CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)DJ Uiagalelei played well as he has all season to power No. 5 Clemson’s offense. The Tigers’ defense finally looked like the stellar group it was projected to be.
The result was Clemson’s most complete game of the season: a 30-20 win over 10th-ranked North Carolina State on Saturday night.
”That was a great thing to see on both sides of the ball,” fifth-year defensive end K.J. Henry said.
Uiagalelei ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third as Clemson beat the Wolfpack (4-1, 0-1) for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
The Tigers (5-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their ACC-record tying 37th straight at home, their 11th in row overall and a clear path back to league championship game they won annually from 2015 through 2020.
Clemson followed up its 51-45 overtime victory at No. 22 Wake Forest last week by shutting down North Carolina State in the second half to hold division tiebreakers over the two teams many figured would be the most likely to knock the Tigers out of title contention for a second straight year.
Instead, Clemson once more looked like the class of the league.
”I thought we did a great job tonight,” Uiagalelei said. ”I thought we did a great job in execution, a great job taking what the defense gave us.”
It was Uiagalelei front and center at the game’s most critical stretch. After North Carolina State passer Devin Leary connected with Cedd Seabrough on the game’s first touchdown for a 10-6 less than two minutes before the half, Uiagalelei led a 75-yard drive he ended by stretching the ball over the goalline to send Clemson into the break ahead instead of behind.
When Clemson stuffed Leary with a pair of sacks to start the third quarter, Uiagalelei cashed in again with a 7-yard pass to tight end Jake Briningstool for a 20-10 lead.
”I thought DJ was in total command of what we were doing,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson’s defense did the rest, holding the potent Wolfpack to just a field goal over the first 29 minutes of the second half in building a 17-point lead. The Tigers also picked off Leary and recovered a fumble when N.C. State went for it on 4th-and-13 down 10 with less than nine minutes left.
”Lost the turnover margin, lost the line of scrimmage, you don’t win many games like that,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said.
Clemson, which hasn’t lost at home since November 2016, matched Florida State’s ACC mark of 37 straight at home set from 1992-2001. The Tigers’ 11 in a row since last season in the longest current streak in the FBS.
”We’re definitely not there yet,” Henry said. ”But I can say the mindset for four quarters definitely showed up tonight.”
Clemson also holds tiebreakers in the division over the Demon Deacons and Wolfpack.
Uiagalelei completed 21 of 30 passes for 209 yards and ran for a team-high 73 yards. He sealed the victory with 9-yard scoring run with about three minutes to play for a 31-13 lead.
Leary was 28 of 47 passing for 245 yards and an interception. He also rushed for a 4-yard TD with less than a minute left as the Wolfpack finished with their fewest points this season.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack have plenty of talented players, but got rattled right around halftime, when they allowed Clemson’s two touchdowns. N.C. State now has to cross its fingers that the Tigers lose twice in their final five ACC games.
Clemson: The Tigers have had to prove their offense was legit all season and, while they didn’t pile up the points like in their first four games, they made enough plays to show themselves once again as the ACC’s top contender.
Starting defensive tackle Bryan Bresee missed his second game of the past three after dealing with a non-football medical condition that Clemson said involved blood tests and observation. Bresee and his family are still mourning 15-year-old Ella Bresee, who died of brain cancer last month and has been an inspiration to her brother’s team with the phrase, ”Ella Strong.” Bryan Bresee got good news about the tests late this week and his condition won’t have a long-term impact, Clemson said.
North Carolina State thought it had turned a corner in its one-sided series with Clemson after a 27-21 OT win last year, largely knocking the Tigers from title contention. But Wolfpack still have some work to do. Leary said the team was ”heartbroken and a little (ticked)-off” by the defeat.
North Carolina plays No. 23 Florida State at home next Saturday.
Clemson goes to Boston College next Saturday night.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap-top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2