Defense holds Eagles to 140 total yards
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney promised running back Travis Etienne was going to get the football when the second-ranked Tigers played Georgia Southern on Saturday.
Swinney kept his word.
Etienne rushed for a career-high 162 yards and scored two touchdowns in leading Clemson to a 38-7 victory at Clemson’s Death Valley. The sophomore scored on runs of 1 yard and 40 yards as the Tigers amassed 309 yards on the ground.
“Travis Etienne played well,” Swinney said after the game. “He had a career-high 162 rushing yards. All of our running backs did good things. We ran the ball like we needed to.”
Clemson (3-0) finished the game with yards 595 total yards overall. Etienne put the game away with a 40-yard touchdown run, which gave the Tigers a 31-0 lead, with 6:06 to play in the game.
“I feel like, as a running back, the results were a reflection of my line,” Etienne said. “The line did a great job, and the receivers really did a great job of blocking. That really helps the back, and we really need that to be successful.”
Besides Etienne, Choice rushed for 49 yards and scored on a 10-yard run in the fourth quarter, while Tavien Feaster scored on a one-yard run and rushed for 32 yards on 10 carries.
Freshman Trevor Lawrence threw for 194 yards on 12-of-19 passing, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Justyn Ross. Kelly Bryant completed 7-of-10 passes for 68 yards, but the senior did not play the second half due to injury.
Swinney said Bryant bruised his chest and underwent a CAT scan and an EKG after the game.
Ross led the receivers with 103 yards on three receptions as 14 different players caught a pass on Saturday.
“Kelly went out with a chest bruise, Trevor Lawrence did a lot of good things, too. He made some big throws, but he missed some throws, too, that he probably wishes he could have back,” Swinney said. “Also, Justyn Ross showed everyone that he’s a really special player by getting 103 receiving yards. Again, overall, there were lots of positives on offense.”
But it was not all pretty for the offense. In fact, the Eagles shut the Tigers out in the first quarter and held them to a field goal in the third quarter. Clemson also turned the ball over three times and missed two field goals.
Though the offense was not sharp, the defense bounced back from a bad week at Texas A&M. They limited Georgia Southern to 140 yards. The Eagles had just 80 yards rushing and averaged 1.9 yards per carry.
Georgia Southern came into the game averaging 326.5 yards and ranked fourth in the country on the ground.
“Defensively, we played four quarters,” Swinney said. “I’m proud of our guys on defense. They were where they were supposed to be on most every play. They dominated up front.
“Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell both got a couple of sacks. Nyles Pinckney had a big fumble recovery…the sideline would’ve come unglued had he run it all the way back. We’ve now forced a turnover 11 games in a row.”
The defense also had five sacks and seven tackles for loss overall. Georgia Southern was 4-of-14 on third down and averaged just 2.7 yards per play.
Clemson got off to a rocky start, turning the ball over two times and missing a field goal on its first three possessions of the game. Bryant threw an interception on the opening drive and then Choice lost a fumble following a 40-yard missed field goal by Greg Huegel.
After the early miscues, Clemson finally got things going in the second quarter when Lawrence led Clemson on a 13-play, 93-yard drive.
Lawrence was 4-for-4 for 63 yards on the drive, including a 31-yard pass down the middle of the field to Hunter Renfrow to the Georgia Southern 12-yard line. Lawrence then ran 10 yards to the two.
It took the Tigers four tries to get the ball into the end zone, but Etienne finished the drive with a one-yard run with 8:43 to play in the second quarter.
The touchdown drive was Clemson’s third scoring drive of 90 yards or more already this season. Clemson had four scoring drives of 90 or more yards in 14 games in 2017.
It did not take long for the Tigers to get back in the end zone. After Xavier Thomas got his first career sack, Lawrence found Ross wide open down the middle of the field for a 57-yard touchdown for a 14-0 lead with 5:19 to play in the half.
Clemson extended the lead to 21-0 on its next possession. Feaster got his first touchdown of the year with a one-yard run with 0:53 left in the half. That capped an 8-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that took 2:49 off the clock.
Huegel made a 37-yard field goal with 10:37 to play in the third quarter that put the Tigers up 24-0 at the time. He later missed on a 47-yard try and Lawrence had a passed tipped at the line that was intercepted to end another possible scoring drive.
Clemson will play at Georgia Tech at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday in Atlanta.