Trevor Lawrence

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No. 3 Clemson wins fifth consecutive ACC championship as they return to College Football Playoff

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The defending national champions are back for some more. No. 3 Clemson (13-0, 8-0 ACC) locked up a fifth consecutive ACC Championship Game victory Saturday night with a 62-17 victory over No. 23 Virginia (9-4, 6-2 ACC), and with that all but officially submitted their R.S.V.P. for this season’s College Football Playoff. What’s not to respect?

Trevor Lawrence passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns before getting an early exit in the fourth quarter, with Clemson leading 45-14 at the time. Travis Etienne rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown and star receiver Tee Higgins hauled in nine passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia’s Bryce Perkins had some positive moments with 265 passing yards and two passing touchdowns with 52 rushing yards, but he was picked off twice. His first interception came at the end of the game’s opening possession in the end zone.

Clemson’s 62 points are the most point scored by a team in the ACC Championship Game, which was first played in 2005. Clemson has now outscored its opponents in the ACC Championship Game by a cumulative score of 229-102 over the last five seasons. Clemson has held each of their last three ACC Championship Game opponents to 30 points (3 vs. Miami in 2017, 10 vs Pitt last season, and 17 against Virginia). Clemson is now 5-1 all-time in the ACC Championship Game with their only loss coming as an underdog in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

After 13 consecutive wins this season, on top of the 15 straight wins Clemson had last season en route to a national title, Clemson is going to be riding a 28-game winning streak back into the College Football Playoff. With Alabama being knocked out of the playoff race last week, Clemson will now own the longest active streak of playoff appearances with five straight. That matches Alabama’s record set last year with the Crimson Tide’s fifth consecutive appearance. This will be the first College Football Playoff without Alabama. All that is left to determine is what seed the defending champs will have. Whether Clemson is ranked No. 2 or No. 3 ultimately wouldn’t matter as the Tigers wouldn’t get to have a say which bowl destination they’d prefer, nor would it change the opponent. While Clemson will feel they made a case to be considered as the No. 1 team in the field, that decision now rests with the selection committee, which will make their final decisions on Sunday. A matchup with either LSU or Ohio State is likely the pairing for Clemson. Dabo Swinney will certainly have his team ready for whatever comes next, as his fight for respect will continue even if nobody is actually disrespecting his program these days.

Virginia’s bowl outlook is also likely fixed. Win or lose, Virginia was likely to be in the Orange Bowl, either as the ACC champion or the bowl’s pick from the ACC. When the ACC champion is in the College Football Playoff and unavailable for the Orange Bowl, the next highest-ranked ACC team fills the slot. Virginia being the only other ranked ACC team this week by the committee seems to suggest Virginia will be the locked pick for the Orange Bowl, although if Virginia manages to slip out of the playoff rankings, the Orange Bowl could choose from any available ACC team that is bowl eligible. But even in that scenario, Virginia would likely still be the pick. Virginia would play a team from the SEC or Big Ten, with the opponent being the highest-ranked available team from either conference. The Florida Gators may be the most likely opponent, with Penn State as the alternative. Regardless of how the first experience in the ACC Championship Game went for Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall continues to be doing a terrific job in building the Virginia football program, and a chance to play in the Orange Bowl is a significant step forward.

No. 3 Clemson clobbers South Carolina, 38-3, for sixth consecutive win vs Gamecocks

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Another year, another victory against rival South Carolina. No. 3 Clemson (12-0, 8-0 ACC) put the finishing touches on their undefeated regular season by making short work of rival South Carolina (4-8, 3-5 SEC) on Saturday afternoon. Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence passed for three touchdowns and 295 yards before getting an early rest in the second half.

Lawrence was also a factor in Clemson’s running game. The mobile threat picked up a team-high 66 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per rushing attempt against South Carolina. Clemson also fed the football to their top running back,. Travis Etienne. Etienne scored twice on the ground but was limited to a modest 51 yards on 15 carries. Clemson’s defense was also in top form, limiting South Carolina to just 174 yards of total offense (while Clemson racked up over 500 yards of offense).

The win by Clemson was the sixth in a row by the Tigers over South Carolina. It is the second-longest winning streak by Clemson in the history of the rivalry. Clemson won seven consecutive meetings from 1934 through 1940.

Clemson’s next game will be the ACC Championship Game against Virginia next weekend in Charlotte, NC. Virginia clinched its spot opposing the defending ACC and national champions with a win against Virginia Tech on Friday. Clemson will be a huge favorite in the game as they go for their fifth straight ACC title and with it a fifth striaght appearance in the College Football Playoff. Virginia will be making its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game and will look to play spoiler before the College Football Playoff field is determined.

South Carolina’s future may now be a bit cloudier. A woeful season with just four wins to show for it will mean head coach Will Muschamp will be faced with some tough questions. Although Muschamp has already received the public backing of the athletics director with a commitment to have Muschamp back on the sidelines in 2020, that won’t silence some of the fan response as South Carolina continues to see the distance between the Gamecocks and the top of the SEC East (and Clemson) continue to widen.

Travis Etienne and defense powers No. 3 Clemson past Louisville

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Louisville (4-3, 2-2 ACC) brought forth a worthy challenge to No. 3 Clemson (7-0, 5-0 ACC) at the start of the game but a failure to capitalize on early mistakes by the Tigers would do more than come back to haunt the Cardinals. Clemson overcame their own self-inflicted mistakes in a 44-10 rout of Louisville on the road Saturday afternoon.

Clemson running back Travis Etienne had a big day running the football with 192 yards and touchdown, although he did leave the game in the fourth quarter after coming up limping at the end of a play. Having Etienne proving capable of putting the team on his back at times was needed by Etienne, because quarterback Trevor Lawrence took some time to get his game going. Lawrence was picked off twice in the first half, bringing his season total to eight, but the sophomore star quarterback ended the day on a positive note. Lawrence tossed three touchdowns.

Clemson also got a strong effort from its defense, and they needed it in the first half. While the Clemson offense was running into its own problems, the defense was ready to get the ball back when needed and prevent the Louisville offense from establishing any momentum. Nyles Pinckney recovered a Louisville fumble by Micale Cunningham (forced by Justin Foster)five plays after Louisville picked off Lawrence in the end zone in the first quarter. The defense forced a three-and-out after Lawrence’s second interception after giving up just two yards.

It was a game that offered a reminder that Clemson’s defense is fully capable of dominating a game it needs to, even if the offense gets off to a slow start. It was also a brutal reminder that if you are going to upset Clemson, you have to capitalize on opportunities. Louisville simply was incapable of doing that.

Clemson will return home for their next two games. First up will be a matchup with Boston College next Saturday night. Then the Tigers get a glorified scrimmage against Wofford before returning to ACC play on the road against NC State. Louisville will stay home next week to host Virginia.

Trevor Lawrence intercepted twice, but No. 3 Clemson leading at Louisville

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It appears No. 3 Clemson could be in for a bit of a tougher road battle than originally anticipated. The heavy road favorites lead Louisville 17-3 at halftime in a game that has seen the Tigers turn the football over twice in the red zone. Fortunately for Clemson, the defense has a pair of takeaways to make up for the offensive miscues.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has now been intercepted eight times this season, doubling his entire interception total from the 2018 season. Jack Fagot and Russ Yeast have each come up with picks off the star quarterback. Lawrence may not have been the starting quarterback for the Tigers to begin last season, but his increased interception total is something to keep an eye on as the season continues.

Fortunately for Clemson, the sophomore quarterback doesn’t take long to remind those watching just how good he really can be. Lawrence led Clemson to a touchdown drive in the second quarter with a big gain by Amari Rodgers on a 61-yard pass. A pass on third and goal to freshman Joe Ngata by Lawrence ended the drive with Ngata jumping high to come down with the ball in the back of the end zone. Lawrence’s second touchdown of the half came shortly before halftime with a toss-up brought down by Justyn Ross.

While the Louisville defense is doing everything it can to keep this game from getting out of hand, the Cardinals absolutely need to find ways to protect the football better and get some more drives going. Against this Clemson defense, that is much easier said than done. But the game may be playing out the way Louisville needs it to if they are going to push Clemson down to the wire the way North Carolina did earlier this season.

No. 1 Clemson hangs on against UNC for 20th straight win

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Over the course of a 20-game winning streak, there are bound to be some close calls. On Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, No. 1 Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) had one of the closest calls of their current 20-game winning streak as the Tigers held on to escape an upset bid by North Carolina (2-3, 1-1 ACC), 21-20. Clemson came up with a stop on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute of the game and prevented UNC from coming up with an onside kick to grab the win.

North Carolina did a good job of keeping Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence off his mark for most of the night (Lawrence was 18-of-30 for 206 yards and a touchdown), but he delivered a perfect pass to give Clemson its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter with a pass to Tee Higgins.

UNC had an answer, however. Freshman quarterback Sam Howell led the Tar Heels on a 16-play drive and 75 yards to get on the doorstep of the end zone in the final minutes of the game. Javonte Williams pushed the ball in for a touchdown to cut the Clemson lead to one. Head coach Mack Brown didn’t hesitate and was ready to go for two and the win. But Clemson was ready for the play and was all over Howell on the run.

After the win, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney praised the effort by the Tar Heels and admitted to being out-coached by Brown. Swinney also said his team is not entitled to win and still has to go out and earn their wins just like everybody else.

Clemson now continues to extend its winning streak to 20 games, a school record. After getting next week off, the Tigers will host Florida State. North Carolina will visit Georgia Tech next week. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 24-2 loss at Temple.