CLEMSON — With Brandon Maye (calf injury) sidelined and “Will” linebacker Tig Willard somewhat limited by a torn elbow ligament, Clemson needed a fix on the weakside. Enter junior defensive end Andre Branch, who shifted outside and was very effective.
Branch had four tackles and didn’t make any major mistakes, save an early pass interference penalty on a throwback play.
“I’d been working since Monday there,” he said. “It’s just film study, looking at your playbook, pretty much. Everything worked out good.”
Injury update: Clemson had several key defensive contributors limited by injury and illness. Starting cornerback Byron Maxwell was essentially limited to special teams by a turf-toe injury, starting defensive tackle Brandon Thompson was limited by a leg injury and starting “Sam” linebacker Quandon Christian was limited by a virus.
In addition, reserve linebacker Daniel Andrews, who saw action in all three linebacker spots this season, tore an ACL in his knee and is likely done for the season.
“I hate that, I’m very disappointed,” Swinney said. “He’s a plugger, a guy who’s versatile and can play all three spots for us.”
Hopkins steps up: Freshman wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins returned, albeit more heavily padded, from an upper-body injury that kept him out of last week’s game, and added four catches for 50 yards. The most spectacular was a 23-yard, one-handed grab down the left sideline in the first quarter, keeping the Tigers’ second scoring drive of the game alive.
“He’s a playmaker, has the guts of a burglar, no fear,” Swinney said. “He’s tough, really doesn’t do everything right all the time but he’s learning. He’s a young guy thrown in the skillet and has no fear. He’s got off-the-charts ball skills. He’s got the ability to make a catch, wherever the catch required is.”
Long drive: Clemson’s game-clinching fourth-quarter drive – which covered 15 plays, 64 yards and took 7:36 off the clock – was the longest since Swinney became head coach two years ago. The last time Clemson had a drive that long? A 27-9 win over N.C. State in 2008, which saw the Tigers chew 8:07 off the clock. Saturday, Clemson ran 14 straight run plays to set up Chandler Catanzaro’s 21-yard field goal.
AE over 1,000: With a 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, tailback Andre Ellington went over 1,000 rushing yards for his career. He did so in 151 carries, the second-fewest to reach 1,000 in Clemson history. C.J. Spiller did so in 142 carries. His second score, a 42-yard dash, marked his fourth TD of at least 42 yards this season. That matches Spiller’s total from that distance for all of last season. Ellington had 166 rushing yards, a career-high, and had 257 all-purpose yards. It was the most by a Tiger since Spiller had 233 yards rushing and 301 all-purpose in the 39-34 ACC title game loss to Georgia Tech.