CLEMSON, SC - Well, I expected the Tigers to be hungry after an unprecedented 3 weeks off, but that was ridiculous! They immediately roared out to a 31-0 lead, the most first-quarter points scored in program history. The Tigers started as fast on defense as they did on offense, forcing 3 three-and-outs and 3 turnovers in Pitt's first 6 offensive possessions! I reported before the game that starting safety Lannden Zanders, backup safety Jalyn Phillips and backup corner Sheridan Jones were all out. On top of that, starting corner Derion Kendrick was a late scratch for disciplinary reasons, as Dabo told me after the game, or in his "love shack," as he puts it. All of those players missing from the secondary would have been a major concern for most teams, but the Tigers went out and collected 4 interceptions without them! And that was against a veteran, future NFL QB in Kenny Pickett, who had just 4 interceptions all season coming into the game. Mario Goodrich was the first Tiger with 2 interceptions in a game since Tankersley in 2016, and Andrew Booth made his second spectacular, high-flying INT of the season. True freshman Malcolm Greene, playing the nickel position, started the party with his INT after a deflection by Tyler Davis at the line of scrimmage. Speaking of Davis, his return along with Skalski and Mike Jones made an enormous difference and reminded the world of what this team is capable of at semi-full strength. Those three were all out at Notre Dame, and the Tigers would have won easily with them on the field. In all, the defense forced 10 three-and-outs and 5 turnovers with a season-high 6 sacks! These were the top 2 teams nationally in sacks and tackles-for-loss, and the Tigers won the day with twice as many sacks. They each had 8 TFL's. The Tigers should have had a 6th turnover when Xavier Thomas sacked Pickett and forced a fumble. The ball bounced right to Mike Jones, but he was unable to secure it and Pitt recovered. The Tigers are now 2nd nationally with 13 interceptions and 2nd in sacks, still behind Pitt.
Also missing at Notre Dame, of course, was Trevor Lawrence, who finally got to play again after 5 weeks off! He sure didn't show any rust or timing issues. All he did was throw for 2 touchdowns and 403 yards, one shy of the career high he set at Georgia Tech two starts ago. In both cases, he barely played more than one half! Trevor also made a couple of big first down runs that led to scores. One came when they really needed it, on 3rd down in the 3rd quarter when the offense had only scored 7 points since the 1st quarter, and Pitt had gained some momentum. He had to break a few tackles but willed his way to the first down, and the Tigers regained momentum with a touchdown. Trevor has tied Clemson legends Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd and Rodney Williams for the most wins as a starting quarterback with 32. His only loss, of course, was in the National Championship last season. Trevor will have to wait, though, to join ACC legends Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd, Lamar Jackson and Phillip Rivers as the only players in ACC history with 100 TD's. It looked like he was going to join the 100 TD club on two different plays Saturday night, but his TD passes to Amari Rodgers was called back for a penalty, and Galloway's heel touched the sideline before his apparent TD reception. Amazingly, this is the first time the Tigers have had a 400-yard passer in back-to-back games in program history, and it was done by two different quarterbacks, including a true freshman! The 439 yards for DJ at Notre Dame, incidentally, was the most ever recorded against that historic program. Wrap your head around that one!
Travis Etienne was also likely playing in his final game at Death Valley, and he also scored 2 touchdowns, finishing with 78 all-purpose yards in one half of play and 5.3 yards per carry. He passed Ricky Williams for 5th on the all-time touchdown list, extending his ACC record. What Travis doesn't get credit for are all the plays that are made simply because he is on the field and the defense has to react and account for him. On several big plays, including scoring plays, a fake handoff or pitch to Travis opened up a pass to a receiver or a running lane for Trevor. It's a shame that no one is talking about Travis in the Heisman race anymore because he and Trevor Lawrence are probably the two most valuable players in all of college football, regardless of what their stats say. One blemish that does rightfully hurt Etienne's resume this season is his ball security, as he gave both Boston College and Notre Dame touchdowns on his fumbles. It almost cost them the game against BC, and it did at Notre Dame. However, if there's one player who deserves more than a few allowances, it's Travis, and it was nice to see him without a fumble against Pitt.
The other two big senior play-makers on offense, Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell, each scored a touchdown as well. I reported way back in August camp, and actually back in the spring, how impressed Dabo was with Cornell and that he really turned a corner, and now we're seeing the evidence of that every Saturday. With Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata out for most of the season, the Tigers had to have production from Cornell, and he has risen to the occasion and then some. Powell had 4 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown at halftime and finished with 6 catches for 176 yards. He made a spectacular one-handed catch on a 70-yard pass from Trevor and came up just short of a second TD. Powell almost scored a second TD at Notre Dame as well, but the officials said he was just short of the goal line. Fortunately, the Tigers were able to score in both instances. Powell has posted over 100 yards in 3 straight games now with touchdowns in 4 of the last 5! His touchdown, by the way, came on a beautiful flea flicker immediately after Pitt attempted the same play and had it intercepted by Booth. Talk about adding insult to injury! Amari Rodgers was also superb, as he has been all season, making a couple sensational diving catches. He should have had 2 touchdown catches, but one of his diving catches was reversed because OG Will Putnam was too far down field on an RPO. Those RPO's make it difficult on even the most experienced offensive linemen because they don't know whether to be down field blocking for a run or whether it's a pass. If it's a pass, they can't be more than 3 yards down field or they will be called for ineligible receiver down field. I asked Dabo about that after the game, and he took full responsibility, saying it was on him.
It's been a ridiculously unlucky season for the Tigers with injuries but especially at the 9-man position. The Tigers' top 3 tall, boundary receivers--Ross, Ngata and Ladson--have been out all season, and I was hoping true freshman WR EJ Williams would step up on Saturday with a big game. He did just that and right out of the gate! Wearing No.39 to honor his father, who died at that age, Williams caught the Tigers' first TD of the game on a perfect throw by Trevor in tight coverage. Ironically, on Senior Day, it was 3 true freshmen who made big plays on the first offensive and defensive series of the game. Trenton Simpson sacked Kenny Pickett for a big loss, which led to a 3-and-out, then Williams scored the touchdown and that was followed by the Tigers' first interception of the game by true freshman Malcolm Greene. The game also ended with a big play by a freshman. Lavonta Bentley forced a fumble, and sophomore Kane Patterson scooped it up and returned it all the way to the 2-yard line. Unfortunately, his knee touched the ground just before he reached across the goal line, or the Tigers would have won 59-17. The future is certainly bright for the Tigers, though!
The Tigers got good production from their backs behind Etienne. After two straight games with no rushing yards, Dixon ran for 46 yards on 9 carries and scored, amazingly, his first touchdown of the season. Mellusi rushed for 27 yards on 5 carries and had two scores--one on the ground and his first through the air. The sophomore now has 4 TD's this season.
With the 52-17 win, the Tigers not only avenged their last home loss 4 years ago on the last-second field goal by Pitt, they made a statement to the nation that the Notre Dame game was an aberration, and they are still No.1. The Tigers were minus two starters on defense and two on offense, but they still came up a hair short of scoring 59 against a hot Pitt team with Kenny Pickett. In fact, the Tigers could have scored 100 if they wanted. In fact, even with Trev and Trav playing half the game, they almost scored 66 because they had a TD negated by an ineligible offensive lineman down field, and they let the clock run out on the Pitt 2-yard line at the end of the game. By comparison, Notre Dame beat Pitt 45-3 a month ago, and that was without Pickett. It's been 9 years and 124 games since the Tigers lost back-to-back games and hasn't happened since Venables has been on the staff. That's the longest active streak in the nation by far. Alabama and Ohio State both lost a second consecutive game in 2014. Travis, Amari, Cornell and the rest of the seniors leave as the only class in Clemson history to go undefeated in Death Valley. The nation's longest active home win streak is now 28 games, which ties the program record for Notre Dame! That gives you an idea of how special this home win streak is. We know that Trevor, Travis and Amari are likely leaving for the NFL after this season, but it will be very interesting to see who takes advantage of the extended eligibility and comes back. We could see starters like James Skalski, Nolan Turner, Cornell Powell, Jordan Williams and Will Spiers decide to play another year for the Tigers, and that would be huge! The Tigers will go on the road again to play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. It could be their final game of the regular season, depending on whether they reschedule the FSU game for the 12th. If the Tigers beat the Hokies and opt not to play FSU, they would clinch a spot in the ACC Championship Game and have a week off to rest.
Dabo's post-game press conference, notes and highlights are below. Be sure to click on the link for more post-game interviews and our Sunday evening teleconference with Dabo!
Clemson joined 2013 Florida State as the only ACC teams ever to score 34 or more points in each of the first nine games of a season.
Clemson reached the 40-point mark for the seventh time in its last eight games.
Clemson scored 31 points in the first quarter, the highest-scoring first quarter in Clemson history. Clemson had previously scored 28 first-quarter points against Duke in 2012 and against NC State in 2019.
The 31 first-quarter points were four points shy of the school record for any quarter (35), set in the second quarter against Wake Forest in 1981, the third quarter against North Carolina in 2011 and the second quarter against Georgia Tech earlier this season.
Clemson gained 581 total yards, its second-most this season. Clemson has now opened a season with 400 yards of offense in each of the first nine games of a season for the second time in school history (2018).
Clemson threw for 436 yards. In two all-time games against Pitt at Memorial Stadium, Clemson has thrown for 1,016 passing yards (508.0 per game) against the Panthers at Death Valley.
Clemson threw for 300 yards in a fifth straight game for the first time in school history.
Clemson added to its school-record streak of consecutive games with at least 25 pass completions, reaching at least 25 completions in a seventh straight contest.
Clemson recorded multiple rushing touchdowns in a 25th consecutive game. The last time Clemson was held to a single rushing touchdown was in the 2018 Cotton Bowl.
Clemson recorded a season-high four rushing touchdowns, its most since the 2019 ACC Championship Game vs. Virginia (four).
Clemson recorded four interceptions. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett had entered the game with four interceptions in 259 pass attempts this year.
Clemson won the turnover margin, 5-1. The plus-four performance in the turnover margin surpassed Clemson’s best performance of the year (plus-three vs. Syracuse) and was its best since a plus-four effort at NC State last year.
Clemson’s four interceptions were its most since a four-interception game against NC State last year.
Clemson’s three-interception first quarter was its first time recording three interceptions in a single quarter since 2016, when Clemson picked off Troy three times in the second quarter.
Clemson outscored Pitt off turnovers, 28-7, and has now outscored opponents off turnovers by a 265-59 mark since the start of the 2018 postseason.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 26-of-37 passes for 403 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Lawrence improved to 32-1 as a starter, tying the school record for wins as a starting quarterback. He matches the career win totals of Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson, who finished with 32 wins each.
Lawrence’s 403 passing yards were one shy of his career high of 404, set earlier this season at Georgia Tech.
The game was Lawrence’s second career 400-yard passing game and the 12th by a Clemson quarterback all-time. He joined Deshaun Watson (five) and Tajh Boyd (three) as the only Clemson quarterbacks to record multiple 400-yard passing games in a career.
With Lawrence’s performance, Clemson has now had a 400-yard passer in consecutive games, including the 439-yard performance by D.J. Uiagalelei at Notre Dame in Clemson’s most recent game prior to Saturday. It’s the first time in school history Clemson has had a 400-yard passer in back-to-back games.
With his fifth pass attempt of the game, Lawrence (1,032) became the fourth Clemson player to attempt 1,000 career passes, joining Tajh Boyd (1,402), Charlie Whitehurst (1,368) and Deshaun Watson (1,207). His first touchdown pass of the game came on his 999th career pass attempt.
Lawrence posted his 11th career 300-yard passing game. He, Tajh Boyd (18) and Deshaun Watson (13) are the only players in school history to record double-digit career 300-yard passing games.
With 412 yards of total offense, Lawrence (10,001) passed Charlie Whitehurst (9,763) for third-most career yards of total offense in Clemson history.
Lawrence (10,001) joined Tajh Boyd (13,069) and Deshaun Watson (12,094) as the only players in Clemson history to record 10,000 yards of total offense in a career.
Running back Travis Etienne rushed 11 times for 58 yards with two rushing touchdowns and caught three passes for 20 receiving yards.
With 20 receiving yards in the contest, Etienne (511) broke the Clemson record for receiving yards by a running back in a single season, held previously by C.J. Spiller (503 in 2009).
Etienne scored a two-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, adding to his FBS record for most career games scoring a touchdown. He now has a touchdown of any kind in 44 of his 52 career games.
Etienne rushed for a touchdown in a seventh consecutive game to record his third career streak of seven games or more with a rushing touchdown. It ties a seven-game streak of his own from 2018 and a seven-game streak by Kenny Flowers in 1985 for the sixth-longest streak in school history.
During the game, Etienne (76) joined Tajh Boyd (133), Deshaun Watson (116) and Trevor Lawrence (99) as the only players in school history to be responsible for 75 career touchdowns (scored and/or thrown).
Etienne (68) passed Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary (66) for sole possession of the sixth-most career rushing touchdowns according to official NCAA FBS records.
Etienne scored multiple touchdowns for the 23rd time in his career. The FBS record for most career games scoring two or more touchdowns is 25, shared by Miami (Ohio)'s Travis Prentice (1996-99) and Wisconsin's Montee Ball (2009-12).
Etienne (76) passed Texas' Ricky Williams (75) for the fifth-most career total touchdowns of any FBS player since 1956.
With 12 points in the game, Etienne (456) became the 14th player (and sixth non-kicker) in FBS history to reach 450 career points. He joined Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins (466 from 2009-12) as the only ACC players to accomplish the feat.
Wide receiver Cornell Powell recorded six receptions for a career-high176 receiving yards, surpassing his 161-yard effort against Notre Dame in Clemson’s most recent game.
Powell’s 176 receiving yards tied for the 10th-most in a game in Clemson history.
Powell recorded his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game to tie a school record shared by Charlie Waters (1969), Tony Horne (1997), Rod Gardner (2000), DeAndre Hopkins (2012) and Sammy Watkins (2013).
Powell became the first Clemson player to record back-to-back 150-yard receiving games since Sammy Watkins against Maryland and Virginia in 2013. It’s the third such instance in Clemson history, joining Watkins in 2013 and DeAndre Hopkins against Georgia Tech and Boston College in 2012.
Powell scored on a 43-yard flea flicker from Lawrence in the first quarter. It’s now the second time this season he’s scored a touchdown in consecutive games.
Wide receiver E.J. Williams made his first career start. Instead of his usual No. 6, Williams wore No. 39 during the Military Appreciation Day game in honor of his father, Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Williams Sr., who died at 39 years of age in 2010 after serving 18 years in the U.S. Army.
Williams gained 38 yards on three receptions with one receiving touchdown.
Williams recorded his first career touchdown reception on a five-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence in the first quarter. The touchdown opened the scoring, and with the win, Clemson is now 57-1 when scoring first since 2015.
Running back Lyn-J Dixon scored his first rushing touchdown of the season on a one-yard first quarter run.
Running back Chez Mellusi scored his third rushing touchdown of the season on a two-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Mellusi scored his first career receiving touchdown on a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei in the fourth quarter. Saturday marked Mellusi’s first career game with multiple touchdowns.
Wide receiver Amari Rodgers recorded a career-high 10 receptions for 93 yards.
Rodgers became the first player in Clemson history to catch at least six passes in seven straight games.
Rodgers,who entered the game already holding single-season career highs in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns,now has a single-season career-high 58 receptions this season, surpassing his 55 receptions in 2018.
With the 10 receptions on Saturday, Rodgers tied Terry Smith (162) for ninth in school history in career receptions.
Cornerback Malcolm Greene ended Pitt’s second possession with his first career interception.
Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. recorded his second interception of the season, picking off Pickett in the first quarter.
Cornerback Mario Goodrich recorded his first interception of the season on Clemson’s third pick of the first quarter. It was his second career interception and his first since the third game of the 2019 season at Syracuse.
Goodrich added his second interception of the game in the fourth quarter, the first multi-interception game of his career. It was the first multi-interception game by a Clemson player since Cordrea Tankersley’s two-interception game against Virginia Tech in the 2016 ACC Championship Game.
Clemson registered six sacks and has now recorded multiple sacks in 31 of its last 32 games, including each of its last 15. Clemson’s 15-game streak with multiple sacks ties a streak across the 2012-13 seasons for the Tigers' fourth-longest streak since 1980.
Clemson’s six sacks tied a season-high set in the season opener at Wake Forest.
Linebacker Trenton Simpson recorded his third sack of the season on Pitt’s opening drive.
Defensive tackle Tyler Davis returned to action and recorded a sack in the second quarter.
Linebacker Baylon Spector added to his single-season career high in sacks, pushing his season total to 3.5 with a sack in the second quarter.
Defensive end Xavier Thomas added his first forced fumble of the season in the second quarter, coming on his third sack of 2020.
Defensive end Regan Upshaw added a sack to push his season and career total to 2.5.
Linebacker LaVonta Bentley added his second sack of the season — the second of his career — in the fourth quarter.
Bentley later added the first forced fumble of his career in the fourth quarter. It was recovered by linebacker Kane Patterson, his first career fumble recovery.
Captains for the contest were quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Cornell Powell, linebacker James Skalski and safety Nolan Turner.
WITH THE WIN....
Clemson has now earned eight wins through the first nine games of a season for the 16th time in school history. Clemson previously won at least eight games in its first nine contests in the 1939, 1948, 1950, 1978, 1981, 1987, 2000, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Clemson won a seventh ACC regular season game for a sixth-straight season, adding to the longest streak in school history. It gives Clemson at least seven regular season conference wins in eight of the last nine seasons, dating to 2012.
The 2020 Clemson seniors improved to 27-0 at home from 2017-20 and tied the school record for most home wins by a senior class held by the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seniors (27 each). The group became the first Clemson class in the modern era to post a perfect four-year record at home and the first to do so since Memorial Stadium opened in 1942. (Note: Clemson was undefeated at home in a four-year span from 1900-03 but only played a total of five home games in that four-year window).
Clemson's seniors became the first FBS senior class to post a perfect career record at home since the 2010 Boise State (26-0) and Oklahoma (25-0) seniors.
Clemson finished undefeated at home for the sixth time in seven years. It marks the school's first time accomplishing the feat (including ties) since 1935-41, when the team was 15-1-1 in its final seven seasons at Riggs Field prior to the opening of Memorial Stadium in 1942.
Clemson has now won all its home games in four consecutive seasons for the first time under Head Coach Dabo Swinney.
Clemson won its sixth home game this season to give the Tigers a 10-year streak of winning at least six games at Memorial Stadium. Clemson has posted a winning record at home in 19 consecutive seasons.
Clemson is now a national-best 47-1 at home in the College Football Playoff era (since 2014) and defeated the Pitt program that was responsible for Clemson’s lone home loss in that span (43-42 in 2016).
Clemson won a 28th consecutive home game to extend its school record for the longest home winning streak and longest home unbeaten streak in school history. Of the 119 players on Clemson's 2020 roster, 110 have never experienced a home loss in their Clemson careers. Nine fifth-year seniors on Clemson's 2020 roster were on the 2016 team that recovered from a home loss to Pitt by winning the national championship that season.
At 30-2, the Clemson seniors tied the 2018 and 2019 seniors (30 wins each) as the winningest class in school history in regular season conference play and pulled within one game of the four-year conference record of 31, set by multiple Florida State classes from 1995-2000.
Clemson improved to 26-6 in games following a loss under Dabo Swinney, including season openers following a loss in the previous season finale.
Clemson has played 124 games since losing back-to-back games, the longest active streak in the nation and the longest in ACC history, per ESPN. Clemson’s last time losing back-to-back games came in 2011.
Clemson, which entered the game fourth in the AP Poll after being ranked No. 1 prior to its last game, won its 17th consecutive game when ranked lower in the AP Poll than in its previous contest. Clemson is now 25-4 under Dabo Swinney when playing a game at a lower AP ranking than in its previous contest, including season openers in which Clemson opened lower than it finished the prior season.
Clemson improved to 66-3 in regular season play since the start of the 2015 season.
Clemson improved to 50-3 against conference opponents since the start of the 2015 season, the first year of Clemson's active run of five consecutive ACC titles.
Clemson evened its all-time series with Pitt at 2-2 and leveled its all-time home record in the series at 1-1.
Though 2020 is technically a divisionless season, Clemson improved to 32-8 against opponents historically from the ACC Coastal Division, including postseason play, under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson has now won 18 of its last 19 games against the Coastal Division since 2015.
Clemson has now won 85 of its last 87 games, including each of its last 48, when leading at halftime.
Clemson improved to 107-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson now has a 63-3 record when winning the turnover margin since 2011.
Clemson now has a 106-2 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson has now won 87 straight games when holding teams under 23 points, dating to 2010.