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No. 1 Clemson cruises to halftime lead over No. 7 Miami in ACC title game

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If there are any doubts about who the No. 1 team in the country is, Dabo Swinney and company may have used the first half of the ACC Championship Game to erase them. No. 1 Clemson cruised to a fairly effortless 21-0 lead at halftime over No. 7 Miami and do not appear to be done tuning up for the College Football Playoff either.

The Tigers marched right down on the opening drive of the game in what was quite the tone-setter, scoring off of a Travis Etienne four yard touchdown run to immediately put points on the board. Quarterback Kelly Bryant was really sharp through the first two quarters — 15 completions in a row to open the game — and threw for 164 yards, with another 15 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Tailback Adam Choice also added 21 yards and a rushing touchdown as well.

It didn’t take long for Miami’s vaunted turnover chain to make an appearance though, in what was Clemson’s lone mistake in the half after they went 7-of-10 on third down and scored on three of their five drives. Ray-Ray McCloud ended up muffing the first punt of the game and allowed Trent Harris to emerge from a scrum with the ball. That setup a long field goal attempt that missed to the left and otherwise spoiled the momentum from the big play, made even worse as the Tigers went right back down and scored another touchdown.

To add injury to the insult for the Hurricanes, wideout Darrell Langham — a hero in earlier wins and starting in place of the injured Ahmmon Richards — suffered a minor foot injury, defensive back Trajan Bandy was hurt and star defensive end Chad Thomas also had to be helped off.

Those injuries were compounded by the fact that the UM offense couldn’t do much at all against that feisty front seven from Clemson. Malik Rosier had just 27 yards passing and tailback Travis Homer was limited to only 28 yards on the ground.

There’s still plenty of time for a second half rally for Mark Richt’s team in the Hurricanes’ first trip to Charlotte for the ACC title game but it might take a miracle at this point given how banged up the team is and how well the Tigers are looking as they appear well on their way to locking up another playoff bid.

No. 3 Clemson looks like the new No. 1 in pummeling No. 24 South Carolina

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No. 1 Alabama lost on the road today. No. 2 Miami lost on the road on Friday. No. 3 Clemson went on the road… and did not come close to losing. The Tigers led throughout and dominated in-state rival No. 24 South Carolina, winning 34-10 in Columbia.

The win gives Clemson four straight victories in the season and two straight blowouts, following last season’s 56-7 beatdown in Death Valley. It was also Dabo Swinney‘s 100th win in his 129th game as Clemson’s head coach. More importantly, the win completes Clemson’s third straight regular season of at least 11 victories and sends the Tigers into next week’s ACC Championship opposite Miami in prime position to defend its national championship.

After downing a punt at the 1-yard line, Clemson’s Ryan Carter capitalized on a miscommunication by South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley as he grabbed an uncontested pass at the South Carolina 12 and waltzed into the end zone for the game’s first score.

That was the only score of the first quarter, but Clemson’s offense got in on the action in the second quarter with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was keyed by two big Kelly Bryant passes and completed with a 1-yard Tavien Feaster run with 8:12 left in the first half.

Clemson put together a similar drive to close the half, moving 79 yards in 10 snaps, 40 of which came on a deep ball to Tee HigginsHunter Renfrow notched his second touchdown grab of the season, a 4-yarder, with 1:59 left in the half. Alex Spence‘s PAT was wide left.

The Tigers put their orange paws on South Carolina’s throat in the third quarter with a 61-yard touchdown strike from Bryant to Kelly, and then a 5-yard Travis Etienne run to push the lead to 34-0.

South Carolina (8-4) got on the board with a 40-yard Parker White field goal after a Bryant interception and then a 38-yard toss from Bentley to Bryan Edwards with 2:44 left in the game. Bentley concluded his second Cocks-Tigers game hitting 16-of-29 passes for just 126 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Bryant hit 23-of-34 passes for 272 yards with two touchdowns and a pick while rushing 10 times for 26 yards. Seven Tigers runners combined to carry 41 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, more than doubling South Carolina’s 81 rushing yards.

Clemson in control at South Carolina

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No. 1 and No. 2 have already lost road games this week. It doesn’t appear No. 3 will be in the same danger.

Third-ranked Clemson leads No. 24 South Carolina 20-0 at the break in Columbia.

After downing a punt at the 1-yard line, Clemson’s Ryan Carter capitalized on a miscommunication by South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley as he grabbed an uncontested pass at the South Carolina 12 and waltzed into the end zone for the game’s first score.

That was the only score of the first quarter, but Clemson’s offense got in on the action in the second quarter with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was keyed by two big Kelly Bryant passes and completed with a 1-yard Tavien Feaster run with 8:12 left in the first half.

Clemson put together a similar drive to close the half, moving 79 yards in 10 snaps, 40 of which came on a deep ball to Tee HigginsHunter Renfrow notched his second touchdown grab of the season, a 4-yarder, with 1:59 left in the half. Alex Spence‘s PAT was wide left after Dabo Swinney was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with officials.

Bentley closed the half hitting 8-of-15 passes for 42 yards with the interception. Tyson Williams led the club with six carries for 35 yards and two grabs for 13 yards.

Bryant connected on 14-of-21 throws for 159 yards and the Tigers rushed for 67 yards on 18 carries in the half.

Clemson will receive to open the second half.

No. 4 Clemson survives road scare at No. 20 NC State

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No. 4 Clemson was forced to defend its ACC and national championships from practically the first play of its visit to Raleigh until literally the last. But defend it they did, as the Tigers survived a visit to No. 20 NC State with a 38-31 win.

NC State opened the game on fire, intercepting Kelly Bryant (191 passing yards, 88 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) inside Clemson territory, which Ryan Finley turned into a 40-yard scoring connection to Kelvin Harmon. After the Tigers pulled even on a 77-yard punt return score by Ray Ray McCloud, NC State again claimed a touchdown lead on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard Jaylen Samuels run.

Clemson again pulled even with a long drive of its own as Bryant punctuated a 12-play, 71-yard march with a 10-yard keeper. Again, though, NC State responded, this time with a 75-yard march that ended on a 7-yard strike from Finley to Samuels with 9:29 left before halftime.

The Tigers could not hold serve on their next possession, instead ending a 68-yard drive with a 26-yard Alex Spence field goal. NC State blew a chance to take a touchdown lead before the break when Carson Wise missed 34-yard field goal. Clemson moved in position to take a halftime lead, moving to the NC State 22-yard line with under 10 seconds to go, but Bryant’s final two passes fell incomplete and NC State head coach Dave Doeren successfully froze Spence into missing a 39-yard field goal as time expired at the half.

That miss sent Clemson into a halftime in which it trailed 21-17 at halftime on the road against a ranked conference opponent, and that opponent would get the ball to open the second half.

Simply put, it was gut check time for Clemson’s ACC and national championship hopes, and Clemson responded with a check right into NC State’s gut.

The Tigers took the lead on a 12-yard strike from Bryant to Deon Cain, then closed the quarter (literally) on an 89-yard burst from Tavien Feaster, the club’s longest play from scrimmage to date this season. 

Any control Clemson had over the game evaporated on NC State’s next possession, as the Wolfpack sliced down the field with a 6-play, 65-yard drive. Finley fired his third touchdown pass of the day, a 15-yarder to Jakobi Meyers, to pull NC State within 31-28 with 12:23 to play. The Wolfpack had a chance to force a turnover on downs and get the ball back with the chance to take the lead on a touchdown in forcing a 4th-and-5 at the NC State 22 with 8:16 to play, but Bryant found CFP Championship hero Hunter Renfrow for a 16-yard connection. Bryant danced in from one yard out three plays later, handing Clemson a 38-28 advantage with 6:31 to play.

However, NC State once again answered with a gut check of its own. The Pack moved 81 yards to set up a 22-yard Kyle Bambard field goal with 1:51 to play, then used its three timeouts to force an immediate Clemson punt, handing NC State the ball at its own 20 with 80 seconds to force overtime.

Finley (31-of-50 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, eight caries for 35 yards) moved NC State to the Clemson 28 and momentarily put the ball inside the Clemson 5-yard line, but an illegal shift penalty negated a long completion, and his final pass was intercepted.

The win all but clinches a third straight ACC Atlantic championship for Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC), needing only to beat Florida State to clinch the division. Should the Tigers lose, NC State (6-3, 4-1 ACC) still find itself in prime position to steal the division title.

NC State looking for statement vs. Clemson, clinging to 21-17 lead at halftime

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With first place in the ACC Atlantic Divison on the line, NC State is leading the defending national champions by four points at halftime. Up 21-17 at halftime in Raleigh, the Wolfpack will have to be ready to find a way to finish this game on a strong note against Clemson.

NC State got the party started early with Tim Kidd-Glass coming up with an interception of Kelly Bryant on the third play of the game. Setting up the Wolfpack offense at the Clemson 40-yard line, NC State wasted no time taking advantage of the early turnover. Ryan Finley completed a 40-yard pass for a touchdown to Kelvin Harmon for the early 7-0 lead. Clemson’s offense could not get much going on their next possession and ended a five-play drive with a punt, but the Tigers defense came through with a quick three-and-out. It was at this point Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud ripped off an impressive 77-yard punt return for a touchdown to even things at 7-7.

NC State and Clemson then exchanged 12-play touchdown drives to keep things even at 14-14. NC State responded once more with another strong touchdown drive with Finley finding plenty of success through the air. The drive ended with a touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels to go up 21-14. Clemson cut into the lead with a field goal. The Tigers added another field goal in the final seconds as the teams went to the locker room at halftime to create the one-point game. NC State had missed a field goal on their final possession of the half.

The winner of this game will take first place in the ACC Atlantic Division, which likely means the winner of this game will end up playing for the ACC championship. For Clemson, the fourth team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, the stakes are a bit higher at the moment as well. There has never been a two-loss conference champion in the four-team playoff. Of course, NC State is hoping to become the first as well.