CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - First and foremost for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, Saturday’s 61-3 win over lower division Citadel counts as a victory.
But it also gave him a chance to rest key starters and see just about every player on his roster on the field as the No. 4 Tigers prepare for their bitter in-state rival, a conference title game and with two wins, another playoff bid.
“It’s all right there. We wanted to start today by playing our best football,” Swinney said.
And Clemson (10-1, No. 2 College Football Playoff) pretty much did, scoring on 10 of its 13 drives and gaining 662 yards. Kelly Bryant was 17-of-22 for 230 yards and three touchdowns and was out of the game before halftime.
Fifteen different players caught a pass and nine Tigers carried the ball at least once.
“It’s great for your morale and chemistry,” said Swinney, who estimated he played at least 90 different people. “There’s no better teacher than getting experience.”
The lower-division Bulldogs were out of this one quickly. After Bryant’s 14-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Chase on the offense’s 26th play, Clemson led 28-0.
Freshman receiver Tee Higgins caught six passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns and fellow freshman Travis Etienne ran eight times for 62 yards and two TDs.
Now it’s on to South Carolina. Clemson has won three straight after losing five in a row, but a loss would not only mean eating its state pride, but also would likely knock them out of the playoffs.
“Growing up in South Carolina, I’ve always looked forward to it,” said junior receiver Hunter Renfrow, who is from Myrtle Beach. “They had our number back when I was in high school.”
Clemson honored its seniors at its last home game. But for a playoff contender, it was quite a low-key celebration. The Tigers have just six seniors on scholarship and only three of them are starters. Two juniors who will graduate were also honored. One of those, defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, lifted his leg high by his foot, a homage to the splits he did in the confetti after last season’s national title.
And Clemson also had another national title game winning reprisal as Renfro, who leads the team with 46 catches, finally caught his first TD since that 2-yard national championship winning reception last January against Alabama
The Citadel (5-6) ran for 155 yards. Jordan Black completed one pass for the Bulldogs for 61 yards to Raleigh Webb in the fourth quarter setting up a 30-yard field goal for the Bulldogs only score. The Citadel also had two interceptions.
“It’s a little bit tough,” Citadel coach Brent Thompson said about ending his season with the fourth-ranked team in the country. “But we love the opportunity of playing in this environment.”
Citadel: The Bulldogs were paid $300,000 for Saturday’s game … Eleven Citadel seniors played the final game of their careers. This year’s class won the Southern Conference and made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs twice and won 29 games - second only to the 1990-93 class’ 30 victories.
Clemson: The Tigers have now won at least 10 games for seven years in a row. The only longer active streak is Alabama at 10 seasons. Swinney has half of all of Clemson’s 10-win seasons in its 121 years of football … … Swinney’s son Will had a 15-yard catch … Clemson is now 32-0 against FCS teams … Clemson’s 61 points were the most it has scored since a 73- 7 win over FCS South Carolina State in September 2014.
After Bryant’s day was over, Swinney split time between freshmen Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson. Each had a touchdown pass and threw for more than 100 yards.
“I don’t think that’s ever been done before,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said of having three QBs with at least 100 yards in the air.
Clemson held its Military Appreciation Day quite appropriately against South Carolina’s only military college.
Clemson invited any military veteran to the field at halftime and had them parade around as the Tigers band played the fight songs for each military branch. There was a jet flyover and the school had Lee Greenwood sing “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Citadel: The Bulldogs start studying for winter exams as their season ended Saturday.
Clemson: The Tigers travel to rival South Carolina next Saturday, the last hurdle before what could essentially be a playoff quarterfinal against Miami on Dec. 2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
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