CLEMSON – After a less-than-stellar start to the season and a showdown with Florida State looming next weekend, Clemson did what it needed to with a workman like performance Saturday night in Death Valley.
The Tigers scored 34 points before halftime on their way to a 48-14 win over Florida Atlantic. Clemson improved to 2-1 on the season while the Owls fell to 1-2.
The Tigers’ defense forced four turnovers – two interceptions and two fumbles. Nate Wiggins had a pick-six on the opening drive of the game. FAU finished the night with 293 total yards – 210 through the air and 83 on the ground.
Clemson’s offense ran 66 plays for 367 total yards – 204 passing and 163 rushing yards.
Quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 16-of-27 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns. He added six carries for 35 yards and a score. Freshman Tyler Brown had three catches for 49 yards and two touchdowns. Clemson had four players who rushed for more than 30 yards: Phil Mafah (42), Will Shipley (38), Klubnik (35), and Dominique Thomas (32).
The Owls picked up a quick first down, but facing a third-and-13 a few plays later, Thompson launched a wobbly ball wide of his target. Wiggins intercepted the pass and raced 46 yards to the endzone for an early 7-0 Clemson lead. It was Wiggins’ second career pick-six.
FAU punted on its second possession, and the Tigers started on their own 21. Klubnik’s first two passes went to Williams for 17 total yards. After a couple of short completions and facing a third-and-four, Klubnik scampered for 10 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Klubnik found Brown on a 30-yard post for the offense’s first touchdown of the night and the first of Brown’s career. Kicker Robert Gunn II missed the point after, but the Tigers still led 13-0 with 7:27 to play in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Clemson possession, the offense stalled on the 14-yard line, forcing a 31-yard field goal attempt by Gunn, who missed badly.
Another interception fueled more points for the Tigers. Freshman safety Khalil Barnes, starting in place of Andrew Mukuba, stepped in front of Thompson’s pass at the Owl 26. Four plays later, Klubnik hit tight end Jake Briningstool for a 7-yard scoring toss and a 20-0 lead.
The Tigers forced another punt and took over at their own 37. Five plays later, Phil Mafah found plenty of room on the right side and scampered 19 yards for a 27-0 lead.
FAU starting quarterback Casey Thompson was knocked out of the game with a knee injury after being hit by Cade Denhoff, who was flagged for roughing the passer. Daniel Richardson replaced Thompson, and after a sack and two errant passes, a 46-yard Owl’s field goal attempt went wide left.
On the second play of Clemson’s ensuing possession, the Tigers realized it might just be their night when Antonio Williams tipped a pass across the middle that was picked out of the air by Adam Randall for a 23-yard gain. Two plays later, a pass interference call down the home sideline gave Clemson a fresh set of downs. Klubnik rushed for 16 yards up the middle and plunged into the endzone from a yard out three plays later for a 34-0 Clemson lead with 3:25 remaining before the half.
Dabo Swinney left his offensive starters in the game until they could put a scoring drive together. That happened with 2:56 left in the third quarter when Klubnik capped a five-play, 26-yard drive with a two-yard toss to Brown, his second touchdown of the game, for a 41-0 lead.
With just over 12 minutes remaining in the game, Michael Johnson, Jr. dove into the endzone for the Owls’ first score to cut Clemson’s lead to 41-7. The drive took nearly six minutes off the clock and covered 75 yards in 15 plays.
Hunter Helms and Clemson’s second-string offense came in and promptly orchestrated a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended in Dominque Thomas plowing two yards into the endzone for a 48-7 Clemson lead.
The Owls added a second touchdown with 1:03 to play on a 33-yard pass from Javion Posey to Devin Price to make it 48-14.
Clemson returns to Death Valley next Saturday for a high-noon showdown with the third-ranked Florida State Seminoles.
(Story by Nikki Hood)