Clemson dominated N.C. State 41-7 Saturday afternoon in a battle of unbeaten ACC teams. The Tigers will now travel to face Florida State. Here are five things we learned from Clemson’s victory:
Clemson can win without its running game
The Tigers were held nearly 200 yards under their rushing average, but it didn’t matter. N.C. State loaded the box and dared Trevor Lawrence to win the game with his arm. Lawrence did, passing for 308 yards and a touchdown without a turnover. Lawrence passed for 244 yards in the first half alone, helping Clemson to a 24-0 halftime lead. Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley, who entered the game as the ACC’s leading passer, finished with 156 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It looked like they had some plans of trying to stop some of our gap scheme runs, and then obviously, we had a lot of run calls with the RPO off of it, and Trevor did a great job of managing the system,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We didn’t run it as effectively as we wanted to do from a statistical standpoint, but we had to take what was available to us. I thought Trevor and the entire offense did a great job of just taking what was there.”
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Clemson’s receivers are the best in the ACC
Clemson receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott is always looking for motivational tactics for his group. He used all of the attention N.C. State’s receivers were getting heading into Saturday’s matchup as a way to challenge his guys this past week. N.C. State had the ACC’s leading passer in Finley and receiver in Kelvin Harmon entering the weekend, while Clemson’s running game was getting most of the attention instead of its passing game. That changed this week as the Tigers passed for 380 yards. Tee Higgins led the way with eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown, while Justyn Ross added five catches for 75 yards.
“I felt like our passing game and our wide outs have just kind of been laying in the weeds a little bit the first part of the year,” Scott said. “That was definitely a challenge to our guys. Not only were we competing against their DBs, I wanted our wide outs to leave the field knowing that our goal is to be the best. We want to be the best wide receiver group in the ACC ... I felt like today was a good start in that direction.”
Clemson’s secondary feels disrespected
The back seven on Clemson’s defense got a lot of grief after the Tigers were torched by Texas A&M in Week 2. Clemson showed just how far it has come in a few weeks with a dominant performance against N.C. State. The Tigers were facing a top 10 passing offense in the country on Saturday, but Clemson had no issues slowing down the Wolfpack. N.C. State was held to under 200 passing yards for the first time this season.
“Everybody thinks that the back seven is the weak link of the defense,” Tigers safety K’Von Wallace said. “We’re here to all prove ourselves each and every game no matter who we play.”
The Tigers have plenty of depth
Clemson played a whopping 85 players on Saturday, including 54 in the first quarter. The Tigers were constantly rotating in guys on offense and defense. Clemson had seven players get a carry, 12 guys catch a pass and 24 defenders record a defensive stat. Clemson keeps guys healthy and fresh by playing so many players and also builds depth for the future. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said this is the deepest team he has had.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that deserve to play, a lot of guys who are functional players,” Swinney said. “They’re going to go playing winning football for you. There’s not a lot of dropoff in certain areas and we trust them.”
Clemson is far from a finished product
The Tigers completely dominated perhaps their biggest contender in the ACC. The bad news for the rest of the league and the country is that Clemson still has plenty of areas to improve. Clemson dropped a season-high six passes and struggled in the redzone, failing to convert a fake field and also missing a field goal. Clemson also had the ball inside the 5-yard line late in the first half, jumped offsides and had to settle for a field goal.
“The biggest thing is these guys are eager to improve. They don’t have the mindset of we’re just this great team,” Swinney said. “We’re a good team. “We’ve got the potential to be a great team.”