CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney made sure to point out earlier this week that Furman's football team has beaten Clemson in the past: 10 times to be exact.
But the last time the Paladins walked away from a Clemson matchup victorious was 1936 — when gas cost 10 cents a gallon, Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats were comforting the nation and Swinney was still 33 years away from being born. Saturday certainly was not going to be the day the Paladins snapped their decades-long skid and Clemson performed about as expected, mixing in a flashy youth show with an established veteran group.
Swinney's team, the deepest team he has ever had as a coach, pummeled the Paladins 48-7 in the Tigers' season opener with more than 80,000 on hand.
Kelly Bryant opened the game as the starting quarterback, Trevor Lawrence made his highly-anticipated debut and the Tigers never trailed in a game that was over only a few minutes after it started.
"It was just what we needed," said Swinney, who is 9-1 as a head coach in openers. "Both quarterbacks, I think they were almost identical."
What went right
On a scorching afternoon when all eyes were on the quarterbacks and everyone across the nation wanted to dissect Bryant and Lawrence's every move, both had their moments.
Bryant, the incumbent senior, struggled early but had his best series to open the second half. After he connected on a 38-yard pass with freshman Derion Kendrick — Bryant's deep ball is constantly criticized — he used his legs to dash into the end zone on a 35-yard run a play later. He finished the game 10-of-16 passing for 127 yards and one touchdown, and also ran for a touchdown.
As for Lawrence, success was not as immediate as it was for the freshman in the spring game, when he threw a 50-yard touchdown in his first series. But the QB phenom threw the first touchdown pass of his career in the second quarter and sent Death Valley into a frenzy. It was in his second series, Clemson's fifth of the game, when Lawrence hit wide receiver Diondre Overton on a 6-yard missile in the middle of the end zone to stretch Clemson's lead to 20-0. Just seconds earlier, he had connected deep with wide receiver Cornell Powell for 42 yards, proving his arm is as accurate and strong as advertised. He finished 9-of-15 for 137 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 9.1 yards per pass.
He became only the second freshman in Clemson history to throw three touchdowns in his debut. The other? Deshaun Watson.
"Both missed a couple of throws, both made some great throws and so it's good to see both of them play well," Swinney said. "Kelly had the big run, as well, for the touchdown and you see what Trevor can do. He's a special talent and he's just going to get better."
What went wrong
Not much went wrong for Clemson, which is leaps and bounds ahead of Furman talent-wise. But the Tigers' offense was a bit sluggish early, and it struggled on third downs.
Bryant looked out of sync to open the game with overthrown and underthrown balls running their course. The Tigers also were not pleased with tempo. They can afford to have a slow start against the Paladins, but that won't work in the future. Texas A&M and its 102,000 screaming fans a week from now won't be as forgiving, nor will the ACC Atlantic Division. In terms of third down, Clemson was 4 of 12.
"The importance of getting off to a fast start, especially offensively, making sure everybody's on the same page (is something we can learn)," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "And just the importance of being able to be balanced from start to finish ... we didn't quite start as fast as we wanted to running the football."
Clemson was always in command of this one, but perhaps the turning point came when the Tigers did get on the board for the first time in the first quarter. After a couple of lackluster drives, Bryant connected with wide receiver Amari Rodgers for a 40-yard touchdown that breathed some life into a Clemson offense that needed it. Then, once Lawrence made his debut and put the Tigers up 20-0 in his second series, there was no turning back.
Clemson will feel good knowing it still has two quarterbacks it can trust at Texas A&M. One of Clemson's tougher road tests, this will be a game that will come up in October and into December when conversations about the College Football Playoff are in play. Not to mention, buckle up: Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher (formerly of Florida State) are reuniting, meeting for the first time on Fisher's new home turf as the head coach of the Aggies.