At Georgia to open the season, the Tigers fell apart in the fourth quarter. At Florida State in a showdown with the top-ranked team in the nation, the Tigers ran out of gas after grabbing a fourth-quarter lead.
And last week against North Carolina, Clemson’s offense was good in the first half but dynamic afterwards while the defense relaxed after the offense built a big lead.
Swinney got his wish Saturday against N.C. State.
The same Wolfpack team that had top-ranked Florida State on the ropes a week before proved no match for a motivated and focused Tigers squad Saturday.
Deshaun Watson provided the strong start, giving the Tigers a big early lead, and the defense shut the door on the dangerous Wolfpack offense, especially quarterback Jacoby Brissett, with a dominant performance in a 41-0 win.
N.C. State was supposed to challenge the Tigers. The Wolfpack’s offense was going to be tough for the Tigers to handle while the N.C. State defense would at least slow down Watson and the Tigers’ offense. That was the thought, at least, leading up to the game.
Watson put an end to that talk early with a performance that created a buzz throughout Memorial Stadium early on, and there was never a let up by the defense, unlike last week.
Watson is gaining more and more respect from Clemson fans, the program’s opponents and the nation as he continues to grow into the starting quarterback role.
Continuing what he started with his brilliant performance against North Carolina, the freshman quarterback came out on fire, completing 17-of-29 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He now has more than 1,000 yards with 12 touchdowns and only one interception … as a true freshman.
Watson also was the offense’s leading rusher with 15 carries for 62 yards and two more scores, including one that figures to be on all the college football highlight reels this week.
Watson is building a scary chemistry – for opponents at least – with Mike Williams, who had six catches for 155 yards and two more touchdowns, including a highlight of his own. Watson shared the wealth again with eight players catching passes, and his poise in the pocket and ability to be one step ahead of the opposing defenses – again as a true freshman – has to be a big concern for the teams coming up on Clemson’s schedule.
Beasley and the dominant D
Vic Beasley continues to put his name in the record books and tied Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams for the program record for sacks with his 28th. Perry is often overshadowed by his brother, but he was a dominant player in college, and Adams was, as well.
Beasley has joined them with much less playing time, especially at his position, and it’s just amazing what he has accomplished during his time at Clemson.
The record-tying play showcased everything that has made him special: the speed to get around the end and the ability to close on the quarterback, while also making a play on the ball. Taking the ball out of the air, securing it and scoring a touchdown were just icing on the cake, and it’s easy to see why NFL teams will be lining up to get him in the draft next spring.
But Beasley and his unbelievable record-tying play weren’t the only big story for the defense Saturday. In fact, Beasley’s sack and score were kind of lost in the shuffle of a dominant performance by Brent Venables’ unit.
N.C. State was averaging more than 500 yards per game, but the Wolfpack managed just 156 yards – 121 rushing and 35 passing – as Clemson’s defense smothered N.C. State throughout the afternoon.
Brissett, who moved N.C. State up and down the field against Florida State, completed 4-of-18 passes, and N.C. State converted just 3-of-14 third-down tries. The Tigers won the turnover battle, as well, forcing three fumbles while the Clemson offense didn’t have a turnover.
The result was a rare shutout for Clemson. It was the Tigers’ first since 2008 and the first with Swinney as their head coach.
It was also their first against an ACC opponent since 1998 against Maryland.
It was the kind of performance that could jumpstart a special finish to the season for the defense.
Ground game resurfaces
Clemson’s running game had struggled the previous two weeks, but it returned to respectability against the Wolfpack.
Yes, Watson had the most yards and carries, but the Tigers’ backs ran hard throughout the game, and the line got a much better push than it did against Florida State and North Carolina. Wayne Gallman had 13 carries for 58 yards, while Adam Choice had nine for 56. D.J. Howard averaged 6 yards on five carries, and C.J. Davidson averaged 4.5 yards on four carries as the Tigers’ backs gave the offense the kind of balance it will need going forward.
Watson is a special talent, for sure, but he can’t be a one-man show for the offense, and the backs showed what they can do Saturday.
Ammon Lakip’s miss against Georgia and struggles against Florida State are well-documented, but he has been much better the past two weeks.
Yes, the junior had his first home miss Saturday, but he made a 31-yarder and a 43-yarder, and he looks more comfortable with his kicks than he did in Tallahassee. His confidence has returned, and that’s good news for the Tigers, who will need him to make some big kicks at some time this season.
Penalties pop up
The only real question mark about the game came with Clemson’s penalties. After avoiding those for the most part through the first four games, the Tigers had nine penalties for 103 yards, including several silly ones.
But with a 41-point drubbing, it seems like we’re nitpicking quite a bit to bring those up, right?
Louisville is 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the ACC in its first season in the conference. The Cardinals will have an extra day to prepare for Watson and the Tigers after beating Syracuse 28-6 on Friday night.
Louisville is averaging 33.3 points per game on offense, which should be a test for Venables’ defense, but the Cardinals have been at their best on defense. Louisville is allowing just 12.7 points per game, including 19 total in wins over Florida International, Wake Forest and Syracuse since its only loss to Virginia.
Four-quarter statement for Tigers
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