A little help from Virginia late Saturday afternoon could make next week’s trip to Clemson meaningless in determining the ACC Atlantic Division champion.
Clemson’s 43-23 win over N.C. State on Saturday sets the stage for the Tiger’s first-ever trip to the ACC Championship, pending a Virginia win over Boston College or a Clemson win over Virginia next week.
Coach Dabo Swinney said the bus ride home could take a little longer if the Cavaliers pull of the upset Saturday evening.
“We might pull the busses right over on I-85. There’s going to be a YouTube video coming at you from somewhere,” he said. “I’ll be dancing a jig on the side of 85. Who knows what happens?”
“Even if (an upset) were to happen, we’ve still got to go play, we want to win,” Swinney said.
With Saturday’s win, the 24th ranked Tigers improve to 7-3 (5-2 in ACC) and the Wolfpack drop to 4-6 (1-5 in ACC).
Swinney called the offense’s performance could be the most “complete, efficient” performance of this season.
Clemson punted three times and had no turnovers. Kyle Parker completed 12-of-18 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. His scoring throws included a five-yard strike to Michael Palmer and one for 34 yards to C.J. Spiller, who also threw a touchdown pass--17 yards to Xavier Dye.
“Our offense just kept answering. There were a couple of times when they were hoping to get a stop on us and reenergize the crowd, but our offense just kept going,” Swinney said.
He believed the offense’s success started up front with a solid day rushing. Clemson picked up 254 yards on the ground with Jacoby Ford, Spiller and Jamie Harper each hitting N.C. State on scoring runs.
“If you’re going to run for 250-something yards and you don’t turn it over, you’re going to win most of the time,” Swinney said.
Up 24-14, Spiller ran for a touchdown on the first Clemson drive of the second half. The extra-point was missed by Spencer Benton, who had a pair of touchbacks and a 28-yard field goal in the first half.
“If we were to cut the game off at the half, I’d given (Benton) special teams MVP,” Swinney said.
Benton also missed another extra-point on Spiller’s 34-yard touchdown run that put Clemson up 36-17.
“The first one--we had a bad snap and hold. The ball was on the ground,” Swinney said. “The second one--he just missed.”
For a second-straight week, missed extra-points didn’t factor into determining the winner--thanks to a Tiger defense that didn’t allow for a track meet to break out.
But there were drives when Kevin Steele’s unit struggled to get off the field because of penalties.
“Good teams pick each other up. (N.C. State) had a hard time consistently moving the ball, with the exception of us helping them,” Swinney said. “We had some really difficult breaks on defense.”
Down 17-0 in the second quarter, Russell Wilson threw his first of two touchdown passes. The first was an 18-yard completion to Koyal George. The second was an eight-yard hook up with Jarvis Williams, concluding the opening drive of the second half.
Clemson’s defense spent much of the afternoon chasing Wilson, despite sacking him only twice.
“I’m really happy with the pressure, but not really happy with the containment of him and getting him on the ground,” Steele said. “We got a lot of pressure on him and had him running, but didn’t get him on the ground.”
Ricky Sapp spent much of the afternoon in hot pursuit of Wilson.
“He was running around all day from us. He was very elusive, a very good quarterback,” Sapp said.
He believes there was plenty of pressure on Wilson, but is “far from satisfied” with the performance by the defense. Correcting those mistakes starts Monday, he said.
Monday figures to be the beginning of an emotional week for Sapp, who’ll be one of several seniors playing in Death Valley one more time.
“I don’t want to think about it, I’m a very emotional guy. I don’t want it to end,” he said. “I wish I could start over and go four more years.
“At the same time, I’ve enjoyed my time at Clemson. It’s probably the best fans in the whole world, the best coaching staff, probably the best people around town--I don’t want to leave.”