CHARLOTTE – Clemson running back Wayne Gallman knew the Tigers offense needed a spark in the second half.
It’s not like the Tigers were not moving the ball during the first half of Saturday night’s ACC Championship game against North Carolina.
The Tigers had 309 yards of total offense and had scored 21 points.
It’s just that Gallman was having a very uncharacteristic first half. With the Tar Heels determined to take Gallman out of the running game during the first half, the sophomore from Loganville, Ga., had just 22 yards on nine rushing attempts.
Sure, Gallman had a 16-yard TD reception, his first of the season and the second of his career, but he knew he had to have a more productive second half.
Gallman had a 165 rushing yards in the second half and finished with a game-high 187 yards on the ground in the Tigers 45-37 victory over North Carolina at the ACC Championship game.
“I knew we needed a spark, something to get us going in the second half and I came out of the locker room determined to make something happen,” Gallman said on the field after the game. “The offensive line did a great job, the credit goes to them and the coaching staff for calling my number so many times.”
It was Gallman’s eighth 100-yard game this season, which sets a new school record breaking the old mark set by Raymond Priester (1995) and Kenny Flowers (1985).
“Wayne Gallman was amazing,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “He had 187 yards rushing and 165 came in the second half. The other thing I’m really proud of Wayne is I want him to be the best running back in the country and always challenge him. I tell him he’s got to be better in the passing game. He had 68 yards receiving and a receiving touchdown. So I’m really proud of him.”
Clemson’s offense had terrible field position throughout most of the game, especially in the first half.
It didn’t seem to matter.
The Tigers’ average starting field position was inside their own 25. But Clemson put together scoring drives of 68, 75, 96 and 97 yards. The 97-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter tied the ACC Championship Game record. The long drive started after Clemson’s Cordea Tankersley intercepted a Marquise Williams’ pass at the 3-yard line, and ended on Wayne Gallman’s 3-yard TD run that gave the Tigers a 28-16 lead midway through the third quarter.
In the second quarter, the Tigers drove the ball 96 yards in 12 plays, capped off by Deshaun Watson’s 9-yard TD run.
“No matter where we get the ball on the field we always have the mindset of get one first down,” said Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. “We do that, we feel like we can score from anywhere on the field.”
Clemson’s longest drive this season was a 98-yard effort against Boston College.
For the record, Dabo Swinney said there was no “fake punt” call during the first half.
“There was no fake punt,” Swinney said. “That was just Treasdall losing his mind, like he went crazy on me. I don’t have an answer for it. I have no idea what he was thinking. He went all Superman or something on a 3rd-and-forever and he just thinks he’s going to get the first down.”
ABC cameras caught Swinney repeatedly blasting Teasdall after his botched fake punt play, which led to a North Carolina touchdown and a Tar Heel lead, 16-14, in the second quarter.
“We had a little ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you back’ session on the sideline,’” Swinney said. “It was just a young man making a really bad play.”
It’s possible that Teasdall saw something on film, namely the brilliantly executed fake by South Carolina punter Sean Kelly in the Gamecocks’ 17-13 victory over North Carolina on Sept. 3.
North Carolina attempted their own fake punt in the third quarter, but with similar results when Joe Mangili’s pass fell incomplete.
Two plays later, Watson threw a 35-yard TD pass to Artavis Scott and the Tigers led 35-16.
Clemson safety T.J. Green got plenty of face time on national television, but for the wrong reasons.
The Tigers’ junior free safety was called for two personal fouls in the first half and ejected from the game.
Green’s personal foul (roughing) came in North Carolina’s first offensive drive, which ended with a UNC field goal.
Green was ejected from the game with 2:30 remaining in the first half for a helmet-to-helmet hit on North Carolina punt returner Ryan Switzer.
It was Clemson’s first ejection for targeting this season. Freshman Van Smith replaced Green in the lineup.
Green will be eligible to play in the Clemson’s national semifinal game after sitting out the second half.
During the post-game celebration, Deshaun Watson did the Heisman Trophy pose for the Tiger fans.
The award, which goes to the top college football player in the nation, will be announced next Saturday night.
“That’s probably the first time I’ve done that in public,” Watson said. “I mean when I’m sitting in my room I’ve probably tried it, but not like that in public. I’m just having fun wit hit.”
Alabama running back Derrick Henry is considered the front runner for the Heisman, but Watson is almost certain to be invited to the ceremony in New York. He would be the first Clemson player to be invited to the ceremony.
“If I get invited, then we’re going to celebrate it and have fun with it,” Watson said. “If not, oh well. But I feel like I’m one of the best players in the country.”
Though the Clemson defense did an excellent job of shutting down North Carolina, which came in averaging 41 points and 495 yards a game, the Tigers did give up a few big plays.
T.J. Logan’s 46-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter was the 13th play of 20 yards or more Clemson has allowed since the Syracuse game Nov. 14.
“We were a little sloppy defensively, especially in the second half,” said Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware.
Clemson had not given up a score on its opponent’s first possession in nearly a month, but did allow a field goal to North Carolina on the Tar Heels’ first offensive possession. Nick Weiler’s 34-yard field goal capped a nine-play, 58-yard drive.
North Carolina’s drive was helped by two personal foul penalties by the Tigers.
Clemson place kicker Greg Huegel made 16 straight field goals going into the ACC title game, but saw his streak snapped on the Tigers’ first possession Saturday night on a 47-yard attempt.
Huegel came into the game having made five of seven field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards and 21 of 24 overall for the season.