It wasn’t pretty but it was effective.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne rushed for a career-high 162 yards as the Tigers earned a sloppy 38-7 win against Georgia Southern on Saturday afternoon at Death Valley.
The Tigers turned the ball over three times and missed a pair of field goals but remained in control thanks to a dominant defensive effort.
Georgia Southern managed only one first down in the first half and the Tigers scored 21 points in the second quarter to take a 21-0 lead at the break on the way to the blowout victory.
“With the first quarter of the season coming to an end, we couldn’t be any better than 3-0. We’re where we hoped to be, but we’ve still got a lot of improving to do as a football team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I like how we finished today, but I didn’t like how we started. I’m disappointed in the three turnovers. We also had some missed opportunities that we’ve got to take advantage of. There were lots of good things in today’s game, too. We had nearly 600 yards of offense and limited Georgia Southern to 140 yards of offense. We never let the scoreboard dictate our energy.”
Starting quarterback Kelly Bryant was injured late in the second quarter and did not return. He underwent some tests and it appears that he has bruised ribs, according to Swinney. Bryant is expected to be fine moving forward.
Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence played a few series in the first half and most of the second half when Bryant was sidelined. Lawrence finished 12-for-19 for 194 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the victory.
His favorite target on the day was fellow freshman Justyn Ross, who caught three passes for 103 yards and a score.
“After Kelly Bryant went out with a chest bruise Trevor Lawrence did a lot of good things,” Swinney said. “He made some big throws, but he missed some throws too that he probably wishes he could have back. Justyn Ross showed everyone that he’s a really special player by getting 103 receiving yards. Again, overall, there were lots of positives on offense.”
Etienne rushed for a pair of touchdowns, while Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster also rushed for a score.
Defensively the Tigers kept Georgia Southern off the board until Eagles quarterback Shai Werts scored on a 6-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Clemson finished with seven tackles for loss and five sacks. Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant each had a pair of sacks, while Nyles Pinckney forced a fumble and returned it 11 yards.
“Defensively, we played four quarters. I’m proud of our guys on defense,” Swinney said. “They were where they were supposed to be on most every play. They dominated up front.”
Star of the game: Defensive end Clelin Ferrell was all over the field, finishing with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Clemson sacked Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts five times in the victory.
Play of the game: Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence found freshman receiver Justyn Ross for a 57-yard touchdown during the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Ross turned his defender around and ended up wide open over the middle. Lawrence hit him in stride and Ross made a pair of defenders miss on his way to the end zone.
Stat of the game: 309. The Tigers rushed for 309 yards while holding Georgia Southern’s triple option offense to only 80.
Defense bounced back: The Tigers held Georgia Southern to only one first down in the first half and kept the Eagles off the board until the fourth quarter after struggling last week at Texas A&M.
Ross deserves more playing time: The freshman received minimal playing time but showed off an impressive knack for getting open when he was in.
Offensive line needs to play better: Clemson needed four tries to score from inside the 2-yard line on its first scoring drive of the game. Clemson was stuffed three times before scoring on fourth down. The offensive line had struggles in the first half but was better in the second.
Who: Clemson vs. Georgia Tech
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22
Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta