CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said one of No. 2 Clemson’s main goals this year was to have fun.
Few teams in college football appear to be enjoying themselves as much as the surging Tigers.
Travis Etienne ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns and Lawrence, all 350 pounds of him, had a 2-yard scoring run in a 77-16 dismantling of Louisville on Saturday.
Lawrence, a junior, thought he would be going it alone this season among defensive line starters with ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, and tackle Christian Wilkins all thinking hard about the NFL this past offseason.
Instead, all of Clemson’s starters came back for a final try at a national title.
“Our goal for this year was to just try and enjoy every moment we get with each other, not waste anything,” Lawrence said. “Laughing, having fun, dancing, just enjoying everything that comes with football.”
The Tigers, who moved to 9-0 for the third time in four years, are doing a lot of that lately. Clemson (6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 CFP) can wrap up the ACC Atlantic Division with a win at Boston College next week.
The highlight Saturday may have been Lawrence’s bull rush to the end zone as the lead back — Wilkins was lined up at tailback — in Clemson’s “Fridge Package” that highlights about 675 pounds of defensive line muscle.
“I try to take advantage of my opportunities,” Lawrence joked. “I’m a natural running back, I tell myself.”
A week ago in a 59-10 win at Florida State, it was Wilkins going in for a score with Lawrence paving the way.
“I also told (coach Dabo Swinney) that Christian can’t score until I get the ball,” Lawrence said. “That’s how that went down.”
It wasn’t the only light moment the Tigers had in routing the Cardinals (2-7, 0-6).
Left tackle Mitch Hyatt, who set a program record for most snaps, caught a pass and Swinney’s oldest son, Will, capped the blowout with an 8-yard TD catch in the final quarter.
“This just shows how much fun we’re having,” Hyatt said.
Etienne went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark and scored his ACC-leading 15th touchdown. Tavien Feaster added 101 yards rushing for the Tigers.
Freshman Lyn-J Dixon ran for 116 yards, the second time this season Clemson has had three runners with 100 or more yards. They finished with a season high 492 yards rushing.
Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said even though his group has played strongly the past month, “we can get to another level and I think we got closer to that today,” he said.
Etienne and Feaster put Clemson up 14-0 less than three minutes into the game and the Tigers never let up on Louisville (2-7, 0-6).
Linebacker Isaiah Simmons had a pick-six, the Tigers collected six sacks and backup quarterback Chase Brice threw three touchdowns on just seven pass attempts.
The most crowd-pleasing moment was certainly the touchdown by “Big Dex,” the junior projected as a can’t-miss NFL first rounder. Most of the 78,741 at Memorial Stadium started to chatter when Lawrence and Wilkins ran out for the goal-line offensive set.
They erupted when Trevor Lawrence handed off to Dexter Lawrence as the upback who took a step to his left and ran across the line.
Wilkins, who celebrates every Clemson TD, hoisted the massive Lawrence into the air.
Louisville lost its sixth straight game, its longest losing streak since dropping 10 in a row in the 1997 and ’98 seasons.
Louisville: The Cardinals look like they’re playing out the string under coach Bobby Petrino and have a difficult finishing stretch with games at Syracuse, and home contests with North Carolina State and Kentucky left.
Clemson: The Tigers might finally face their first test since rallying past Syracuse 27-23 back in September when they play at Boston College next week. A difficult road game could certainly challenge the poise of a young quarterback like Trevor Lawrence.
Petrino said he was disappointed with his team’s showing, but believed his team played with effort and kept playing until the end. “I didn’t feel like anyone gave up or anybody quit out there,” he said. “They kept competing.”
LOTS OF POINTS
It was Clemson’s highest scoring game since defeating Wake Forest 82-24 in its national championship season of 1981. The team record in a game is 122 in shutting out Guilford in October 1901.
Hyatt set a program record in the second quarter when he played his 3,362 snap for the Tigers. He surpassed former Clemson center Dalton Freeman, who played 3,361 snaps from 2009-12.
Louisville wraps up its away schedule at Syracuse next Saturday night.
Clemson plays its final regular-season road game at BC on Saturday.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25