CLEMSON, S.C. — A week of worry at Clemson over an approaching hurricane ended with the Tigers 38-7 victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday in front of a full crowd who shook off concerns about the storm to attend.
Travis Etienne ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns for the No. 2 Tigers (3-0) and Trevor Lawrence threw for 194 yards, including a 57-yard score to fellow freshman Justyn Ross in their first meeting with Georgia Southern (2-1) of the Sun Belt Conference.
Clemson was the lone major conference school in the Carolinas and Virginia to play on Saturday, although school officials did move the game up to noon instead of its planned 3:30 p.m. ET start in deference to Florence, a one-time Category 4 hurricane that was a slow moving tropical storm by Saturday.
At kickoff, though, the crowd of 79,844 had sunny skies and mild breezes for tailgates like many football Saturdays. Conditions changed by halftime with bands of grey clouds over the stadium and the wind picking up. Florence's drenching rains were forecast to hit the area Saturday night.
The long, fatiguing, "Will they or won't they?" stretch debating whether Clemson should even play with Florence seemed to sap the team's focus early. Clemson had two of its three turnovers in the opening quarter on Kelly Bryant's interception and Adam Choice's fumble. Throw in Greg Huegel's missed field goal — his first of two on the day — and the Tigers were tied 0-0 against an opponent they were favored to beat by five touchdowns after the opening quarter.
Things finally got going after that with Etienne ending a 93-yard drive on a fourth-and-goal TD from the 1.
Lawrence followed with his long touchdown throw to Ross and Bryant came back in a series later to lead a scoring drive with Tavien Feaster's 1-yard touchdown.
Clemson's defense shut down Georgia Southern's option offense. The Eagles came in fourth in the country averaging 326 yards rushing its first two games. They managed just 20 yards and one first down the first two quarters.
Clemson outgained Georgia Southern 595-140.
Georgia Southern: The Eagles don't yet have enough to match up with Power Five teams like the Tigers. Georgia Southern's next win, though, will surpass its victory total from last year.
Clemson: The Tigers had very little to gain in this one, except perhaps preserving their midseason off week by not having to cancel the game with Georgia Southern due to Florence.
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant did not return for the second half after he fell hard in the second quarter. Bryant went back in in the period, but was taken to the locker room. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said on ESPN Bryant told him he was breathing heavy.
Bryant returned to the sidelines in the fourth quarter, but without his helmet and did not play.
Georgia Southern is off next week before starting Sun Belt Conference play against Arkansas State on Sept. 29.
Clemson opens Atlantic Coast Conference play at Georgia Tech next Saturday.