Throughout the week and days leading up to Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference showdown at Death Valley, NC State’s players and coaches made it a point to say all they needed to do was play to their abilities and they would beat No. 3 Clemson.
Those were words the Tigers did not appreciate. They felt disrespected by the Wolfpack and they wanted to show the Pack just how good they could be.
Clemson left no doubt who the better team was. The Tigers got three touchdowns from running back Travis Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 308 yards and one touchdown as they steamrolled NC State, 41-7.
“We heard the stuff they said,” Lawrence said afterwards. “It definitely gave us some extra motivation, but still the last two years had been close, so we were motivated regardless of what they said.”
The Tigers’ defense was definitely motivated, especially the secondary. All week they heard from everyone outside the program about how good quarterback Ryan Finley and his wide receivers were. During ESPN’s College GameDay Show, Finley said he felt they were the best in the country when they were hitting on all cylinders.
Clemson’s defense made sure they were not hitting on anything.
“We just felt like we were disrespected,” safety K’Von Wallace said. “We wanted to come out and play hard and play for our fans and for this team … We all played as one.”
Wallace was responsible for one of the Tigers’ two interceptions, a 46-yard return just before halftime to set up a 28-yard Greg Huegel field goal with two seconds left in the half. Jalen Williams also snagged a Finley pass in the third quarter to end a possible scoring drive.
In all, the Clemson defense forced three turnovers and held the Pack to a season-low 297 yards. Finley was held to a season-low 156 passing yards and the two interceptions were the most he has thrown in one game this season.
“We knew this would be a challenge for us, but we had two weeks to prepare,” Williams said. “Coach V (Brent Venables), we call him a mad scientist the way he calls that defense. See that man, he is crazy about it. You cannot give him two weeks to prepare and us two weeks to learn.”
It just wasn’t the players who were driven by State’s comments.
“I don’t know all that was said and all of that, but we also felt in the last couple of years that it did not have to be close,” Venables said. “Those games did not have to go to the wire. If we do X,Y and Z like they talked about having to do X,Y, Z, and we looked hard at that the last two years.
“Last year, we did not play great or coach great, so I think from a redemption standpoint, there is something to be said for that.”
The only thing that could be said on Saturday was Clemson left no doubt who the better team was this year.