CLEMSON — Clemson paid Wofford $360,000 to come to Death Valley on Saturday. In return for a likely blowout defeat, the Terriers would receive national exposure and a much-needed check. The Tigers, if all went according to plan, would host a football party.
That's about how things played out. Clemson won, 59-14, in a game that boosted its star players' statistics and provided another kernel of evidence for critics who argue the Tigers' schedule is weak.
Cannons are fired in Death Valley after every Clemson touchdown, and there was a steady stream of booming noise early Saturday as the Tigers raced to six first-half touchdowns and a 42-0 lead at the break on Military Appreciation Day.
Running back Travis Etienne set a pair of Clemson records and quarterback Trevor Lawrence flashed his arm strength. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons recorded his first interception of the year. And in between the on-field theatrics, the Tigers took some time to honor veterans of the armed forces.
It was a celebration of football dominance and nationalism rolled into one, a chilly Saturday that will likely do little for Clemson's postseason resume but much to reinforce the mythos surrounding the Tigers as coach Dabo Swinney's team earned its 24th victory in a row, dating back to the start of the 2018 campaign.
The first CFP rankings are set to be released Tuesday.
"We're going to celebrate this one tonight," co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott said. "The biggest thing for us is, yes, we've put together a couple games of playing at a high level, but we got to continue to do it, because it's (the) championship phase of our season and we've got to be on our best.
Offensive lineman John Simpson (sore ankle) was held from the game, as was defensive end Xavier Thomas (concussion) and safety Denzel Johnson (shoulder). Cornerback Mario Goodrich was late to the team's Friday dinner and was sidelined Saturday; Swinney said the sophomore is "in the doghouse a little bit."
What went right
Etienne rushed for a career-high 212 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. His second touchdown, an 86-yard scamper, marked the 48th of his career, a new Clemson record. This was also the third time he's run for at least 200 yards in a game, another program record.
Lawrence finished 12-for-16 passing for 218 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 33 yards and a score on four carries. He wasn't afraid to stretch his arm against the Terriers' defense, tossing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Amari Rodgers and a 34-yard TD toss to Justyn Ross.
The sophomore quarterback has now thrown three touchdown passes in four consecutive games, but Swinney pushed back at the notion that Lawrence has kicked things into another gear during that stretch.
"He's been consistent all year. Not just the last four games," Swinney said. "His efficiency is higher now than it was this time last year. He's had about eight bad plays and people just can't let it go. They can't let it go. They can't forgive him."
Clemson outgained Wofford, 702-256. The 446-yard differential is tied for Clemson's ninth-best all time.
What went wrong
With the Tigers' reserves in the game, Wofford scored a pair of touchdowns in third quarter, first on a 20-yard rush from running back Ryan Lovelace and then on a 79-yard pass from quarterback Joe Newman to running back D'mauriae VanCleave.
Kicker B.T. Potter missed a 35-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, though a high snap may have affected his kick. The sophomore then converted a field goal from the same distance about four minutes later.
The first play of the game. As has often been the case this season, Clemson (9-0) played an opponent with inferior talent Saturday. Wofford (5-3), an FCS program, represented maybe the Tigers' least talented opponent of the season, and that was clear from the onset.
Lawrence completed a 25-yard pass to Tee Higgins to kick off the game. Four players later, he found Rodgers open in the end zone for the 35-yard score. It took Clemson exactly two minutes to get on the scoreboard, and it wouldn't get any harder as the game wore on.
The Tigers play at N.C. State in their penultimate road game of the regular season. The Wolfpack (4-4) fell to No. 23 Wake Forest, 44-10, on Saturday.