By PETE IACOBELLI
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Travis Etienne spent all offseason trying to ignore the national attention headed his way. He’ll have a harder time doing that after the show he put on in No. 1 Clemson’s opener.
Etienne, the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, rushed for a career-high 205 yards and three touchdowns, including one from 90 yards out, as the Tigers overpowered Georgia Tech 52-14 Thursday night for their 16th straight victory in the opener for both ACC teams.
Etienne started slowly and had a first-quarter fumble to end a drive by the Tigers. The next time he touched the ball, the junior bounced to the left and outraced the Yellow Jackets to the end zone to tie the longest TD run in Clemson history.
Etienne added 14- and 48-yard rushing scores as Clemson went up 35-0. He averaged better than 17 yards on his 12 carries.
Still, Etienne brushed aside what this game might mean for him individually when Heisman Trophy voters are looking for performances like this.
“I really don’t try to worry about who’s out there watching,” Etienne said. “I try to play the best for my team and just try to get to 1-0 every week and be there for my brothers.”
Etienne was certainly there to lead the Tigers during a lackluster game for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore, so poised and polished in leading the Tigers to a 15-0, title-winning season, threw two interceptions in the first half. Lawrence had just four picks all last year.
Still, Lawrence had his moments. His hustle after a bad interception knocked defensive back Tre Swilling out of bounds at the Clemson 3, and the Tigers defense kept the Yellow Jackets from scoring. Lawrence opened things with a 6-yard rushing score and threw a perfect pass to Tee Higgins for a 62-yard touchdown.
Lawrence finished 13 of 23 for 168 yards.
Lawrence knew when he released the ball that Swilling would pick it off. But he went back to his football training, took a good angle and made the play. He said his teammates were cheering his hustle play.
“They weren’t happy I threw an interception, but just happy he didn’t score,” Lawrence said.
Georgia Tech, changing its offensive and defensive styles under first-year coach Geoff Collins, struggled on both sides. It committed four turnovers and gave up more than 500 yards of offense.
Early on, the Yellow Jackets muffed a punt that set up Clemson near its goal line for its first score. Swilling’s pick set Tech up with a first-and-goal on the 3, but it could not score.
“We’ve just got learn to finish those things,” Collins said.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have some work to do to get all the option out of their system. Many of their offensive plays, especially in the first half, looked like the quarterback runs of former coach Paul Johnson.
Clemson: There were sloppy moments on both sides of the ball. But performers like Etienne, Lawrence and Higgins overshadowed any problems the Tigers might have.
Clemson came out fast and never let up. Expect the Tigers to remain No. 1, no matter how many points No. 2 Alabama or No. 3 Georgia hang on opponents this weekend.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was grateful for the win — and grateful he and his coaches will have their players’ attention after some sloppy mistakes. Swinney said there were plenty of errors on all sides of the ball that will have to get fixed before No. 12 Texas A&M comes to Death Valley in 10 days. “We can give them some truth,” Swinney said. “They have to receive the truth and we’ve got to get better.”
Clemson’s defense picked up four turnovers, two fumbles and two interceptions, in the first game without eight starters off last year’s national championship team — including its starting line of Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and All-Americans Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins. The new unit also had two fourth-down stops in the opening half.
“I think we showed them a little something,” said Clemson defensive back Denzel Johnson, who had one of the team’s two interceptions.
Georgia Tech hosts South Florida on Sept. 7.
Clemson remains at home to face No. 12 Texas A&M on Sept. 7.