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7 takeaways from Clemson's season-opening blowout at Wake Forest

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091220 Clemson at WF (Q1)-14.jpg

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence was brilliant in Clemson's opener. ACC/Provided photo.

WAKE FOREST — Clemson's season-opening 37-13 win at Wake Forest on Saturday was a success on many fronts, coach Dabo Swinney said.

The Tigers' starters played well. The reserves got some playing time in. And the team went home happy.

"Just a great experience and opportunity for us to teach and grow our team and our focus and our depth and our morale," Swinney said. "Really was no major negatives at all, to me. It was all good."

Clemson will look to continue the momentum Saturday against The Citadel at home, but first here are seven takeaways from the team's opener:

Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne are still elite

Lawrence got off to an inauspicious start, taking a sack on third down of the game's first possession instead of throwing the ball away in what Swinney labeled a "boneheaded" mistake.

But from then on the quarterback was brilliant. He finished 22-of-28 passing for 351 yards and a touchdown with two rushing scores. The junior set program records for passing yards and total yards (327) in a season opener.

"Felt like we were in a really good rhythm tonight," Lawrence said. "Played with great tempo." 

Running back Travis Etienne, Clemson's other Heisman Trophy contender, rushed 17 times for 102 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 47 yards. It was the 18th 100-yard rushing performance of the senior's career.

"Travis was just Travis," Swinney said. "Had some good yards after the contact. There were a couple times I thought he was a step away from scoring.

"Both those guys, they were awesome."

As much as things change around the Tigers, the team can take solace in knowing its two superstars appear to still be at the peak of their powers.

TE Braden Galloway is a threat in the passing game

The Tigers did not get a ton of production from tight ends in the passing game last season, but on Saturday, junior Braden Galloway put an end to that trend.

Galloway had a career-best 60 receiving yards and tied a career high with five receptions. With Clemson dealing with some attrition at wide receiver, Galloway is likely to continue to be a favorite option of Lawrence's going forward.

"When you have a great tight end in there that's a threat down the field, it just creates more matchup problems," Swinney said. "Braden is such a unique guy because he runs like a wideout, and he's long. But he's physical."

Galloway wasn't the only tight end to have success Saturday.

Redshirt senior J.C. Chalk, who started most of last season with Galloway serving a suspension for testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug Ostarine, caught a 12-yard touchdown for the first score of his career. And sophomore Davis Allen recorded a career-long 42-yard reception.

Increased production out of tight ends can only help Clemson's passing game.

Freshmen Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee impress in college debut

Plenty of hype followed the two defensive linemen into their college debuts, and neither disappointed. Bresee became the first Tigers true freshman to record at least a half a sack in a season opener since Dexter Lawrence and Tre Lamar in 2016, and Murphy did the same later in the game. 

Murphy finished with seven tackles and two sacks, the most by a Clemson true freshman since Dexter Lawrence against Virginia Tech in the 2016 ACC Championship game. 

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Bresee was "great" but has room to grow.

"He's like a big puppy dog. A big labrador. You let him outside for the first time, bring him home for the first time and he's wetting all over the place," Venables said. "He was offsides (his) first play, classic. Bryan's done well."

Both Bresee and Murphy should continue to receive opportunities as the season wears on. 

Uncertainty at cornerback 

Cornerbacks Derion Kendrick — a returning starter — and Mario Goodrich did not travel with the team to Winston-Salem, opening the door for sophomores Andrew Booth Jr. and Sheridan Jones to start; Booth had been listed as a co-starter with Goodrich.

The results were mixed. Booth was beat several times in deep ball situations but showed some improvement as the contest wore on.

"It was good to see Booth come back and really correct his mistake," Swinney said. "Down the field and the guy is looking for the ball, you've got to get your eyes to the sky there and make a play on the ball. And, man, he corrected it and made a great play down the field on the ball."

B.T. Potter has a perfect night

The kicker attracted some criticism last season for his accuracy struggles. Potter left no room for critique Saturday.

Potter was 4 for 4 on PATs and is now the program's all-time leader in consecutive extra points made (90). He has never missed a PAT. He also converted all three of his field goal attempts, including a career-high tying 52-yard attempt as the first half came to a close.

Swinney supports social justice helmet stickets

Clemson players wore helmet stickers bearing several social justice phrases, including 'Equality' 'Love' and 'Black Lives Matter.' 

Some Tigers fans on social media and on message boards expressed disapproval with the messages, which call for human beings to be treated equally. 

"I support my guys. Not everybody is going to think the same, and that's never going to be the case," Swinney said. "Hopefully people can respect our young men and what they believe in."

This is going to be an unconventional season

No fans were permitted into Truist Field on Saturday, and it made for a strange atmosphere. Fake crowd noise pumped through the sound system. Clemson will permit 19,000 fans into Death Valley for Tigers game, but social distancing regulations will be in place.

It's one thing to forecast what a college football season amid a pandemic will look alike; it's another to put those plans into action. Regardless of what happens on the field, this season will be remembered for its novelty as much as anything. 

Clemson also played 78 of 80 players who traveled. Expect the team to continue to empty the bench as the season progresses. All players this season will earn an extra year of eligibility. 

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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