Clemson spent most of this week hearing about the team being ranked fifth in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings. They may even have caught a glimpse at Wake Forest losing to Virginia Tech earlier Saturday to end any likely chance that they’ll finish the regular season with a win over a top 25 opponent.
No matter though, as the Tigers just kept rolling along as they continue to build up steam and look plenty capable of defending their national title once again after suffocating N.C. State 55-10 in a lopsided affair that wasn’t even as close between the lines as the score indicated.
Sophomore QB Trevor Lawrence had one of his best games of the season to power the convincing victory, throwing for 276 yards and three pinpoint touchdowns while also rushing for 59 yards and a score as well. He was out of the ballgame before the third quarter was up and helped lead a balanced attack that had nearly as many rushing yards as passing yards most of the night. Travis Etienne notched 112 of those on the ground and found pay-dirt twice but was overshadowed in the backfield a bit by… his offensive lineman.
Yes, such was the case as Dabo Swinney tabbed John Simpson for a lovely Fat Guy touchdown that really drove the talent disparity on the field home… all part of a 42 point first half outburst that made this one over before it even began.
While N.C. State had little chance in this one, their mounting injury list and the sheer number of young players making mistakes made an uphill climb even steeper. Quarterback Devin Leary had a botched exchange, a straight drop of the football while in the pocket and mishandled a bad snap to contribute to the team’s four turnovers. He wound up throwing for 166 yards while tailback Zonovan Knight notched 139 rushing and a touchdown but it wasn’t pretty in the least on both sides of the ball for the Wolfpack.
As a result, Clemson made it eight in a row in the series that had featured a number of close games in recent years but was not something that transpired in Raleigh this time around. Dave Doeren probably couldn’t have truly expected a win against the reigning champions but the loss does make things much more difficult down the stretch as the NCSU needs to emerge victorious in two of their final three to make a bowl game.
Perhaps more important than the local ACC battle was the statement that was sent as a result of the convincing victory by the Tigers to the CFP Selection Committee. Swinney didn’t even have to run up the score and called off the dogs early but it still was another game where Clemson scored more than 42 and allowed fewer than two touchdowns. In the process they secured a record fifth straight Atlantic Division title and booked their trip to the conference title game barely two weeks into November.
This might not be a team that can really lay claim to the No. 1 spot with Ohio State and LSU looking like they have been but come the next set of rankings, Clemson will surely be in the top four and that has less to do with Penn State’s loss to Minnesota and just as much to do with how the team is playing at the moment.