RALEIGH, N.C. — It was a tale of two halves at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, when fourth-ranked Clemson endured a slow start against No. 20 N.C. State before turning up the heat in the final two quarters to earn a 38-31 victory.
The Tigers trailed 21-17 at halftime after allowing 244 yards of offense while struggling to keep pace with the Wolfpack offensively. Quarterback Kelly Bryant threw an interception on Clemson’s third offensive play and completed only 13 of 27 passes for 102 yards in the first two periods..
“They kicked our butt in the first half,” Swinney said after the game.
In the end, though, the story wasn’t about how the Tigers started — but how they responded.
Clemson outscored N.C. State 21-10 after intermission and forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter to stave off defeat, take control of the ACC Atlantic Division and stay in the College Football Playoff hunt.
“They didn’t flinch, and that was coach Swinney’s message at halftime, hey, don’t flinch,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “We’ve taken one of their best shots, and we’re going to have an opportunity here in the second half to go get control of the game and win it, and that’s what we did.”
The Tigers did just that, taking control of the game thanks to one of the best runs in Clemson history.
Sophomore running back Tavien Feaster scored on an 89-yard touchdown run as the third quarter came to a close, giving the Tigers a 31-21 lead entering the final frame.
His run is tied for the third-longest by a Clemson player, and it is the longest by a Tiger since 1993 when Derrick Witherspoon had an 89-yard run against Maryland.
Clemson’s offensive line broke open a massive hole for Feaster, who hit it hard and raced untouched into the end zone.
“We came in at halftime and realized that we had run 47 plays, and we knew that if we could drive the tempo — even though they have a two-deep line — that we were eventually going to hopefully wear them down,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said of the play. “It was a look that we had been anticipating and trying to get, and we finally got it. The guys executed perfectly, the communication was there, and once Tavien got his step he was able to finish.”
Clemson ran the ball 21 times in the second half after rushing only 14 times in the first, and Elliott said that was the biggest difference in the increased offensive production after halftime.
“The biggest adjustment was let’s commit to running the football, find some ways to control the clock and put together drives,” he said.
The Tigers totaled 224 yards rushing, led by Feaster, who went over 100 yards for the first time in his Clemson career. The Spartanburg, S.C., native finished with 105 yards on just seven carries (15-yard average).
Feaster will get the headlines, and deservedly so. But Scott made sure to tip his hat to the hog mollies on the offensive line.
“To have 224 yards rushing and no sacks against that defensive front, which is one of the best defensive front in the country, says a lot for our guys up front,” Scott said. “I really believe our guys up front have been the difference for us the last two years. We’ve had skill guys for years up front, and our guys up front allow us to be able to compete in these types of games and be able to win. Really proud of them.”