No. 2 Clemson routs The Citadel
CLEMSON — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney always says the fun is in the winning.
The Tigers must have had a ball on Saturday.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant passed for 230 yards and three touchdowns as No. 2 Clemson bolted to a 38-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 61-3 victory against The Citadel on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
“This was just a fun day to see these guys have a great time playing well,” Swinney said. “And to see other guys play well and get excited about that, too.”
Bryant got the Tigers untracked quickly, completing 17 of 22 passes before exiting late in the first half. The junior became the third quarterback in Clemson history to win 10 games in his first year as a starter.
The Tigers (10-1), who will play Miami in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 2, improved to 32-0 all-time against FCS opponents and clinched a 10-win season for a school-record seventh consecutive year.
Clemson is 80-14 under Swinney in the last seven seasons; only Alabama has a better record over that same time span.
“We’ve now gotten at least 10 wins seven years in a row,” Swinney said.
“The class of 2011 got it started, and it has carried forward to this year’s senior class. It’s really hard to do that, and for them to go 27-1 at home is mind-boggling. I’m just really proud of the standard that these guys have bought into during their time here.”
The Tigers amassed 662 yards — the fifth-highest total in school history — against The Citadel (5-6), a small military school from Charleston, S.C. They averaged 9.9 yards per play, the fourth-best single game average in the school record book, and had 479 yards passing, the second-highest total in program history.
“It has definitely seen an up-and-down season for us,” said The Citadel coach Brent Thompson, whose team went 10-2 in 2016.
“The games that we lost were to some pretty good football teams — five 7-1 teams, and these guys right here (Clemson). So I don’t think it is as bad as we made it out to be. We definitely had opportunities to win (other games); it’s just our expectations were a lot higher.”
Clemson wasted little time in taking command, scoring on each of its three possessions for a 21-0 lead after one quarter. On its fifth play from scrimmage, Bryant lofted a 53-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain for a 7-0 lead. It was the 19th career touchdown reception for Cain, who finished with five catches for a career-high 140 yards.
The Tigers drove 49 yards in six plays on its next possession, with freshman running back Travis Etienne doing most of the work. He rushed for 35 yards on the drive, which he capped with a 6-yard burst up the middle.
Clemson traveled 69 yards in eight plays on its following possession, with the touchdown coming on a 12-yard pass from Bryant to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. It was the first touchdown reception of the season for Renfrow, who was the star of last year’s National Championship Game victory against Alabama with 10 catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers’ lead swelled to 28-0 early in the second quarter when Bryant connected with wide receiver T.J. Chase for a 13-yard touchdown — the first of Chase’s career. The score capped a seven-play, 57-yard drive with 12 minutes left in the third quarter.
Alex Spence added a 26-yard field goal with 6:32 left in the half to push Clemson’s lead to 31-0, then backup quarterback Zerrick Cooper tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Tee Higgins with five seconds in the half for a 38-0 halftime lead.
Clemson added three second-half touchdowns: a 61-yard run by Tavien Feaster, a 7-yard run by Etienne and a one-handed, 78-yard catch by Higgins on a pass from third-team quarterback Hunter Johnson. Johnson completed 7 of 8 passes for 144 yards while Higgins set career highs with six receptions for 178 yards.
After Christian Groomes added a 38-yard field goal with 6:09 remaining, The Citadel posted its lone score of the game on a 30-yard field goal by Jacob Godek with 2:50 left.
The Bulldogs were held to 216 total yards and 10 first downs.
“It was all we could do to try to get first downs and move the ball on each drive,” Thompson said. “I was happy with that last drive we had. We threw the ball real well and got in position to at least put three points on the board.”
NOTES: Clemson WR Deon Cain has caught at least one pass in 34 consecutive games, the 10th-longest streak in the nation. ... RB Travis Etienne has four rushes of 50 yards or more this season. ... WR Hunter Renfrow has 43 receptions this season, 16 of which have come on third down; 14 of those have resulted in a first down. ... The Citadel DB Wally Wilmore, who entered the game with 13 tackles this season, had four tackles and three pass breakups against Clemson. ... RB Grant Drakeford is averaging 9.6 yards per carry this season. ... LB Myles Pierce led The Citadel with eight tackles, including a tackle for loss, against Clemson.