GWINN DAVIS MEDIA

Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9) celebrates with offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst after a touchdown run Thursday against Georgia Tech at Death Valley. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — Clemson rolled past Georgia Tech, 52-14, in its season opener Thursday night at Death Valley in what was hardly a surprising result.

The No. 1 Tigers are simply on another level than their ACC counterpart, and that was on display from the start. Clemson led 14-0 after the first quarter and never looked back, with the Yellow Jackets not getting on the scoreboard until early in the third quarter.

With the blowout, coach Dabo Swinney's team won its 11th consecutive game by 20 or more points. It's the second longest streak of any team in the AP Poll era, with Alabama (12) setting the record in 2018.

Here are seven takeaways from Clemson's win.

Travis Etienne is a superstar

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence received the most buzz during the offseason, but it was Etienne who stole the show Thursday. The running back needed just 12 carries to accrue 205 yards and three touchdowns, including a 90-yard score in the first quarter.

Swinney afterwards compared Etienne to former Tigers running back C.J. Spiller, who played in the NFL from 2010-17.

"Not many people that can just take one 90 (yards). Spiller could," Swinney said. "(Etienne) has got that same 'hold on to your hat.'" 

Offensive line is in a good place

Clemson has four seniors on the offensive line, but it was the underclassman of the group who had the most notable block Thursday.

Sophomore offensive tackle Jackson Carman leveled a Yellow Jackets defender on Etienne's 90-yard run, setting the stage for the junior to speed the rest of the way to the end zone.

The Tigers rushed for 411 yards, the most gained by Clemson in an opener since 1957. It was clear Thursday the offensive line is a synchronized unit, ready to both open lanes and protect Lawrence, who was not sacked. 

Lawrence's legs are a weapon

On that same note, Lawrence had plenty of time to make decisions in the pocket. On three occasions, he tucked the ball to his chest and ran it himself, finishing with 24 rushing yards and a 6-yard score. 

Lawrence totaled just 60 rushing attempts last season, but Swinney was adamant during fall camp that his quarterback has the ability to make an even bigger impact with his legs. That was apparent Thursday night.

Perfect kicking

Amid all of the early fireworks, kicker B.T. Potter's steady leg fell under the radar.

Potter, a sophomore, drilled all seven of his PAT attempts and, with 6:11 left, attempted his lone field goal of the evening — a 51-yard attempt that sailed through the uprights.

It's early, but Potter's performance Thursday indicates Clemson might not have to worry too much about its kicking game.

Fourth down stops

It wasn't just the Clemson offense that was dominant. The defense forced four turnovers and allowed only 294 yards. But it was on fourth downs that the unit shone brightest.

Early in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets tried to convert on fourth-and-1 from Clemson's 36-yard-line, only for the Tigers to stuff running back Jordan Mason at the line of scrimmage.

Lawrence threw an interception two plays later, and a 41-yard return placed Georgia Tech at the Clemson two-yard line. No matter. Quarterback Tobias Oliver rushed for one yard on first down, but Clemson stopped a pair of runs on the next two plays. Safety Denzel Johnson intercepted Oliver's fourth-down pass attempt.

"That's something we really pride ourselves on, is winning in the trenches," linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. "And that's where that all started."

The Hit

Lawrence was intercepted by Georgia Tech's Tre Swilling, who seemed destined for the end zone. Lawrence had other ideas. The sophomore lowered his left shoulder and trucked Swilling out of bounds.

It was an effort that was lauded by the Clemson coaching staff.

"I think his best play of the night happened on his worst play," offensive co-coordinator Jeff Scott said of Lawrence. "It would have been very easy for Trevor to say, 'You got me,' and have a half-speed jog over there and give him the pick-six."

"That kind of play sets the tone for everything that we do," Swinney said.

A tougher challenge awaits

Georgia Tech might have been the weakest team on Clemson's regular-season schedule. Next week's opponent, No. 12 Texas A&M, might be its strongest.

The Aggies torched Texas State, 41-7, on Thursday and will enter Death Valley on Sept. 8 looking to make a statement in a game that will be broadcast on ABC.

It's one thing to beat up on lowly ACC opponents. It's another to handle business against one of the top 15 teams in the nation. 

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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