GWINN DAVIS MEDIA

Clemson linebacker Chad Smith (43) and defensive lineman Jordan Williams (59) celebrate a turnover in the Tigers' win over Florida State on Saturday. Gwinn Davis / Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — That Clemson defeated Florida State on Saturday was hardly surprising. What was noteworthy was the precision with which the Tigers dissected the Seminoles, on offense and defense.

Clemson was favored to win by 27 points and covered the spread in the 45-14 victory. The margin of victory likely would have been larger had coach Dabo Swinney left his starters in for the second half.

Despite the victory, which Swinney touted as the most impressive of the Tigers' season, Clemson fell to No. 3 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, released Sunday, with LSU bouncing up to No. 2.

It's a frustrating fall for Clemson, which doesn't have any more scheduled regular season games against ranked programs. Still, there's much for Clemson to be grateful for in the wake of Saturday's win. Here are seven takeaways: 

Dabo Swinney wanted to make a statement

Swinney walked into Clemson's meeting Tuesday after the open date with a declaration. The Tigers were going to open Saturday's game with a deep ball. The second play was going to be a halfback pass.

"If it's third and 10, going to have a third and 10 play ready," Swinney said. "I told them, 'I don't even care. We may be three and out, punt, I don't care. We're gonna attack right from the opening snap."

Attack the Tigers did, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence first finding wide receiver Tee Higgins for a 40-yard gain down the right sideline before running back Travis Etienne tossed a ball to Justyn Ross for a first down along the other sideline.

Clemson found the end zone less than three minutes later, when Etienne took a shuffle pass from Lawrence 3 yards. Clemson's statement had been made.

"Our guys had a little edge to 'em that we didn't have up at North Carolina," Swinney said.

Trevor Lawrence is fine

Entering the game, Lawrence had been the center of attention, given his start to the season had failed to live up to expectations. Rumors of him receiving an MRI earlier in the season prompted a tirade from Swinney.

Saturday, Lawrence was accurate and precise. Lawrence, for the most part, didn't overthrow receivers as he had at some points earlier in the season. He finished with three touchdowns and one late interception on a bold play, when he fired a ball into the hands of a Seminoles defender while falling out of bounds, after which Swinney offered the sophomore a message.

"You're not at Cartersville (High School)," Swinney said.

Lawrence, for what it's worth, didn't let the outside noise earlier in the week get to his head. During a team meeting, the sophomore spoke up.

"I just told the guys, 'Don't waste the day. We have at most three months of the season left. You're going to look back, and if you didn't do all the things you could've done, you're going to have some regrets,'" Lawrence said.

He seemed to take that message to heart Saturday. 

Big plays for the defense

The Tigers recorded three interceptions Saturday, one of which was returned 38 yards for an interception by cornerback Derion Kendrick. Safety Tanner Muse and linebacker Chad Smith also had picks, and linebacker Isaiah Simmons recovered a fumble forced by safety Denzel Johnson.

It was a dominant day for Clemson's defense, which didn't allow any points until late in the third quarter with the starters out of the game. The four takeaways tied a season high, matching the mark set against Georgia Tech in the opener.

Kicking battle

The starting place-kicker's job is now senior Steve Sawicki's to lose, Swinney said. Sophomore B.T. Potter was benched after missing a 24-yard attempt and he's 5 for 9 on field goals for the season.

Swinney chided Potter after the miss on the sideline, with his reaction attracting attention on social media.

"If you don't make the layups, you've to to give someone else an opportunity," Swinney said. "You've got to be fair."

Amari Rodgers isn't Hunter Renfrow but is progressing

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow was a safety blanket in his time with Clemson, and a steady pair of hands to turn to on third down. His absence triggered questions about who would fill his role, and some pointed to wide receiver Amari Rodgers as a natural replacement.

Rodgers suffered a torn ACL in the spring but was back by Week 2. He had a noteworthy game Saturday, recording five catches for 44 yards and taking a wrap-around handoff 29 yards for a touchdown.

"He is a great talent," Swinney said of Rodgers. "He is one of the most committed people we have on this team. He is a great leader. His work ethic is through the roof. That's why he was able to come back. He's always working. He really kind of carries himself like a pro. I've never coached a pro, but to me, that's how he handles himself."

Backup quarterbacks held scoreless

Lawrence left the game in the third quarter, ceding the spotlight to backup quarterbacks Chase Brice and Taisun Phommachanh. Neither was able to find the scoreboard, though, with Brice finishing 5 for 9 for 35 yards and Phommachanh 1 for 3 for 4 yards. Phommachanh did record 16 rushing yards on five carries. 

Clemson's next opponent has momentum

Clemson hits the road next week to challenge Louisville, which came out victorious Saturday in one of the wildest games of the college football season so far. The Cardinals edged then-No. 19 Wake Forest 62-59, moving their record to 4-2. Louisville has won three of its last four games, with the one loss coming to Florida State. 

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 graduate.

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