By Alex Maminakis
CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers set the tone early — very early — against Florida State on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Stadium, and the No. 2 Tigers dominated the game from start to finish.
Clemson piled up 552 total yards on its way to a convincing 45-14 win over its Atlantic Division rivals — the Tigers’ fifth straight win over Florida State.
“I just felt like we were playing a little tight in the last game, so I just wanted our team to have an edge getting off the bus today. I thought our guys had the right tone,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “They were locked in and eager to get back on the field.”
Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) got things started Saturday on its opening possession, driving 75 yards on six plays, capped off by a Travis Etienne 3-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers up 7-0 less than three minutes into the game.
The first play from scrimmage resulted in a 40-yard pass from Trevor Lawrence to Tee Higgins, setting the tone for what was a big day for the Clemson offense.
“That’s something we usually work on at the end of the week as far setting in stone what we’re going to do at first,” Lawrence said of that first play. “I was proud of the way we responded from two weeks ago. We had a good two weeks of preparation. It was good to see, and we knew we were going to play based on how we prepared.”
Clemson added one more touchdown in the opening quarter on an 8-yard run from Lawrence, then scored twice in the second quarter — both on passes from Lawrence to Justyn Ross for 10 and nine yards, respectively — to grow its lead to 28-0 by halftime.
Clemson’s defense also found the end zone during another dominant effort when Derion Kendrick returned an interception 38 yards in the third quarter to put an exclamation point on the Tigers’ win.
“I was reading my keys, and I read them well, and I saw the ball leave his hand and knew I had it,” Kendrick said.
Lawrence’s day was done in the third quarter after a 17-for-25 passing day for 170 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Etienne paced the Tigers’ running attack with 127 yards on 17 carries, while Ross led the receiving corps with five catches for 61 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Clemson stifled Florida State (3-3, 2-2), collecting three interceptions, three sacks and forcing two fumbles while limiting the Seminoles to just 10 first downs.
Florida State running back Cam Akers, who was averaging 116.4 yards per game coming into Saturday’s game, was limited to just 34 yards on nine carries.
“I’m really pleased with (our guys),” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “They came out sharp, (had) great intensity, played with tremendous passion and great physical toughness. I really felt that the most physical team who can dominate the line of scrimmage would win the game. We put a lot of focus on (Akers). I felt like everything goes through him. Our guys accepted the challenge. I thought they came out and were on fire. It was fun to watch.”
In Clemson’s first game back since its one-point win over North Carolina on Sept. 28, and following its bye week last week, the Tigers made a statement Saturday with a dominant performance over a struggling Seminoles team.
The Tigers will take their perfect record back on the road next week when they travel to Louisville.
“We’re a team to be reckoned with,” Etienne said. “We’re still trying to put everything together, but we’re running in the right direction.”
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