CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney had some sort of hunch this week that his Clemson football team was going to head to Wake Forest and play its best game of the season. He didn't know the score would be so lopsided — 63-3 to be exact — and he didn't necessarily know how it would all shake out.
But something told him this week might just be a breakout week of sorts.
"In the meeting (Friday) night (at the hotel), I just had a good feel for the spirit of our team," he said. "I just felt like this could be one of those games we could kind of make a statement with."
Call it a coach's intuition or a gut feeling, but whatever it was, Swinney's head seemed to be in the right place. Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson even acknowledged he didn't feel like Clemson was intentionally trying to run the score up but rather just trying to run the clock out as everything came together. Here are seven takeaways from the Tigers' rout of the Demon Deacons:
Swinney wasn't alone in that feeling
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the first to admit he does not dish out heaps of praise very freely, but he felt the same thing Swinney felt in terms of an inkling that this week could just be one of those dominant weeks. Venables said said his defense had its best practice of the season this past week and that was evident in the way the Tigers held the Demon Deacons to just three points instead of the usual 38.2 they averaged before Saturday. Wake Forest had exactly half the number of first downs Clemson did and had 449 fewer yards of total offense, too.
"We don't pat 'em on the back a whole lot around here, but we did on Thursday and Friday," Venables said. "Like 'dang man, we might actually go out and really play well.' And we really did. We really tackled well and played very clean, focused. We were in rhythm getting off the bus."
Don't worry about Trevor Lawrence
Clemson's football team is by no means a better team without Kelly Bryant, but the Tigers are not necessarily worse, either, as many thought they would be when he departed the program in Week 4. Last week, when Lawrence made his first official start, there were still questions about his readiness level when he was shaky to open and then was out for the entire second half against Syracuse with an injury. Saturday, barring an early fumble, Lawrence's performance was clean and impressive: 20-of-25 passing for 175 yards and two touchdowns on his 19th birthday.
The Tigers are serious about Hunter Renfrow and Ben Batson
In the wake of the Bryant transfer, Clemson coaches reiterated they needed to get wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and walk-on quarterback Ben Batson ready for potential competition, but there were still questions about how feasible that was going to be. Batson had a broken finger for about a month into the season and therefore was already behind once conference play rolled around. With Renfrow, no one really knew how the Tigers would use him. But Saturday, they made it clear they are serious about both being able to play if need be. Both took snaps at the quarterback position for the first time this season and both did it against ACC competition on the road, albeit in garbage time.
"We’re not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination right now, but we’re a team that’s getting better," Swinney said. "We’re a team that’s growing up."
Speaking of Renfrow ...
The jack-of-all trades (and master-of-all trades it seems) did a little bit of everything Saturday. And he did it well. Renfrow is unofficially officially Clemson's starting slot receiver, backup punt returner, backup punter and third/fourth string quarterback. Saturday, he caught two passes, booted a 42-yard punt, took a snap at quarterback and then led the charge on a quarterback block while freshman Lyn-J Dixon sprinted into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown. Renfrow sprinted up the sideline despite being initially the furthest away from all of the action in order to make sure Dixon could run in the score unscathed. Renfrow's teammates couldn't get enough of it. Running back Adam Choice was so stunned he couldn't hold back some good-spirited laughter.
"He looked like he was shot out of a cannon (on the block)," Swinney said. "That'll be on our 'Extra Effort' tape (Monday)."
Justyn Ross is a touchdown machine
Clemson's freshman receiver has 14 catches for the year, and four of them already are Clemson touchdowns. He leads all Clemson wide receivers — including the Tigers' marquee threat Tee Higgins — in receiving touchdowns. Saturday, he hauled in a 55-yarder from Lawrence for a score, proving that young duo is going to make loads of noise for years to come.
The ACC is down, but Clemson pounced
It is no secret the ACC is a bit of a mess this year with struggling teams galore, which makes Clemson's margin of victory all the more important on a weekly basis for when College Football Playoff resume talk arrives. The Tigers left zero doubt that they can crush teams when they put it all together, but that's the key: putting it all together. Before Saturday, it felt like Clemson hadn't totally connected all of the pieces for a complete game quite yet. The Tigers looked too messy through the first five weeks. Saturday left little doubt about their potential when the Tigers hit their stride.
It's time for bye week redemption
This time a year ago, Clemson went into the bye week on the heels of a stunning Syracuse loss. That couldn't be further from the reality now.
"I'm not a big status guy, (but I'm) proud of the numbers and I'm really proud because I seem the smiles on the faces of our young men," co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said of his dominant running backs in particular. "I was just happy the guys got a glimpse to see what they're capable of."