In the buildup to NC State and Clemson’s prime-time clash, the question was never whether Clemson would win; it was always how much it would win by. The answer to that question ended up being 45, as Clemson dismantled NC State to the tune of 55-10.
“I wouldn't say morale is bad,” said head coach Dave Doeren. “I think the guys are mad more than having bad morale. These guys want to win, and they're all frustrated. They all understand, at the same time, we're playing with a short deck right now. They get that. They're playing hard. We're not playing smart enough to win, not giving ourselves a chance with turnovers or poor decision-making in special teams.”
The Wolfpack (4-5, 1-4 ACC) was thoroughly dominated by the No. 5 Tigers (10-0, 7-0 ACC) in nearly every aspect of the game. Clemson’s starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence went 20-for-27 passing, with 276 yards and four total touchdowns, while his Wolfpack counterpart, redshirt freshman Devin Leary, went just 14 for 29 with 166 yards and no touchdowns. As a team, the Tigers racked up 549 yards of total offense compared to the Pack’s 290.
Leary couldn’t match up statistically with Lawrence, but he improved as the game went on and showed that with more time, he can become a decent player for the Wolfpack.
“Devin's going to learn as he goes,” Doeren said. “He’s just played the best two teams probably on our schedule this year back to back. And the thing I like about Devin is, he doesn't get down. He makes mistakes, like everybody has, that we put out there. He has good arm talent. He's going to keep getting better.”
While Lawrence picked apart the Pack’s secondary through the air, running back Travis Etienne decimated the Wolfpack’s front on the ground, picking up 113 yards on 14 attempts and two touchdowns.
The one bright spot for the Pack from the game was the play of freshman running back Zonovan Knight, who ran for 139 yards on 12 attempts and got the only touchdown of the day for the Pack.
“I feel all right, but you know I'm not satisfied, because we lost,” Knight said. “Overall, I feel like I could have done better, and I had a decent game, but it wasn't enough to help the team overcome the deficit.”
The Wolfpack’s lone touchdown of the night came on its first drive of the second half, as Knight broke out for a 53-yard rushing touchdown to cap off a five-play, 75-yard drive. The Pack added a field goal in the fourth quarter, but as the game was already well and truly over, the only thing the Pack threatened to do was a back door cover.
The difference in the two teams was apparent from the opening drives and only became more apparent as the game went on. While Clemson put together a flawless nine-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to open the game, the Pack went three and out on its first drive as Leary completely missed junior receiver Emeka Emezie on the sideline on third down.
The offensive onslaught and defensive dominance continued for Clemon throughout the first quarter, with the Tigers adding an additional three touchdowns to bring the score to 28-0 at the end of the quarter. Clemson’s third and fourth touchdowns both came on short fields, as fumbles from Leary and freshman running back Jordan Houston set up Clemson on the Wolfpack’s 3- and 21-yard lines, respectively.
“We can't turn the football over and win the football game,” Doeren said. “We turned it over three times in the first half against a team that's as good as anybody we're going to play every year. You just can’t do that.”
While the Wolfpack barely resembled a functional football team in the second quarter, it was still a slight improvement on the first quarter, as the Pack managed to hold Clemson to just two touchdowns and 193 yards of total offense compared to the four touchdowns and 210 total yards it gave up in the first quarter.
The offense struggled even more than the defense in the first half, gaining just 88 yards of total offense. Leary went just 6 for 13 on 62 yards in the half. The best player for the Pack in the first half was Knight, who managed 63 yards on the ground.
The second half was simply a formality as Clemson continued to dominate, and over half the stadium decided it had seen enough as the traditional halftime exodus occurred with very view returning for the second half, and a majority of those who did return were those dressed in Clemson orange.
The Pack will be back in action Nov. 16 as it hosts Louisville in another prime-time game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.