RALEIGH, N.C. – Considering what had unfolded the previous three weeks, perhaps Clemson needed a challenge.
The Tigers got it Saturday on a wild and wacky Halloween in Raleigh.
Clemson survived against N.C. State despite:
–Two blocked PATs.
–Fumbles by Wayne Gallman and Deshaun Watson.
–Giving up a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown.
–Giving up 389 yards, the most surrendered since the Notre Dame game on Oct. 3.
And yet Clemson prevailed 56-41 in front of a packed house at Carter-Finley Stadium, extending its winning streak to 11 straight games and solidifying its standing not only as the Atlantic Coast Conference frontrunner, but as a legitimate player for the College Football Playoff.
The first College Football Playoff rankings will come out Tuesday, and with an unblemished 8-0 (5-0 in ACC) record and lofty national ranking (No. 6 in Amway Coaches Poll and No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25), the Tigers would appear to be a set for inclusion.
“I think we’re a team that’s in the hunt,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve earned that and it’s fun to be in the position we’re in and embracing it.”
By game’s end Saturday, they were simply glad to have finally gotten a handle on the Wolfpack, who put up 17 more points than any Clemson opponent this season.
“Back-to-back road wins isn’t easy,” Swinney said. “It’s not always going to be beautiful like it was last week. We made enough mistakes to lose the game, but we made plenty of plays to win it.”
For the first time in a few weeks, Clemson fans found themselves riveted to the action throughout the course of an entire game, and there were repeated moments of consternation against the Wolfpack, a largely unproven team that suddenly transformed into “The Team That Wouldn’t Go Away.”
N.C. State scored first – becoming just the second team to do that against Clemson this season – and the first quarter quickly morphed into a back-and-forth affair that foretold what was to come.
Perhaps it was fitting for an All Hallows’ Eve that the Wolfpack continuously came back from the dead, but in the end Clemson had too much offensive firepower.
Watson passed for 383 yards and five touchdowns and Gallman rushed for 172 yards as the Tigers amassed 623 yards – tied for the eighth-highest total in school history.
Watson was largely unflappable, countering every Wolfpack score with a big play of his own. His touchdowns included completions of 57, 42, 40, 35 and 36 yards – each to a different receiver. Watson also ran 24 yards for another touchdown.
“He plays with a lot of emotion, but isn’t an emotional guy,” Swinney said. “He’s a winner and brings a presence to the field and a calmness to his teammates.
“He made a lot of different plays tonight to score points, and it was a gutsy performance by him.”
Saturday’s win was Clemson’s 34th in a row against an unranked opponent, dating back to a 37-13 loss here against N.C. State in the 11th game of the 2011 season.
The Tigers will now turn their attention to Saturday’s game against rival Florida State, which plays at Memorial Stadium at 3:30 p.m.
“We’re 8-0 and that’s all that really matters to us,” Swinney said. “All that really matters is we have a chance to clinch our division next week with a win. That’s all our focus and our next goal.”
The Wolfpack, which got 254 yards passing and three touchdowns from quarterback Jacoby Brissett, slipped to 5-3, 1-3.