RALEIGH, N.C. — Clemson came to Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday to make a statement to the College Football Playoff Committee. It made its point and subsequently left with another championship to add to its already impressive trophy case.
The Tigers ranked No. 5 in Tuesday’s College Football Playoff Poll and the news did not sit too well. They wanted to prove they belong in the top 4 and they did just that with a 55-10 victory over rival NC State. Subsequently, thanks to Wake Forest’s loss to Virginia Tech earlier in the day, the Tigers clinched a fifth straight ACC Atlantic Division Championship.
Everyone knew Clemson was going to take out its frustrations with the College Football Playoff Committee on NC State. And it did exactly that in the first half Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The CFP Committee ranked the Tigers No. 5 in their first poll of the season this past Tuesday, ending Clemson’s streak of 24 straight weeks ranked in the top 4. Though Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said all week the No. 5 ranking did not matter, it was obvious from the start the Tigers had a point to make.
The Tigers’ 45-point win was the largest margin of victory by one team in the history of the rivalry, which dates back to 1899.
Clemson (10-0, 7-0 ACC) scored on its first four possessions in route to a 42-0 halftime lead.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw three touchdown passes, while running back Travis Etienne ran for two scores and caught another. In all, the Tigers totaled 549 yards, including 303 through the air.
The defense did its part as well, forcing four turnovers and holding the Wolfpack to 290 total yards. It marked the 10th straight game in which Clemson has held its opponent to less than 300 yards of offense, a school record.
Lawrence finished the game 20-27 for 276 yards, while finding Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross for 33-yard touchdown passes and Etienne on a shovel pass from 3 yards out. Lawrence also ran for 59 yards, a career high and scored on 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Etienne ran for 112 yards and scored on a 19-yard run and an 8-yard run. It was his fifth straight 100-yard rushing game, tying Kenny Flowers and Raymond Priester as the only three running backs in Clemson history to do such.
With his three total touchdowns allowed him to break C.J. Spiller’s record for total touchdowns. He now has 54 in his career. His two rushing scores allowed him to become the third ACC player in history to run for 50 touchdowns in a career. Pittsburgh’s James Conner (52) and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (50) are the other two.
The Tigers also got a one-yard touchdown run from John Simpson out of the jumbo package in the second quarter. The junior also had three receptions for 31 yards.
Clemson drove 84 yards on nine plays with its first drive which culminated in a 7-yard touchdown run by Lawrence for a 7-0 lead with 10:56 to play in the first quarter.
Lawrence got off to a great start, completing all four of his passes for 56 yards including gains of 10, 14, 20 and 12. He also ran the ball twice for 13 yards including the 6-yard score that capped off the scoring drive.
On Clemson’s second drive, Lawrence found Higgins streaking down the near sideline for a 33-yard touchdown. The touchdown pass capped a 10-play, 92-yard drive for the Tigers and gave them a 14-0 lead with 5:00 left in the first quarter.
Linebacker James Skalski caused a fumble on NC State’s ensuing possession, which Chad Smith recovered and returned to the State 3-yard line. Etienne scored two plays later on the shovel pass from Lawrence for a 21-0 lead.
Etienne capped Clemson’s first 28-point first quarter since 2012, when he ran 19 yards up the middle for a touchdown with 1:31 to play. Clemson has now outscored its opposition 128-7 in the first quarter this season.
Simpson scored on a 1-yard run with 4:30 to play in the half and then Lawrence found Ross from 33 yards out to make the score 42-0 with 45 seconds to go.
Clemson will conclude the home portion of its schedule next Saturday when its hosts Wake Forest at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., and will be televised by ESPN.
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