ACC

Latest rout looks like a sign of things to come for No. 1 Clemson

Talk up opponent, thrash opponent, do it again next week.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

That very well could be Clemson football for the next two months.

Four days after Dabo Swinney said the Charlotte 49ers could “embarrass” his No. 1 ranked Tigers if they weren’t ready, the head coach watched his team score the first 31 points of the game, play a record 111 players and roll to an easy 52-10 victory Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

Granted, it was against a Group of Five foe that didn’t even have a football team during the setting of the movie “Safety,” a Disney film shot at halftime Saturday about former Clemson player Ray Ray McElrathbey.

Real life gave college football a not-so friendly reminder of what very well could be in store for the top-ranked team. Clemson had plenty of highlights early: Tee Higgins caught a 58-yard touchdown on the Tigers’ second play from scrimmage and K’Von Wallace picked off a Charlotte pass and took it back for six points, all within the first five minutes of the game.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence didn’t do much to enhance his Heisman Trophy campaign. He completed 7 of his 9 passes for two touchdowns in just three series. Running back Travis Etienne got his 61 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown and got out.

Swinney said he could’ve left players like Lawrence in longer to chase awards, but this game wasn’t about that.

“We’re just interested in winning the game, winning with class and not getting anybody hurt... grow our team,” Swinney said.

The Clemson defense gave up just a field goal in the first half and one touchdown in the second half after a muffed punt gave Charlotte its best field position of the night.

Clemson’s linebackers, however, weren’t particularly sharp. They struggled to make tackles, picked up a late-hit penalty and missed run assignments.

“We didn’t fit a few things right,” Swinney said. “Definitely a good tape for us...that’ll help us.”

If that sounds like nitpicking in a 42-point blowout, well, it is.

That’s where Clemson football is at this point in a young season. The Tigers have already navigated their most difficult stretch with the temperatures still in the 80s.

In Week 2, they stymied a Texas A&M squad that lost again Saturday to Auburn, this time at home, and could be headed for a free fall in the polls that won’t help Clemson’s already questionable strength of schedule.

The Tigers decimated Syracuse a week ago on the road without showcasing their best effort. That was an Orange team that beat Clemson two years ago in the Carrier Dome and gave the Death Valley faithful a scare last season.

That set off a number of “what’s wrong with Lawrence?” takes from the media after he threw his fifth interception of the season. Even that was in a 35-point victory. Because of what’s left, folks will have to dig deep to ding this team moving forward.

Clemson will be a prohibitive favorite on the road next weekend at North Carolina, a team that lost at Wake Forest and at home to App. State its last two games.

Following an off week, there’s Florida State, Louisville, Boston College, Wofford, N.C. State, Wake Forest, another off week and South Carolina.

None of those are currently ranked. The Demon Deacons are the only 4-0 squad on Clemson’s slate. The rest of those teams are a combined 14-13.

Clemson is crazy talented. It also has an incredibly favorable schedule. Both can be true.

“We got better as a team and achieved the objectives that we were trying to achieve in this game and get good momentum heading into this week,” Swinney said.

Saturday’s rout of Charlotte was a preview of what’s to come, at least until the ACC Championship Game in December ... maybe.

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