CLEMSON, S.C. — Whatever hope there was of Wake Forest getting an early jump on Clemson was dead after five minutes.
Whatever hope there was of the Deacons sticking with the No. 3 Tigers was extinguished in the final minute of the first half.
Clemson steamrolled Wake Forest 52-3 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, getting four touchdown passes from Trevor Lawrence in 2½ quarters and wrapping up another unbeaten ACC slate.
Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3 ACC) stood in the way of a Clemson team intent on cementing its place in the College Football Playoff committee’s top four. And the Deacons, aside from missing four key players, made a few costly mistakes that only made it easier for Clemson.
The Deacons, after falling behind by two touchdowns early, stifled the Tigers momentarily in the middle portion of the first half — only for Clemson to score two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half, and then score on the opening drive of the second half to turn the rest of the game into the formality that it was forecast to be.
It was Senior Day for Clemson (11-0, 8-0), but it was two juniors who have looming decisions to make about their futures doing the scoring in the first half. Wide receiver Tee Higgins had three touchdowns and running back Travis Etienne had one. Higgins wound up with four catches for 64 yards; Etienne had 158 total yards on 19 touches (16 carries, three catches).
Wake Forest had 54 yards of offense in the first half.
A little more than 5 minutes into this game, Clemson’s lead was 14-0 and the Tigers hadn’t been required to exert much effort. They had not taken a snap from their side of the 50.
Wake Forest had a false start before its first play — an ominous start, because the Deacons have been called for one before their first snap in all three losses. That possession went nowhere, with three dives into the middle of the line.
A 59-yard punt by Dom Maggio was turned into a 53-yard return by Amari Rodgers, and three plays later Clemson’s 28-yard drive, if you could call it that, ended with a touchdown — the first of Higgins’ three, from 14 yards.
The Deacons’ second offensive possession was worse than the first; Jamie Newman was picked off on the first play by Tanner Muse at Wake Forest’s 41-yard line.
On the ensuing possession, it took Clemson only four plays to score — Etienne’s touchdown, also from 14 yards.
The rest of the runaway first half scoring came in the final minute on two more Higgins touchdowns — one at the end of a 75-yard drive, the other after an interception. The first was a 14-yarder — that was a lucky yard line for the Tigers — and the other actually saw Clemson stretch the field a little bit for its fourth touchdown of the first half — a 30-yarder from Lawrence to Higgins.
That last touchdown came only after Newman was picked off for the second time in the game, and A.J. Terrell returned the interception along the Clemson sideline to set up the touchdown.
Wake Forest’s only points of the first half came on a 30-yard field goal by Nick Sciba, his 28th straight successful attempt, which is an ACC record. That came after the Deacons started the possession on Clemson’s 28-yard line, a gift in the form of a bobbled snap by punter Will Spiers.
The yardage differential in the first half was 268-54, the first downs were 15-3, the turnovers were 2-0 and the average yards per play was 6.9-1.9.