CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hoped his team would end an early season funk with a big game and some big plays against South Carolina State. Chances came early and often in a 59-0 rout on Saturday.

The game was such a mismatch that the fifth-ranked Tigers (3-0) scored two touchdowns in the first quarter with no time running off the clock and the coaches agreed to shorten the third and fourth quarters from 15 minutes to 12.

An NCAA rule allows for games to be shortened by time.

Swinney knew the Tigers had questions about themselves after two, less-than-crisp offensive showings against Auburn and Troy. In this one, Clemson put up 31 points in the first quarter to improve to 31-0 against Football Championship Subdivision opponents.

“This was great for our team, for our spirit and our morale,” Swinney said.

Clemson led 45-0 at the half against the Bulldogs (0-3), with Deshaun Watson throwing three TD passes to get the Tigers rolling.

“I enjoyed myself,” Watson said with a smile. “There was a lot more energy on the sidelines, too.”

Clemson, with three wins to open the season for the fifth time in the last six years — is 31-0 against FCS teams.

The lopsided score comes after Watson told fans he was sorry for the 30-24 win over Troy for any “negative energy” he brought to that game. This time, he was the 4-of-4 on the opening drive that ended with a 7-yard TD pass to Ray-Ray McCloud.

Watson and McCloud also connected on a 36-yard scoring pass. Watson threw a 17-yard TD to Deon Cain in the second quarter before heading to the sideline.

The strangest sequence of the game involved a first-quarter gaffe by South Carolina State’s Ahmaad Harris on a kickoff return after a Clemson TD. He flipped the ball to the official in the end zone before taking a knee to stop the action. Clemson’s Denzel Johnson recovered the fumble — 14 points, no time off the clock.

Watson completed 12 of 15 passes for 152 yards.

Swinney said referees approached him about the shortened game and then, after agreeing, officials spoke with South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough, who also said yes. “He’s got a game Thursday night himself, so you’ve got to look on his side as well,” Pough said. “Anything we can do to make our teams better for the next week, we probably needed to do.”

THE TAKEAWAY

South Carolina St: The Bulldogs will be grateful to return to their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after losing its first three games against FBS opponents by a combined 150-24 score. “We’ve had the three-game trip from hell,” Pough said. “Hopefully, we can regroup and get ourselves ready to play in our league.”

Clemson: The Tigers were looking for offensive confidence and got some in the blowout win. However, things won’t be so easy when Clemson starts ACC play on Thursday night at Georgia Tech. Watson and his offense, some who thought would be the most dynamic attack college football had seen in years, will need to prove their skills against bigger opponents if they hope to return to the College Football Playoffs.

HOT SUBS

Holder Seth Ryan, son of Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, had two catches with his father watching in Death Valley. The son of Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, grad student and reserve tight end Grant, caught a short pass and then leaped a Bulldogs defender as his teammates jumped and screamed in excitement.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

CLEMSON: The Tigers win won’t do much to enhance or detract their spot in the rankings. The team they’re chasing in the ACC is likely to flip after No. 10 Louisville’s dismantling of No. 2 Florida State, 63-20. The Clemson-Louisville debate should be settled at Death Valley in two weeks when Louisville plays here on Oct. 1.

KEY NUMBERS

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE: The Bulldogs managed only 48 yards rushing on 32 carries. Their punter, Jerome Pettiway, probably saw the most action with 10 kicks for a 40.1 average.

CLEMSON: The Tigers put up offensive numbers that were routine last season — 555 yards and 27 first downs en route to their most points since routing Virginia 59-10 in 2013.

UP NEXT

South Carolina St: Bulldogs open MEAC play, and face their first non-FBS opponent, at Florida A&M on Saturday.

Clemson: The Tigers start conference play in the ACC at Georgia Tech on Thursday night. Clemson has lost its past five games in Atlanta with its last victory at Georgia Tech coming in 2003.


AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org