Clemson began the week on the outside of the College Football Playoff picture and looked like a team with something to prove on Saturday night.
N.C. State, after a pair of lopsided ACC losses, looked like a team trying to survive.
The fifth-ranked Tigers blasted the Wolfpack 55-10 to win their fifth straight Atlantic Division title and 25th game in a row. By margin, it was the worst ACC home loss in N.C. State’s history and most lopsided home loss to a current ACC team since a 75-0 defeat to Duke in 1943.
Clemson will be in the ACC title game in Charlotte on Dec. 7 but the Tigers have bigger fish to fry. The 2018 national champions already had help in the CFP race before kickoff. No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Penn State both lost on Saturday. The Tigers weren’t in any kind of mood to let the same thing happen to them.
The game was never in doubt. Clemson (10-0, 7-0 ACC) got four total touchdown passes from star quarterback Trevor Lawrence as it raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and 42-0 advantage at the half.
“Our guys were locked in and just really ready to play,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “And our execution was tremendous in that first half. We really played about as clean as you can play. We didn’t make many mistakes.”
N.C. State (4-5, 1-4) was missing more injured players (and added more to their growing list), but it didn’t help itself with about as bad a start as it could have possibly drawn up. The Wolfpack fumbled twice in the first quarter, which led to two quick Clemson scores. The Tigers had more touchdowns in the first quarter (four) than N.C. State had first downs (1).
The Wolfpack, missing three expected starters on the offensive line, ran 13 plays in the first quarter for 14 yards. The Tigers, with running back Travis Etienne adding two touchdowns, ran 23 plays and scored 28 points in the first quarter.
It didn’t get much better for the Wolfpack after the slow start. Linebacker Payton Wilson, one of the bright spots of the season, injured his left shoulder near the end of the first quarter. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said after the game that Wilson had a sprain and didn’t know how long the redshirt freshman would be out.
And then freshman linebacker Drake Thomas was banged up near the end of the fourth quarter.
“It’s bad,” Doeren said of the injury situation. “We’re down to no depth. We had three walk-on linebackers in at the end of the game.”
The Tigers tacked on a 1-yard touchdown run by left guard John Simpson, who was lined up at fullback, for good measure in the second quarter and a 33-yard TD catch by receiver Justyn Ross.
N.C. State, which has lost its past three ACC games by an average of 33.3 points, broke up the shutout in the third quarter with a 53-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Bam Knight. Sophomore kicker Chris Dunn added a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
N.C. State prevented Clemson from setting a new stadium scoring record (which is 67 points).
Knight ran for 63 yards in the first half, which was 72 percent of N.C. State’s offense. Knight finished with 139 yards on 12 carries.
“I thought Bam ran really hard,” Doeren said. “I was happy to see him bust a long run.”
N.C. State fumbled three times in the first half, the two in the first quarter were quickly cashed in by Clemson for touchdowns.
N.C. State has lost eight in a row to Clemson and 15 of the past 16 matchups.
Making sense of the numbers
45 The 45-point margin is the most lopsided ACC home loss in N.C. State history. The Wolfpack lost to Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium by 44 points in 2000 (58-14).