Lawrence’s 3 TDs lead No. 1 Clemson to 41-23 win vs Virginia

Lawrence’s 3 TDs lead No. 1 Clemson to 41-23 win vs Virginia
Travis Etienne rushes for a touchdown during Clemson's win over Virginia on Saturday (Source: Clemson Athletics)

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Trevor Lawrence threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns, two to Amari Rodgers, and No. 1 Clemson started 3-0 for the sixth straight season with a 41-23 victory over Virginia on Saturday night.

The Tigers (3-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) looked a bit sluggish after a week off, but heated up against the Cavaliers (1-1, 1-1) when their offensive stars — Lawrence, Rodgers and tailback Travis Etienne — got rolling.

Clemson was up just 3-0 late in the first quarter when Etienne went for a 16-yard scoring run — nearly losing his balance after a couple of hits before powering into the end zone. Lawrence and Rodgers opened things up with a pair of scoring passes in the final six minutes before halftime.

Rodgers caught a laser-like throw from the junior passer for a 27-yard TD, deftly toe-tapping the grass before going out of bounds.

After safety Nolan Turner’s interception on Virginia’s next possession, Lawrence and Rodgers were at it again — the receiver taking a simple swing pass and leaping over defender Nick Grant to reach the end zone for a 24-3 lead.

Virginia, pounded by the Tigers 62-17 last December in the ACC Championship game, fought back to cut it to 27-17 midway through the third period, but Lawrence found Etienne near the goal line for a 4-yard scoring pass.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney compared the game to taking “a little Robitussin” for a cough.

“It didn’t look real good for a little while there,” he said. “We were sloppy. We missed a lot of opportunities.”

Still, Swinney said his players came out with a win and will learn from this one. “We have a lot to improve on,” he said. “We are going to have to improve.”

It was the 38th game with at least one touchdown for Etienne, matching the all-time mark shared by Florida’s Tim Tebow and Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon.

Etienne finished with 115 yards on the ground and five catches for 75 yards.

Lawrence extended his streak of pass attempts without an interception to 314, spanning his past nine games.

Virginia, which was nearly doubled up in total yards in the conference title game, hung tough throughout and forced Clemson’s front-line starters to play deep into the final quarter for the first time this season.

The Cavaliers put up 417 yards, the most given up by Clemson in an ACC game the last two seasons, and outgained the Tigers on the ground, 147-137.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall said his team didn’t show up simply to measure itself against Clemson. “We came to win the game,” he said. “We didn’t come for benchmarks and we didn’t come just to be better than we were.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Virginia: Mendenhall saw improvement out of his team from its last loss to Clemson. While certainly not pleased with the end result, he had to take satisfaction with his team’s effort in this one.

Clemson: The Tigers have typically had one early ACC game each season in which things do not follow the pound-the-opponent script of the past five years. And typically, Clemson tightens up its mistakes and moves forward in a big way. Two years ago, Clemson escaped Syracuse with a 27-23 victory and last year it held off North Carolina, 21-20. Both times, the Tigers went on to an ACC championship in dominating fashion.

SOCIAL EFFORTS

Clemson continued its social justice initiatives with several players wearing messages on their jerseys where their names usually are. Etienne wore “Peace” on his uniform while Rodgers and backup runner Lyn-J Dixon wore “Equality.” The move came a few days after Swinney said he wasn’t in favor of social justice or any messages on uniforms because he’s a traditionalist when it comes to the look of a college jersey.

ONE-HANDED PICK

Clemson defensive back Andrew Booth had an incredible Odell Beckham Jr.-like grab for an end-zone interception that ended a strong, third-quarter drive for the Cavaliers. Booth, you might remember, was made to ride the team managers' bus home from Louisville instead of the team plane last season when he was ejected for hitting a Cardinals player in the helmet.

UP NEXT

Virginia is home against North Carolina State next Saturday.

Clemson has another night home game, this one against No. 8 Miami next Saturday.