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Clemson vs. N.C. State: Tigers Defang the Wolfpack

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Clemson starts fast and dashes NC State’s hope of making this another close game.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
Clemson’s defense had their way with the NC State offense today.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

After a blowout win in Winston-Salem last week, the Tigers returned to Death Valley for the game that many thought would determine the ACC Atlantic division winner. State came in bouyed by how close they had come to beating the Clemson the last couple of years. With FSU’s continued collapse as a football power, the Wolfpack were certainly one of the better conference challengers to the Tigers coming into the game.

State won the toss and deferred. Derion Kendrick showed his elusiveness in taking the kickoff out to the 43. Trevor Lawrence had a nice run on second down and moved the Tigers down the field with throws to Tee Higgins. He later hit Hunter Renfrow to move the ball down to the 8. Travis Etienne carried the ball down to the 3 and then took it in on the next play to put the Tigers up 7-0 after the Greg Huegel extra point. The Tiger offense was showing a nice variety of deep shots, short timing throws and running the ball. After B.T. Potter’s touchback kickoff, on 1st down A.J. Terrell made a nice play on the ball on an out route and then on 2nd down Tanner Muse blitzed and dropped State QB Ryan Finley for a loss of 9. A flare pass on 3rd down didn’t gain enough and State punted. The Tiger defense clearly came to play.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
Travis Etienne takes it in for the score.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson started at the 36 with a 3-yard Etienne run. On 3rd & 7, Lawrence hit Justin Ross for 13 to move the chains. Lawrence took a shot deep down the field to Higgins but overthrew him by a couple of yards. On 2nd down, Diondre Overton couldn’t hang on to a laser throw from Lawrence. On 3rd and 10, the Tigers set up a screen but Etienne couldn’t hang onto it, so Will Spiers came in to punt and put the Wolfpack at their 12. State ran the ball and got to 3rd & 1 at the 34, but couldn’t convert as the Tigers swarmed the RB and dropped him for a loss. Good coverage by the Wolfpack left the Tigers at the 25.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
Hunter Renfrow gains yardage against NC State.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Tavien Feaster opened the Clemson drive with a 2-yard run. He then had a nice blitz pickup as Lawrence hit Higgins on the sideline for a 1st down. Then the Tigers got to 3rd & 8 and Renfrow made the catch to convert. On the next play, Lawrence hit Higgins off play action to score from 46 yards out and put Clemson up 14-0. After a touchback, Finley put a deep ball on the hands of his receiver, but he couldn’t hang onto it. A tackle for loss by Clelin Ferrell and a delay of game penalty put the Wolfpack at 3rd & 17. A false start made it 3rd & 22 as the Death Valley crowd made their presence felt. A nicely called draw play almost converted but the runner fell a yard short.

After the punt, the Tigers took over at their 25. Trevion Thompson had a nice catch and run on a WR screen to give the Tigers a 1st down at the their 40 as the 1st quarter expired. A couple of Etienne runs only gained 5 yards and then he missed his block on a passing play. Lawrence was sacked and the Tigers had to punt. The Wolfpack took over at their 20 and got to 3rd & 6 but couldn’t convert. On the punt, Amari Rodgers had an 18-yard return but offsetting penalties forced a re-kick. There was absolutely no pressure on the Wolfpack punter and he booted it out of the end zone.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
The Tiger defense swarms a Wolfpack runner.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

At the 20, Lawrence rolled right and couldn’t hit a wide-open Renfrow on an out route, but on 2nd down he connected with Higgins to convert. Kendrick was very patient on an end around and moved the chains. Renfrow then had one of his wow catches that makes QBs look good. Lawrence was sacked, putting the Tigers at 2nd & 21. Higgins then got 14 yards and on 3rd down Adam Choice had a good blitz pickup, giving Lawrence time to hit Kendrick for the 1st down. Ross had a nice sideline catch but his heel landed out of bounds, bring up 3rd and 10 at the State 25. After a timeout, Lawrence appeared to scramble for the 1st down, but after the review it was clear that he started his slide about a yard short. Clemson set up for a FG but placeholder Will Sweeney dropped the ball twice on a fake kick and the Wolfpack recovered at the 16 with 5:41 left in the half. On 3rd & 5, Finley hit his receiver on the sideline out near mid field. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd and 10 and an early snap got loose and the Tigers recovered at the Clemson 46 with 2:15 left.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
NC State QB Ryan Finley looks for the ball after a bad snap.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Catches by Higgins and Thompson moved it to the State 22. Lawrence then scrambled down to the 18. A quick throw to Renfrow made it 3rd & 1. Etienne converted it, moving the ball down to the 11. Thompson caught a rollout throw and got down to the 2. Etienne then scored his second TD to give Clemson a 21-0 lead with 46 seconds left in the half. State was sort of moving, but K’Von Wallace intercepted a tipped pass and showed great patience setting up his blocks and running the ball back to the State 4 with 19 seconds left. A pass to Rodgers didn’t gain much and the Tigers took a timeout with 12 seconds remaining. Etienne took a pitch and got to the 1. The clock showed 6 seconds left. The Heavy Package, with Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence came in. Garrett Williams flinched before the snap and then the Tigers committed a delay of game. Out came Greg Huegel to kick the FG and the Tigers were up 24-0 at halftime.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
Trevor Lawrence hands off to Travis Etienne.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Potter put the 2nd half kickoff out of the end zone. The Wolfpack drive started well and they moved out near midfield, but a holding penalty put them at 2nd & 20. On 3rd & 11, the Tigers appeared to make the stop, but Wallace committed a facemask penalty, giving State a 1st down. On the next play Jalen Williams tore the ball away from a Wolfpack receiver and took the interception out to the Tiger 22. Unfortunately, the Tigers weren’t able to get a 1st down and had to punt it away. State took over at their 31.

The drive didn’t start well for the Wolfpack as Ferrell got to the RB not long after the handoff. On 3rd & 4, Finley put another long throw on his WR’s hands, but Tanner Muse knocked it away and forced State to punt. Clemson couldn’t get a 1st down and punted it back.

Clemson’s defense put State at 3rd and 7 but Finley couldn’t find his receiver. State tried to execute a fake punt but the Tigers were disciplined and beautifully defended it. The Tigers took over at the State 22. A couple of Etienne runs made it 3rd & 2. Lawrence avoided pressure and rolled right, hitting Milan Richard who went down half a yard short of the goal line. Etienne then punched it in pretty much untouched. The Tigers were up 31-0 with just under 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
Trevor Lawrence winds up to get the ball downfield.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

State took over at the 20 and started with a nice run, but a holding penalty hurt them. On 3rd & 9, the Tigers defended the pass well, but Wilkins committed a roughing the passer penalty and the Wolfpack got a reprieve. They moved deep into Clemson territory at the 9 yard line at the end of the 3rd quarter. When play resumed, the Wolfpack punched it in and it was 31-7 Clemson. State tried an onside kick, but the Tigers recovered it at midfield. On 3rd & 10 Etienne ran a beautiful screen, very patiently setting up his blocks, and got down to the State 15. The Tigers faced a 3rd & 4 but Lawrence couldn’t connect with Ross on a slant. Huegel kicked the 27-yard FG to make it 34-7 Tigers.

Finley tried to go deep on Trayvon Mullen on first down after the kickoff, but the coverage was good and he couldn’t connect. On 3rd and 3, Finley had an open receiver, but clearly they weren’t together on what the route was supposed to be. After the punt, Clemson took over at the Tiger 16 with Chase Brice at QB. Overton took a screen pass and made a lot out of nothing to move it out to the 43. A pass to Ross got the Tigers to the Wolfpack 30. Lyn-J Dixon took a pitch and got down to the 7. On the next play, he got to the 2. Then he punched it in to make the score 41-7 with just over 8 minutes left.

I was disappointed in Potter’s subsequent kickoff when it only landed 2 yards deep in the end zone. He really needs to work on his kicks next week. The Tigers were deep in their backup rotation on the next series. I noticed freshman LB Mike Jones Jr. on the field. State got to a 4th & 1, but X-Man Xavier Thomas got there to completely crush what was left of the spirit of the Wolfpack. The Tigers were pretty deep on their offensive set as well. Brice almost connected with Kendrick on a fade into the end zone but it was well defensed. The State defender decided to celebrate a little too much and got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to give the Tigers 1st and 10 at the 15. Clemson couldn’t make any progress and Potter came in to try a FG but after a timeout Alex Spence came in to replace him. He hooked it wide left. State took over at the 20 and moved into Tiger territory. State’s backup QB came in and hit his receiver with a nice throw down to the Tiger 5 yard line. with 39 seconds left. On 1st and goal, X-Man chased down the QB on an option to end the game.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson
Let’s hear it Dave. How did the Tigers steal this victory from your Wolfpack?
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers made a clear statement today that they are a force to be reckoned with in the chase to the college football playoff. They dominated a good NC State team on both sides of the ball. I’m curious to hear from Dave Doeren about how Clemson cheated today. A psychic on the Clemson sideline, maybe? How do you think the Tigers did it? Let us know in the comments below. Check back with us over the next few days for in-depth coverage of how Clemson dismantled the Wolfpack today and what to expect next week as the Tigers travel to Tallahassee to take on the Seminoles.