A look back at what we learned from Clemson’s 38-31 victory against N.C. State before the Tigers host Florida State:
Kelly Bryant has a short-term memory: Clemson’s quarterback got off to a dreadful start, throwing a bad interception on the Tigers’ first series and going 3-for-10 passing in the first quarter. Clemson had several chances for big plays in the passing and had receivers open throughout, but Bryant was inaccurate for a large part of the game.
With that said, when Bryant needed to make plays, whether running or passing, he did. Late in the third quarter Bryant connected with Deon Cain for an 8-yard gain on third-and-6 and found Cain for a 12-yard score later in the series to give Clemson its first lead of the game. Midway through the fourth quarter Bryant found Hunter Renfrow for a 16-yard gain on fourth-and-5 before Bryant scored on a 1-yard run to give Clemson a two-score lead.
“I just had to clear my mind. I missed some throws early on that I wish I could’ve gotten back,” he said. “Just try to flush it and just breath and move on to the next play.”
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Deon Cain is finishing strong: The junior receiver got off to a slow start to the season but had a breakout game against the Wolfpack. Cain caught a career-high nine passes for 84 yards and proved that he is more than just a deep threat as his longest catch of the day went for 15 yards.
Cain has 20 catches for 196 yards over the past three games after recording 17 catches for 244 yards the first six games of the year.
“I mean at the end of the day, I’m versatile,” Cain said. “I can do anything at the end of the day: deep ball, whatever you want. I just want to execute for my teammates at the end of the day and just keep on making plays.”
Clemson has matured since loss to Syracuse: Clemson’s first half Saturday against N.C. State was very similar to the one the Tigers played at Syracuse. Clemson struggled to stop the pass and missed opportunities on offense before heading to the locker room trailing.
This time Clemson bounced back to build a double-digit lead and hold on for the win. The Tigers held N.C. State to 10 points in the second half, while Bryant and the running game got going.
“It’s part of growing. We didn’t do that at Syracuse,” Swinney said. “We were down three points at the half, and we didn’t respond. We had several opportunities in the second half, and we just didn’t take advantage of them. I think that’s growth. That’s maturity. That’s just getting better.”
Clemson is finding Hunter Renfrow when it needs a big play: The former walk-on receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown in the national title game continues to be Mr. Reliable. Renfrow caught four passes in the win over N.C. State and two of them were huge.
His first catch of the game came late in the first quarter on third-and-10. Renfrow hauled in a 10-yard catch for a first down before the Tigers went on to score on the drive. He also made perhaps the play of the game for Clemson in the fourth quarter, converting a fourth-and-5 for 16 yards before Clemson went on to score on the drive and take a two-score lead. Renfrow was in danger of being stopped a yard short of the first down but broke a tackle and set up a first-and-goal for Clemson.
“The game’s about the players. I wanted to make sure that we gave our players the opportunity to win the game,” Swinney said. “Renfrow is as good as it gets… That was huge. That was a huge, huge play and a big shot of momentum for us.”
Kicking game is still problematic: Clemson continues to miss Greg Huegel, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Alex Spence made a 26-yard field goal but also missed one from 39 yards. Spence also had two kickoffs go out of bounds to set N.C. State up with good field position. The Wolfpack scored touchdowns on both drives.
The kicking game did not cost Clemson on Saturday, but it is something that could come back to bite the Tigers down the stretch.