Don’t be fooled by the final score – this was total domination by Clemson. There might have been a late interception – the third of the year thrown by Trevor Lawrence – and there were a few missed opportunities, but the defending national champs delivered the knockout punch in the third quarter. Texas A&M loaded up to stop the run and made Lawrence throw, and he came up big when it truly mattered.
Give the Tigers credit for holding up well against the A&M tempo, or lack of it. The Aggies were deliberate, they wanted to control the clock and the game, and the ended up having the ball for well over 32 minutes, but Clemson maintained its energy and focus. This was going to be a bit more of a slugfest than a firefight, and the Tigers still won without any problems.
Clemson might be a whole lot of flash and offensive fun, but at some point, it needs to get more credit for being physical. It beat up Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond with big hit after big hit, and it managed to be intimidating in the secondary against a big receiving corps that won most of the battles in last year’s game. No, it wasn’t a win by 20 or more – the streak ended – but whatever – this was a terrific win, and it might be the final one against a ranked team all season.
And there’s Zonovan Knight. The young star running back was magnificent, running for 119 yards and two scores. He didn’t have any big dashes, but he continues to show just how huge he’ll be for the offense to take the pressure off Matt McKay, who had a second straight good game with 200 passing yards and a score.
NC State keeps looking the part of the (possible) second-best team in the ACC. It was a true tune-up game, and after a quarter, there wasn’t any problem with the passing game needing a little bit to get going. There wasn’t any drama.
The defense didn’t allow a thing. The Catamounts didn’t have any room to run, finishing with just eight yards and just one decent run all day. The pass rush did its part, but the entire defense loaded up. It made WCU throw, and it couldn’t do it.
It wasn’t the total wipeout Hokie fans might have wanted after last year’s loss and the rough run over the last 12 games, but it was good enough. Ryan Willis was able to move the offense through the air with 272 yards and two scores, and he ran for a touchdown, but …
Willis lost a fumble, and the team was -2 in turnover margin. The defense was good on third downs and came up with a great pass rush, but there weren’t any takeaways and the run defense got gashed a bit too often.
The running game has to be a whole lot stronger. Willis had to carry the offense with a ground attack that had one one good run, and that was about it. The Hokies have to average more than 3.4 yards per carry, and again, they have to be on the right side of the turnover battle.