Watson, No. 3 Clemson stay perfect in 56-41 win at NC State
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dabo Swinney isn’t spending much time thinking of where third-ranked Clemson will be in this week’s first College Football Playoff standings.
No, the coach is pushing Deshaun Watson and that humming-along offense to focus on the first step to get there: winning the Atlantic Coast Conference division race.
Watson accounted for six touchdowns and the Tigers put up a second straight big score on the road in Saturday’s 56-41 win at North Carolina State.
The first playoff standings will be released Tuesday night, then the Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) host No. 17 Florida State next weekend to try to clinch the Atlantic Division crown and a trip to the ACC title game.
”We’re 8-0,” Swinney said. ”That’s really all that matters for us, that we’ve got a chance to clinch our division with a win over the team that’s been the best team in this conference the last few years.”
One thing is sure: the Tigers’ offense is rolling.
A week after piling up 567 yards in a 58-0 win at Miami, Clemson finished with 623 yards against a defense ranked third nationally and allowing 251 per outing.
Watson threw for 383 yards and five scores, and also ran for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Wayne Gallman ran for 172 yards and a touchdown for Clemson, which put together a lightning-strike scoring drive right before halftime to go ahead for good.
”We’re just executing,” Watson said. ”We listen to our coaches and what they have planned. We just go out there and play ball and have fun.”
It wasn’t perfect for Clemson, with N.C. State (5-3, 1-3) breaking off a few big plays and turning the game into a shootout while playing from behind. But the Tigers were never seriously threatened in the final 20 minutes, leading by 20 on their way to an 11th straight victory dating to last season.
It also marked Clemson’s 36th straight win against teams unranked in the AP Top 25, the last loss coming at the Wolfpack in 2011.
Jacoby Brissett threw for three touchdowns and ran for one, while Jaylen Samuels also ran for a score for the Wolfpack. Freshman Nyheim Hines had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a wild opening 5 minutes that saw both teams score twice and even block a PAT.
But N.C. State played the second half without top rusher Matt Dayes due to what coach Dave Doeren said was a toe injury. And the Wolfpack never found a way to slow Watson and the Tigers consistently.
”I would have said if we score 41 points tonight, we’d have a chance to win the game,” Doeren said, ”but we just gave them too much.”
N.C. State led 20-19 before it got away, with freshman Kyle Bambard missing a 44-yard field goal with 55 seconds left in the half. The Tigers pounced, with Watson finding Artavis Scott for a 31-yard pass then going deep to Charone Peake for a 42-yard touchdown to cap a two-play, 15-second drive that put Clemson on top to stay and sucked some of the energy from a hostile crowd.
By the time Watson found Zac Brooks for a 35-yard TD late in the third, Clemson’s lead had grown to 47-27.
And by the end, N.C. State had lost by the same score as the last time it hosted a top-five opponent: top-ranked Florida State and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston last season.
”Of course, they’re a great team, they’re the (No. 3) team in the nation,” Wolfpack safety Hakim Jones said. ”But at the same time, we have to compete with them better than we did.”
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