When N.C. State receiver Tabari Hines tried to field a rolling punt late in the fourth quarter of Clemson’s blowout victory Saturday night, his fumble set up a surprisingly wild ending to a game that had been all but over since Clemson took a 28-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Tigers took over at the Wolfpack 23 with a 49-10 lead and 2:49 remaining, but Clemson wasn’t satisfied with running out the clock and heading home with a 39-point victory.
Backup quarterback Chase Brice fired a pass just wide of reserve receiver Joseph Ngata on the first play of the series, foreshadowing what was to come.
Clemson would throw a couple of more passes on the drive, including one with 22 seconds remaining, before running back Michel Dukes scored from a yard out with 11 seconds left to give the Tigers a 55-10 lead. Linebacker James Skalski was called upon to attempt the extra point, but his kick sailed wide left to keep the final margin at 45 points.
“Just trying to let them play,” Swinney said of his decision to keep attacking instead of taking a knee. “We certainly could have, but they could’ve stopped us too, but they didn’t. We were just trying to hand the ball off and run a couple of plays, let Chase (Brice) play. Let all those guys play. We subbed everybody. There was nobody else to put in there.
“Just letting those guys play ball. That’s really it.”
Clemson’s final touchdown drive was seven plays, totaling 23 yards. It took 2:38 off the clock and featured four running plays and three pass plays.
One of the running plays came on fourth-and-1 from the 11 with 1:30 left. Brice faked a toss Dukes and kept for a 7-yard gain, setting Clemson up with first-and-goal at the 4 with 1:23 remaining. The Tigers kept attacking, snapping the ball with 15 seconds left on the play clock before scoring a couple of plays later.
The drive also included an N.C. State timeout as Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren wanted to talk to his defense when Clemson lined up to run a play with 27 seconds left at the 1.
Doeren’s timeout didn’t help as after Brice’s pass to Will Swinney fell incomplete incomplete in the end zone, Dukes scored on the next play.
“I don’t really have a lot to say about it,” Doeren said of Clemson’s late touchdown. “It’s their third or fourth (string) in the game. You’ve got to try to stop them. Obviously it’s something as a coach that you don’t like to see happen, but I’ve done the same thing in the past. You put your backups in and you let them play football. It is what it is.”
Clemson’s dominant performance Saturday night came two years after Doeren accused the Tigers of illegally possessing a laptop on their sideline in Clemson’s 38-31 win.
Doeren on that night said during his postgame press conference: “I’d like to know why there was a laptop on Clemson’s sideline that people were looking at. ... I’d like that to be investigated. Maybe they weren’t doing anything, but I was told it’s illegal to have technology on the sideline. So I’d like to know that.”
Swinney admitted at the time that he didn’t appreciate the comments from the Wolfpack head coach.
“It’s disappointing, because that was kind of a challenge to our integrity,” he said in 2017.
But Swinney insisted following Saturday’s game that he gets along well with Doeren and there is no bad blood between the two, despite a rather quick postgame handshake.
“Dave and I have a great relationship. That’s just a question trying to create something,” Swinney said when asked about the short exchange. “He was very nice. I was very nice. ... I’ve been on both sides of (a blowout). Nobody wants to sit there and chit chat.”
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott added that the late score was about having the right mindset and not about rubbing it in to Doeren or N.C. State.
“It’s championship football. We’re trying to score every time we get the ball. So the conversation is, ‘Let’s go get it,’” Elliott said. “Obviously we want to maintain the momentum. We don’t want to give these guys any indication that we’re backing off. We want to keep our foot on the pedal because right now it’s November. You’ve got to play your best football. And every possession matters going forward.”
Who: Wake Forest at Clemson
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16
Where: Memorial Stadium