CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney took a pregnant pause, building the suspense Saturday night. Matthew McConaughey would be Swinney’s top choice to play him in a movie, he said. He smiled, looking around the press room, a twinkle in his eye. He aced the delivery:
“Tom Cruise — too short.”
The assembled media erupted in laughter and Swinney walked off, still smiling, another victory in the books.
The postgame mood was light Saturday. Clemson, after all, had easily dispensed of Charlotte 52-10 and used a program-record 111 players. The most exciting part of the evening took place at halftime, when scenes for the Disney film ‘Safety’ — which is based on former Tigers player Ray Ray McElrathbey — were filmed, and the Death Valley crowd buzzed, prompting Swinney to reveal his fondness for McConaughey.
Hollywood histrionics aside, the Tigers learned some valuable things about themselves against the 49ers. Here are 7 takeaways.
Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne dominate, then rest
Trevor Lawrence didn’t waste any time Saturday. On his first attempt of the evening, he hit wide receiver Tee Higgins for a 58-yard touchdown strike.
The rest of the game went similarly smoothly for Lawrence, who finished 7 for 9 for 94 yards and two touchdown passes. Lawrence was pulled early in the second quarter for backup Chase Brice.
“Obviously, we could’ve scored 100 points if we leave Trevor Lawrence out there, and he could’ve had all kind of stats, and could be written up for the Heisman (Trophy) this week,” Swinney said. “We ain’t interested in that. We’re just interested in winning the game and trying to win with class.”
Similarly, running back Travis Etienne had a quick and easy day. The junior took 11 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown before leaving early. In his stead, running backs sophomore Lyn-J Dixon and freshman Michel Dukes each rushed for touchdowns.
Chase Brice impresses
Swinney said the goal was to get Brice some action early, as opposed to in garbage time, when he normally plays. Brice entered early in the second quarter and didn’t disappoint.
“I think we’ve got the two best quarterbacks in this league. I really do,” Swinney said. “Those two guys could play for anybody.”
Brice went 5 for 7 for 85 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joseph Ngata, before leaving the game late in the third quarter for freshman Taisun Phommachanh
Justyn Ross nurses hip flexor
Wide receiver Justyn Ross was held from the game as he heals up a hip flexor injury. The sophomore has hauled in 15 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown so far this season.
Swinney afterwards downplayed the injury.
“He was ready to go,” Swinney said. “(Wanted) to try to hold him if we could. Certainly ready to go. That, I think, really helps us, and he can have a full week of practice.”
Keep an eye on Joseph Ngata
Ngata did more than catch Brice’s touchdown pass. He finished with team highs in receptions (three) and passing yards (62). The Tigers have plenty of talent at wideout, but Swinney said he has full confidence in Ngata to play in more important situations in the future.
“There’s going to be games, where the game’s going to be tight, and things like that, and he’s a guy that I’ll know we’ll be able to count on,” Swinney said of Ngata.
The freshman said his touchdown catch felt, “unreal.”
“I caught it, and I was running, and I was like, ‘Dang, I actually scored,'” he said.
Business as usual for Tigers defense
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables delighted in the opportunity to dig into his bench in the blowout.
“It was a lot of fun to watch those guys get out there, and give them an opportunity,” Venables said. “They’re not going to have a lot of opportunity, so it was great to reward them. Those guys work every bit as hard.”
And though Swinney called Charlotte the best running team Clemson has played this season, the Tigers held the 49ers to 153 yards on the ground.
Tigers echo DJ Khaled
After the final whistle blew on Clemson’s win Saturday, the Tigers fans rushed the field, as they always do. In the background, the wise words of musician DJ Khaled pumped through the sound system.
“All I do is win!”
That sentiment resonates at Clemson, which extended its program-record winning streak to 19 games. The Tigers have now won 62 of their last 66 games, and 14 in a row by at least 14 points.
Mack Brown, North Carolina await
Swinney spent some time picking North Carolina coach Mack Brown’s brain when he first started as Clemson’s head coach. Brown was at Texas then, and after a brief break from coaching, he returned to the sport this season to help turn things around for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina won its first two games, including an upset over South Carolina, before dropping its next two contests, against Wake Forest and Appalachian State. But Swinney believes the Tar Heels were close to victory in both contests.
“They’re a few plays from being 4-0,” he said.