Tigers strike gold against 49ers
CLEMSON — The No. 1 ranked Clemson Tigers were issued a challenge by head coach Dabo Swinney ahead of their matchup with 41-point underdogs, the Charlotte 49ers. That challenge was to play a complete game.
"We have to get better and become more consistent," Swinney said. "We have been explosive, but we need to be more efficient. We have a lot we can now apply, and we need to take that next step. I know we can be that complete team. I love the leadership and effort of this team."
His Tigers did exactly what Swinney asked as they defeated the 49ers by a final score of 52-10 Saturday inside a sold-out Death Valley
"That was a lot of fun. It was a fun locker room," Swinney said. "A lot of guys got an opportunity to play. The biggest thing is we got better. We showed some maturity to our preparation process. I think we played 111 guys, and I think the record was 94, so we shattered that."
The Tigers wasted little time disposing of the 49ers. Following a three-and-out on the 49ers opening possession, the Tigers needed only two plays to go 59 yards, as quarterback Trevor Lawrence found Tee Higgins for a 58-yard touchdown on the second play of the game for the Tigers.
"We got a three-and-out and then scored in two plays, and boom, we were out," Swinney said. "It was pretty quick that we knew that they were overmatched, and so we did some selective subbing. Then in the second half we did some wholesale subbing."
The Tiger defense continued the points party in the first quarter on the 49ers' ensuing possession. Safety K'Von Wallace intercepted Chris Reynolds' pass and returned the interception 66 yards for his first career touchdown that extended the Tigers' lead to 14-0 in the opening quarter.
Following a third punt of the night for the 49ers, the special teams added its first score of the night when B.T. Potter's 22-yard field goal gave the Tigers a 17-0 lead.
The Tigers continued their perfect night scoring on their next possession when Lawrence hit Cornell Powell for a 2-yard touchdown that capped off an eight-play, 60-yard drive. The touchdown was Powell's second-career touchdown and first since 2017 after playing four games last year and then redshirting.
The Tigers continued to keep their foot on the gas after the 49ers went for the first down on fourth-and-3 from their own 48. Behind the lead of backup quarterback Chase Brice, who entered the game with 11:55 minutes to play in the first half, Travis Etienne found the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run.
"We wanted to get Chase out there early if we had the game under control early, when the game was still a game and see what he could do," Swinney said.
Etienne tied Travis Zachery for second all-time in rushing touchdowns at Clemson with 41 and trails only James Davis at 47 for the school career record.
The 49ers ended the Tigers scoring streak and their streak of consecutive punts, as a field goal cut the Tigers' lead to 31-3.
However, the Tigers answered the 49ers and then some on their next possession, as Lyn-J Dixon flipped his way into the end zone and ended the first half with the Tigers leading the 49ers by a score of 38-3.
Clemson stalled on its opening possession of the second half, as Will Spiers was called on to punt and flip the field, which he did, booming a 64-yard punt that pinned the 49ers on their own 1-yard line.
Following a three-and-out by the 49ers, the Tigers went back to work on the scoreboard. The team needed only three plays, including a 37-yard touchdown pass from Brice to Joseph Ngata, to push the lead to 45-3.
A muffed punt by Tigers wide receiver Will Swinney turned into the 49ers first touchdown of the game. After taking over at the Tigers' 12-yard line, the 49ers used only three plays to find the end zone on Reynolds' 8-yard scramble.
The Tigers turned the ball over for the second straight time on their next possession, as true freshman Taisun Phommachanh's pass was intercepted at their own 28-yard line. However, the defense allowed only 12 yards before they forced the 49ers' sixth punt of the night.
Tigers true freshman running back Mikey Dukes ended the scoring barrage, as he found the end zone with a 24-yard touchdown run, the first of his career, that gave the Tigers a 52-10 lead.
"It was good to see Mikey get his this week after Chez Mellusi got his last week at Syracuse," Swinney said.
— Clemson won its 19th consecutive game, dating back to the start of the 2018 season, to extend the longest winning streak in school history and second-longest winning streak in ACC history.
— Clemson improved to 12-2 all-time in games as the AP No. 1-ranked team. Twelve of Clemson's 13 games played at No. 1 all-time entering Saturday have come during the Dabo Swinney era.
— Clemson won a 14th consecutive game by 14 points or more, which ties for the third-longest streak in the AP Poll era (since 1936).
— Clemson won its 18th consecutive game at Memorial Stadium, dating back to a 56-7 win against South Carolina on Nov. 25, 2016.
The Tigers travel to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN or ABC) next Saturday.