By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Was winning enough?
Splitters of hair may argue it was not worthy of the No. 3 team in the nation and a quarterback prominent in Heisman Trophy conversations.
All the warts were visible on a Thursday night when there were few distractions for those who prefer college football to the Chiefs-Eagles drama. And compared to the Alabama-Texas A&M free-for-all, this was vanilla to their rocky road.
If Clemson needed style points to hold off Ohio State or Stanford or LSU in the AP poll, it may not have been enough. Three games into Dave Doeren’s first season, N.C. State might not intimidate – yet. Give him a couple of years.
Clemson protected its perfect season with a 26-14 win, and for those of you preoccupied with what happened at Carter Finley Stadium two years ago it must have been a relief.
There were flashes of clarity, though until the fourth quarter Clemson was generally inefficient, absent of offensive rhythm for stretches and vulnerable defensively to chunk plays.
Dabo Swinney was exhausted. “I felt like I played every snap.”
Instead of a smooth ride, the offense sputtered and lurched for nearly three quarters as if there was water in the fuel tank.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 24 of 37 passes for 244 and three touchdowns – two to Martavis Bryant who’s steadily growing into a big-play role – but often seemed impatient as he tried to stretch the field. The N.C. State pass rush seemed to blur his judgment, sacking him twice and forcing hasty decisions.
Playing without senior left tackle Rob Crisp, the Wolfpack managed to probe the Clemson secondary enough to make it uncomfortable for a team favored by 14½ points at kickoff. Though they couldn’t get off a play, the Wolfpack came out with the center, quarterback and a back at one hash and everybody else on the other.
“They did some things we hadn’t seen anywhere,” Swinney said.
Touchdown drives of 92 and 84 yards accounted for nearly half of N.C. State’s 378 yards and were it not for a couple of breaks, a misstep on a long run and a near touchdown off an interception in the first quarter, the game might have been much different. Doeren insisted.
Wearing all red, the Wolfpack was not embarrassed.
Quarterback Pete Thomas, a starter as a freshman at Colorado State, completed 20 of 36 for 213 yards. During State’s fourth-quarter scoring drive he converted four times on fourth down.
In the final analysis, Clemson did not commit a turnover, N.C. State had two.
When the clock became an ally in the fourth quarter, Clemson embraced it.
When Clemson needed a stop in the second half, the pass rush stunted Thomas. Vic Beasley had three sacks, Shaq Lawson 2½ and linebackers Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey combined for 25 tackles.
And Shuey’s fumble recovery at the State 48 with 5:25 to play in the third quarter stole the momentum.
“There was a lot of it we had not seen on tape,” Swinney said. “We were fortunate in a couple situations.”
Since Swinney does not sweat the polls, Clemson remains at the mercy of voters who would weigh the artistic against results.
Clemson returns to Death Valley for a Sept. 28 game with Wake Forest.
“We took care of business,” Swinney said. “You never know what you’ve got with your football until you go on the road.
“We had some dumb mistakes and things we need to learn from, but we’re 3-0.”
That should be enough.