal in the first quarter. It was Clemson’s first blocked placekick since Christian Wilkins’ blocked a PAT against Louisville in 2018 and the first field goal block since Dexter Lawrence’s blocked field goal at Texas A&M in 2018.
Fellow true freshman defensive lineman Myles Murphy earned his first career sack in the second quarter. Murphy finished with 2.0 sacks, the most by a Clemson true freshman since Dexter Lawrence against Virginia Tech in the 2016 ACC Championship.
Placekicker B.T. Potter finished three-for-three on field goals and four-for-four on PATs.
Potter tied his career long with a 52-yard field goal to end the second quarter. Potter now has four career field goals of 50 yards or more, one shy of the career school record of five held by Chris Gardocki (1988-90) and Donald Igwebuike (1981-84).
With his third PAT, the 89th of his career on his 89th attempt, Potter broke Clemson's all-time record for consecutive extra points made (88 by Mark Buchholz from 2007-08).
Potter (90) passed Mark Buchholz (88 from 2007-08) for eighth on Clemson's leaderboard for career PATs.
Clemson surrendered its first touchdown of the game with 2:34 remaining in the contest. It ended a streak of 181:54 of game play since the Demon Deacons’ last touchdown against Clemson, which came with 2:28 remaining in the Tigers’ 28-14 victory in 2017.
Clemson finished the game with six sacks, its most in a season opener since a six-sack performance to open 2010.
Clemson scored touchdowns on consecutive drives of 92 and 80 yards in the first quarter. In 2019, Clemson had consecutive drives of 80 yards or longer resulting in touchdowns just twice (Q1 vs. NC State, Q1-2 vs. Wofford).
Clemson outscored Wake Forest, 14-0, in the first quarter. Clemson has outscored opponents 191-34 in first quarters since the start of the 2019 season.
One year after playing the earliest season opener in school history (Aug. 29, 2019 vs. Georgia Tech), Clemson played its latest season opener since 1986 (Sept. 13, 1986 vs. Virginia Tech).
Clemson opened the season against an ACC opponent for only the 14th time since the conference’s founding in 1953. Clemson is now 11-2-1 against ACC opponents in Week 1 contests all-time.
Clemson opened the season against Wake Forest after opening against Georgia Tech last season, representing the first time Clemson opened with an ACC foe in back-to-back years since a five-season stretch of in-conference season openers across the 1965-69 seasons.
Clemson opened conference play on the road for the seventh time in eight years. Clemson has now won each of its last six conference openers since 2015, passing a five-year streak from 1980-84 for the longest conference-opener winning streak in school history.
Clemson opened a season on the road for the first time since 2016, when second-ranked Clemson defeated Auburn, 19-13, at Jordan-Hare Stadium to kick off an eventual national championship campaign.
Captains for the contest were quarterback Trevor Lawrence, defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, wide receiver Cornell Powell and linebacker James Skalski.