Clemson’s road to 15-0: Top plays from Tigers’ title run
|Sunday, January 13, 2019, 8:01 AM- -|
Clemson football made history with a 15-0 run to the 2018 National Championship and that campaign was filled with spectacular plays.
A couple close calls in the first half of the season paved the way for a dominant finish with Trevor Lawrence commanding the offense, where the Tigers averaged a 36-point margin in wins where Lawrence started and played in each half.
Taking a look back at the memorable plays from a memorable season:
Rodgers seals division-clincher
College GameDay on site and the Atlantic Division on the line, Clemson trailed briefly at Boston College in early November but started to take control early in the second half, with a three-play TD drive to go up 20-7.
Amari Rodgers delivered the final blow with his first career punt return score - following a parade of Clemson blockers along the sideline 58 yards to the end zone to complete the 27-7 win and punch the Tigers’ ticket to Charlotte.
The ‘Fridge Package’
In a rare Clemson-Florida State game with lower stakes, the Tigers offensive staff had a little bit of fun and debuted an offensive look that would quickly become a fan favorite.
Clemson wasn’t done there - Dexter Lawrence touching the rock on a fullback dive for a score versus Louisville and then Wilkins showing off his skill on a toss play to put Clemson up two scores in the South Carolina game, striking a Heisman pose after.
Lawrence end zone targets
When Clemson approached the end zone, Trevor Lawrence and his group of talented receivers were nearly unstoppable.
Lawrence posted a 229.01 rating in the red zone with 18 touchdowns to zero interceptions and a 69.2 completion rate.
That kind of precision was shown early in the season versus Georgia Tech...
...and as good as any point in the season finale:
This. Throw. pic.twitter.com/garfWaKE9p— Dear Old Clemson (@DearOldClemson) January 8, 2019
You got a taste of it in the last play and Lawrence used all 6-foot-4 of Tee Higgins - plus vertical - on some more special plays. Versus ranked opponents, Higgins turned it up a notch with a 22.1 yards per catch average with 14 catches over four games.
Xavier Thomas landed a regular spot on ESPN’s College GameDay intro with a crushing blow to cap Clemson’s win over Syracuse in September:
Trayvon Mullen aided his National Championship MVP effort with a fumble forced on this corner blitz versus Alabama:
While not a big lick, K’Von Wallace’s strip that to forced a touchback at Texas A&M was certainly a key play in the season - delaying the Aggies’ game-tying attempt that Wallace also picked off to seal the 28-26 win.
ACC player of the year Travis Etienne had a nose for the end zone all season - leading the nation in rushing touchdowns (24), total touchdowns (26; rushing/receiving) and total points scored (156).
Etienne started strong down the stretch, scoring five of his six postseason touchdowns in the first half, including this to start off the ACC title game...
...and another tough run to jump-start Clemson’s offensive scoring versus Alabama:
Clemson led the nation in scoring defense for the first time in program history (13.1 PPG) but they also made their mark on the scoreboard in a different way.
Early in the campaign, a blown-up option play at Georgia Tech meant Clelin Ferrell getting his first career score:
In the runaway win over Louisville, Isaiah Simmons got in on the action with a pick-six:
Then AJ Terrell sent shockwaves through the college football world with a 42-yard interception return to put Clemson up first in the National Championship:
PICK-SIX! A.J. Terrell takes it 42 yards to the house for a 7-0 Clemson lead. pic.twitter.com/ChSs6N6r6x— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 8, 2019
The true freshman duo was dynamic in the regular season but they turned it up another few notches in the Playoffs.
12 catches. 301 yards. Three touchdowns. That’s the damage the former 5-star prospects inflicted together on top-three-ranked teams and top-5 defensive units, starting in the Cotton Bowl with a play like this:
Then versus his home-state team, Ross hit another gear with six catches for 153 yards and one touchdown. Only needing one hand really for a couple:
Ross added insult to a literal injury for Alabama DB Saivion Smith later - a one-on-one matchup that sent Smith down in pain at the 30 and Ross turned on the jets for a 74-yard TD to put an exclamation mark on the performance:
A crazy week around Clemson after Kelly Bryant's transfer announcement was capped by the new starter Lawrence's early-game injury versus Syracuse. That brought the next man up in redshirt freshman Chase Brice, who had attempted eight passes at the college level with no touchdowns and an interception.
Trailing 16-10 at the half, Clemson carved into that lead with a spectacular diving grab by Hunter Renfrow to set up a field goal in the third quarter:
Facing a game-deciding fourth-and-6 late at midfield, Brice coolly found Higgins for a 20-yard connection and then backed that up with a 17-yard run of his own. The one-two punch of Etienne and Tavien Feaster did the rest to close out the 94-yard, 13-play TD drive in the last close contest of the 15-0 campaign: