RALEIGH—Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant accounted for three touchdowns, two rushing and one passing, as he led the fourth-ranked Tigers to a 38-31 victory over the No. 20 N.C. State Wolfpack (6-3, 4-1 ACC) Saturday.
With the victory, the Tigers (8-1, 6-1 ACC) took control of the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference and can clinch the division title next week against the Florida State Seminoles.
“What a ball game—great effort by both teams,” Swinney said. “We were fortunate to win the game and we couldn’t win the division if we didn’t win here. We all know what the Florida State game is like, so we still have a really tough road.”
On the Tigers’ opening possession of the game, Bryant’s pass on third-and-9 from their own 26-yard line was intercepted by the Wolfpack free safety Tim Kid-Glass. The Wolfpack needed only three plays to capitalize on the mistake, as quarterback Ryan Finely found Kelvin Harmon for a 40-yard touchdown on third-and-10 that gave the Wolfpack a 7-0 lead.
Clemson got the spark they needed following a defensive three-and-out, as Ray-Ray McCloud, who wore No. 21 for the first time in his career in order to play defense, returned the Wolfpack punt 77 yards for a touchdown that tied the game 7-7. The punt return for a touchdown was the first since Oct. 11, 2014, when Adam Humphries returned a punt 72 yards against Louisville.
“That’s why we didn’t fire him, we stuck with him,” Swinney said. “I’d have put him in 21 if I knew that he’d have turned into Deon (Sanders)…Just a huge, huge play for us and all of those guys.”
The Wolfpack responded on their next possession, as wide receiver took a direct snap from the center and dove 1-yard into the end zone—Samuels accounted for 30 of the Wolfpacks’ 65 yards on the drive—that gave the Wolfpack a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.
Bryant led the Tigers down the field, using third down passes to Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain, where he capped a 12-play, 71-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run that tied the game 14-14. However, the Wolfpack answered with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that culminated as Finley found Samuels for a 10-yard touchdown reception that put the Wolfpack back on top of the Tigers 21-14.
On their next possession, Tigers moved the ball to the Wolfpack 9-yard line-- but were unable to find the end zone-- as they settled for an Alex Spence 26-yard field. The Tigers and the Wolfpack both exchanged missed field goals on their next possession and N.C. State led the Tigers 21-17 at halftime.
After five consecutive combined punts by the Wolfpack and the Tigers to start the second half, Clemson finally broke the more than 16-minute scoring drought—as Bryant found Deon Cain in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass that put the Tigers on top for the first time in the game 24-21.
Following a N.C. State punt that pinned the Tigers at their own 11-yard line, Tavien Feaster took the final play of the third quarter, a handoff from Bryant 89, yards for a touchdown that extended the Tigers’ lead to 31-21. The play tied the third longest touchdown run in Clemson history.
N.C. State answered on their ensuing drive, as Finley led the Wolfpack on a 6-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that took only 2:37 off the clock and cut the Tigers’ lead to 31-28. On their next possession, the Tigers moved the ball to the Wolfpack 22-yard line before Bryant found Hunter Renfrow on fourth-and-5 for a 16-yard gain. Bryant finished off the drive, as he scored from 1-yard out and pushed the Tigers’ lead back to 10 points—38-28.
The Wolfpack cut the lead to seven—38-31-- as Kyle Bambard made a field goal with 1:51 to play in the game.
Following the Tigers’ victory, N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren stated he saw a laptop computer on the Clemson sideline and would like the league office to investigate.
"I'd like to know why there was a laptop on Clemson's sideline, too," Doeren said. "I'd like that to be investigated. Maybe they weren't doing anything but I was told it was illegal to have technology on the sideline so I would like to know that as well.”
Swinney responded to Doeren’s allegations saying, “A laptop? I have no idea. All I can think is that it was someone with our social media. It was no one with our football staff.”
Clemson SID Tim Bourett confirmed that it was a student.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE TIGERS: Survive and advance
The Tigers are at the point in the season where, with a College Football Playoff ranking of No. 4, they only need to survive and advance.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE TIGERS: Too many big plays by the defense
The secondary, which was banged up entering the game with cornerbacks Marcus Edmonds and Mark Fields both unable to play, was gashed for 338 passing yards and 153 rushing yards.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Tavien Feaster
The sophomore running back topped 100 yard for the game, including an 89-yard touchdown run to close out the third quarter. Feaster finished the game with 105 yards only seven attempts.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Clelin Ferrell
The defensive end finished the game with 12 tackles, including five tackles for loss and one sack
STAT OF THE GAME: 4-for-4
The Tigers finished the game a perfect 4-for-4 in red zone conversions.
The Tigers return next week for matchup with the Florida State Seminoles (3-5, 3-4 ACC) in a game that can clinch the ACC Atlantic Division Championship for the Tigers with a victory.