It was only fitting that Clemson’s decorated senior class made a little more history Saturday night at Death Valley.
The Tigers got off to a sluggish start before pulling away for a 35-6 victory against Duke on Senior Day. With the win Clemson’s senior class set a school record for victories during a four-year span with 51. The mark is also an ACC record.
“Our seniors have won 51 games, and I am so proud of them. They are an enjoyable group of young men that I get to be around every day,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “Every week they lead our team in a tremendous way. It’s pretty impressive when you look on paper at what this group of seniors has been able to accomplish in their careers.”
No. 2 Clemson (11-0, 8-0) fell behind 6-0 to start the game and led only 14-6 at halftime as the Tigers struggled offensively in the opening two quarters. Clemson had 37 total yards in the first quarter and as a team had 10 carries for 17 yards in the first half.
But the Tigers finally started exploiting Duke’s questionable run defense in the third quarter. The Blue Devils (7-4, 3-4) entered Saturday’s game allowing 212 rushing yards per game and Travis Etienne and company got going in the second half.
Etienne had nine carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns, and he now has 17 rushing touchdowns on the season, which ties a school record.
As a team the Tigers finished with 208 rushing yards on 36 carries. Clemson had 26 carries for 191 rushing yards in the second half.
“I’m really proud of our team for how they responded in the second half. Obviously, we did not get off to a great start... I was really disappointed in how we started, but it’s a four-quarter game,” Swinney said. “I challenged them at halftime to see how they could respond. To win 35-6 against a good football team...I’m really proud of our guys and how they responded.”
Clemson’s defense became dominant as the game went along. The Blue Devils had 127 total yards in the first quarter but managed only 135 the rest of the way.
Clelin Ferrell led the way with 2.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Christian Wilkins added 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while Dexter Lawrence added two tackles for loss.
“I feel like we’re hitting our stride right when we need to,” Ferrell said. “Obviously, you want to be playing well when you’re about to go into the state championship game, so it’s good to be hitting our stride right when this game happens.”
Trevor Lawrence was 21-for-38 passing for 251 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The freshman missed a few throws that he normally makes but was also hurt by several drops as Tigers receivers had at least five passes go off their hands that they should have caught.
Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow made history in the opening minutes of the game but was injured in the second quarter and did not return after landing on his head while attempting to make a diving catch.
Renfrow did make a reception in the first quarter to set a school record for the most consecutive games with a catch with 39. He also has started the most games in school history as a receiver with 43.
Star of the game: Ferrell lived in the backfield as Clemson had nine tackles for loss. The redshirt junior, who was honored on Senior Day, had 2.5 of them.
Play of the game: Clemson’s offense struggled for much of the first half but Justyn Ross made some big plays when the Tigers needed them. His 19-yard touchdown grab late in the second quarter pushed Clemson’s cushion to 14-6 at halftime.
Stat of the game: (459) Clemson had a balanced offensive attack, finishing with more than 200 rushing yards and passing yards.
Clemson needs to clean up some mistakes: The Tigers struggled on third down again, particularly in the first half. Clemson was 0-for-7 on third down in the first two quarters.
Etienne still needs to be patient: Clemson’s star running back struggled in the first half and was frustrated as the Tigers had only 17 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half.
Justyn Ross is a future star: The freshman made big plays for the Tigers time and time again on Saturday. He gave Clemson a spark late in the first half when the Tigers were struggling.
Who: Clemson vs. South Carolina
When: Saturday, Nov. 24, 7 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson