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Late-season destruction mode

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CLEMSON -- In this phase called Clemson Late-Season Destruction mode, you're so used to perfection that the occasional lapse feels almost shocking.

Such was the case over a four-possession stretch in the first half when the Tigers' supersonic offense went punt, punt, field goal, punt.

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And one of those punts actually wasn't a punt, as a mishandled snap by Will Spiers gave Wake Forest the ball deep in Clemson territory.

Add in some shaky pass protection, a tweaked knee by Trevor Lawrence and injuries suffered by Amari Rodgers and Justyn Ross, and there were some anxious moments in the first half.

But those moments, as usual with this monster they call Clemson football under Dabo Swinney, are fleeting.

Clemson will draw a BYE week before facing rival South Carolina in Columbia on November 30.
Clemson will draw a BYE week before facing rival South Carolina in Columbia on November 30. (Getty)

Lawrence and the offense found their familiar groove, which is to say familiarly frightening.

Two touchdowns late in the first half brought some breathing room, and Clemson proceeded to suffocate the Demon Deacons in a 52-3 annihilation.

So that's another 11-0 season for the Tigers, the third time that's happened under Swinney. Another 8-0 ACC mark for the second straight year.

Another week for a winning streak that began 26 games ago.

Another win on Senior Day, giving this year's seniors a 52-3 record over the last four years.

Another game with 45 or more points, six straight, tying Florida State's 2013 team for the longest streak in ACC history.

Another game with 50 points on the scoreboard, four straight, for the first time in school history.

Another opponent held under 300 yards -- Wake fell 195 yards short -- making Clemson the first team since the turn of the century to open a season holding opponents below 300 yards in each of the first 11 games.

That's a lot of anothers, and there are plenty more that we can all digest over the open week as Clemson prepares for its trip to South Carolina to end the regular season.

The extra time off will also be helpful to mend some injuries. Rodgers and Ross left the game in the first half and didn't return. Swinney said Rodgers (shoulder) and Ross (ribs) are both fine.

Lawrence hurt his right knee on Clemson's first drive at the end of a 10-yard run up the middle. His legs bent awkwardly as he absorbed a hard straight-ahead hit.

Lawrence visited the injury tent and emerged with a black wrap around his right knee. He seemed a little shaky on the Tigers' third and fourth drives, when he was sacked twice. But the problems there were probably more leaky protection than Lawrence.

Wake Forest's defensive front got to Trevor Lawrence several times Saturday, but the Tigers' sophomore QB was still an impressive 21-for-27 passing for 272 yards and four touchdowns.
Wake Forest's defensive front got to Trevor Lawrence several times Saturday, but the Tigers' sophomore QB was still an impressive 21-for-27 passing for 272 yards and four touchdowns. (Getty)

But this was a bit of a jolting sight given that Clemson had allowed just seven sacks all year.

Concern about Lawrence's health quickly melted away as he heated up.

"Trevor was amazing," Swinney said.

Up 17-3 with 2:19 left, the offense took over at its 25 and got moving thanks to a 23-yard pass from Lawrence to Diondre Overton.

Travis Etienne bashed 25 yards to the Wake 14, and then Lawrence found Tee Higgins on a gorgeous throw above two defenders on the left side of the end zone.

The Deacons got greedy and it cost them, as A.J. Terrell picked off a deep shot by Jamie Newman and returned it 37 yards to the Wake 30.

On the first play, a bracketed Higgins drew the coverage toward the sideline and then darted free to the middle. Lawrence hit him in stride for a 30-yard touchdown strike that made it 31-3 with 13 seconds left.

The first-team offense still had some work to do; its first two touchdowns were of the short-field variety after a Rodgers punt return set the offense up at Wake's 28 and an interception by Tanner Muse gave the Tigers the ball at the Deacons' 41.

Clemson cashed in on those mistakes. But there would be more cashing in by Lawrence and Co. after they exited the locker room.

This being November, Clemson is more prone to going for the throat. There was zero let-up in the offense's mindset over the first two drives, which went 60 yards in nine plays and 86 yards on six plays.

Lawrence hit Frank Ladson on a beautiful throw for a 10-yard touchdown, and then Lyn-J Dixon scored from 9 yards out one play after the sophomore running back had a 55-yard catch-and-run.

The backups were in thereafter, and Lawrence finished 21-of-27 passing for 272 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Since his two interceptions in the first quarter at Louisville, Lawrence has completed 87 of 112 passes for 1,268 yards with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Etienne had 16 carries for 121 yards, and Higgins' three touchdown catches came in the first half.

Wake Forest's offense had no answers for Clemson's defense, mustering just over 100 total yards Saturday.
Wake Forest's offense had no answers for Clemson's defense, mustering just over 100 total yards Saturday. (Getty)

The Deacons finished with 105 total yards. They entered the game averaging 487.3 per game, ranking 13th nationally.

Missing star receiver Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington, the Deacons' wideouts were totally blanketed by Clemson's defensive backs.

Newman threw for 41 yards on a 6-of-14 clip. The Deacons had just five first downs to Clemson's 26, and the Tigers held Wake to two third-down conversions on 13 tries.

Wake suffered 10 tackles for loss and totaled 51 plays.

"We're playing very consistent," Swinney said. "We're doing the things you have to do to win a championship."

Familiar things.

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