Questions about Clemson's dominance and if it really belonged in the same conversation as his undefeated colleagues in the top four were answered on Saturday with a 41-7 blowout win over NC State.
NC State seemed to be the biggest hurdle for Clemson the way to the ACC championship and the College Football playoff. It was a fair prediction that this game would be close, as the Wolfpack had nearly shattered its rival in the Atlantic area in recent years and both teams would have appeared fairly balanced on Saturday (at least on paper). Quarterbacks Ryan Finley and Trevor Lawrence led the league in efficiency, nearly 70% of their passes through that point, while both defenses were stifling, limiting opponents to less than 1
But after Saturday, only the Tigers will be the part of a future conference champion, and now have a clear path to the championship title and playoffs.
Lawrence, who watched most of the fourth quarter off the sideline, completed 26 of 39 passes to 10 different receivers for 308 yards with a touchdown. Finley was not nearly as strong of a day, struggling to go all down, finishing 21 of 34 for 156 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Prior to this game, Finley had 10 touchdowns to only three interceptions throughout the season. It was only the second time throughout the season that he was kept below 300 yards, the other in a 35-21 win over Virginia. Clemson's third-placed defense also had 10 tackles for loss, holding NC State on 2 of 12 on the third and only 297 yards, far below the average (480.2).
NC State boasted an elastic rush defense that had allowed the least hurried touchdowns in the country (three) on Saturday. Although Clemson did not have his best day running the ball, only 91 yards down, it still scored four rushing touchdowns. Star Tailback Travis Etienne was held at 15 yards on 39 yards, but he scored three of those touchdowns. He now has nine touchdowns in the last three games and 14 this season, tied for most in the country.
The Wolfpack were a kind of mysterious group in this game with a 5-0 record, without any signature wins. Their game against West Virginia on 15 September was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, which would probably have given a better indication of how strong the team was prior to a trip to Death Valley. Now, who can challenge Clemson the rest of the season?
The Tigers still have games against Florida State, Louisville, Boston University, Duke and South Carolina. Dabo Swinney's team will probably not be able to afford a slip-up at the time, but it certainly turned out to be a weak link on Saturday and will be a force to fight the road.