RALEIGH, N.C. — Dabo Swinney could not have described it any better.
Fourth-ranked Clemson was able to come back and beat No. 20 NC State, 38-31, on the road Saturday because as he said in the post-game press conference, “a lot of guys grew up tonight.”
The Tigers especially grew up on offense. With their backs against the wall and the defense clearly having issues slowing down quarterback Ryan Finley and the Wolfpack offense, the Clemson offense responded with one big play after another in willing their team to victory.
The last three quarters of the game was perhaps the best the offense has played all season. Over the second, third and fourth quarters, the offense tallied 358 of its 415 total yards, while scoring 31 of their 38 points.
From quarterback Kelly Bryant to wide receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow to running back Tavien Feaster to an offensive line that did not allow a sack and just two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, different people emerged throughout the game in helping the offense match what NC State was doing, and then eventually overtaking them late in the third and the fourth quarter.
“I expected them to go out and play well,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “Just seeing how focused they were in practice this last week because they knew they had a big challenge with how good their defense is so I knew they would come out and play well.”
Ferrell said the offense motivated them as a defense to get it gear in the second half because they knew the offense was playing its tail off to keep them in the game.
NC State (6-3, 4-1 ACC) totaled 497 yards against Clemson’s league-leading defense as Finely picked the Tigers apart for much of the afternoon, as he completed 31-of-50 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was huge because we had our struggles,” Ferrell said. “We knew that we could lean on the offense and the special teams and hopefully they could take up some of the slack. That was huge and that is what we have to do as the season goes on because everybody is not going to play well all the time. It’s about being a team and being able to lean on each other when we need to.”
It’s also about showing growth, and there was no doubt Clemson’s offense grew up a little more in rallying the Tigers (8-1, 6-1 ACC) to a win in a hostile environment.
“This was a confidence booster for us,” said Bryant, who threw for 191 yards and a touchdown and ran for 88 yards and two more scores. “Coming into an environment like this, the NC State defense is really good. We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game, but we just prepared during the week and had that mentality to come away with the win.”
Even with the struggles the offense had early on and with Bryant missing on his throws, Cain said they never panicked on the sideline.
“We were prepared for the ups and the downs in the game,” said Cain, who had a career-high nine receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown. “Kelly just had to get the feel of the game and once he got the feel of the game we started (clicking) after that.
“That is the game of football. It’s about dealing with adversity. At the end of the day, you have to overcome adversity. On the sideline we stayed together and we played as one.”
And in overcoming adversity, the Tigers have shown how much they’ve grown up.
“Our defense is normally the powerhouse of our team, but we still have to help them out,” Cain said. “It was good to see our offense come together as one and step up for our defense. Once our defense saw that we had their back, then they started playing efficient and all of that so it was actually great to see that on both sides.”