By running the football and playing defense
Clemson’s first three drives at Wake Forest ended like this on Saturday.
Three plays, 5 yards, punt.
Three plays, minus-1 yard, fumble.
Four plays, 14 yards, punt.
It was not a great start for the Clemson offense, but, Dabo Swinney wasn’t worried.
“There is nothing wrong with punting the ball guys,” he said. “I don’t really get that frustrated when we have to punt it.”
Because he has Travis Etienne running the football, and the nation’s No. 3 ranked defense.
“That is a big luxury,” Swinney said with a smile following Saturday’s 63-3 victory over the Demon Deacons.
As bad as the Tigers’ start was, Wake Forest’s was even worse. The Deacons first three drives went like this:
6 plays, minus-5 yards, punt.
3 plays, minus-19 yards, punt.
3 plays, minus-2 yards, punt.
“We get to run our defense out there. I love that,” Swinney said. “I don’t mind getting to see our defense come on the field because they are really good.”
When Clemson got the ball back following Wake’s third straight punt to start the game, Etienne took it 59 yards straight up the gut for Clemson’s first touchdown. The game was subsequently over at that point.
Etienne went on to rush from 167 yards and scored on two more touchdown runs of 3 and 70 yards, while Lyn-J Dixon had touchdown runs of 65 and 52 yards. Adam Choice added a 64-yard touchdown and finished the afternoon with 128 yards.
The Tigers (6-0, 3-0 ACC) rushed for 471 yards overall and had five touchdowns of 50-plus yards, a Clemson record. Their 11.8 yards per carry was also a new school record, breaking the mark of 11.2 set in 1903.
“It is a big luxury to feel like you don’t have to score every time you get the ball,” Swinney said. “I have been in those too, where you can’t stop nobody and you are like, ‘alright, we are going to have score every series.’ So, there is just not a lot of panic.
“We had a lot of miscues early. Man! It was frustrating.”
Those miscues consisted of Etienne dropping a screen pass that could have gone for at least 20 yards. A fumble by Trevor Lawrence, which Wake recovered at the Clemson 41 and then a missed assignment which led to a quarterback hurry and Lawrence missing tight end Milan Richard along the sideline.
“There are just some little things that we have to continue to iron out because those are mistakes that are going to cost you,” Swinney said. “You are not going to have quite the margin for error, if you will. We are still a work in progress.”
However, as we have seen in the last four games, if the offense is struggling, just give the ball to No. 9. He and the Clemson running game will figure something out.
“When you can turn around and hand the ball off to those backs that we have… It is a great comfort zone,” Swinney said. “Our backs made us right. They made guys miss. They made unblocked guys miss so that is a huge thing for us.”