CLEMSON — – Saturday might wind up being a day Clemson fans remember for a long time – as much for the things that happened off the field as those that happened on it. Clemson rolled North Carolina 59-38 with an varied, exciting offensive attack, and then sat back and watched as its road to the BCS title game cleared up significantly.
Michigan State stunned No.6 Wisconsin on a Hail Mary that took replay to determine the football had crossed the plane of the goal line – and handed the Spartans victory.
Then, Texas Tech handed No.3 Oklahoma an equally shocking 41-38 defeat – the Sooners’ first loss at home since 2005.
As a result, Clemson should move up significantly when the new BCS rankings are unveiled tonight.
The Tigers still don’t control their own fate, but at 8-0 heading into a difficult trip to Georgia Tech, they surely feel better about it.
Here’s what else we learned from Clemson 59, North Carolina 38:
1. Tajh Boyd has options – lots of them: For all the hype surrounding receiver Sammy Watkins, perhaps the nation’s best freshman, Tajh Boyd can move the ball in a lot of different ways. Boyd tied a Clemson single-game record with five touchdown passes, and he threw them to five different receivers – DeAndre Hopkins, Watkins, Dwayne Allen, Martavis Bryant and Brandon Ford. This offense has plenty of weapons. On a day when Andre Ellington struggled with an ankle injury and had only five yards on seven carries, he wasn’t really missed, and that says a lot about its diversity.
2. DeAndre Hopkins is still an elite receiver: It’s easy, given Watkins’ meteoric rise, to forget about the man they call “Nuke,” the guy that set all the Clemson freshman receiving records last year, the ones Watkins has already broken eight games in. Saturday was a “I’m still here” game for Hopkins, who had nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. Sometimes, he was just ridiculously open, like on a rollout where Boyd found him just standing on the sideline. Other times, he flashed his great hands, leaping ability and toughness. He “high-pointed” balls above his head, stretched for first downs and stretched for touchdowns. With Watkins getting more attention, he’ll be a force to reckoned with.
3. Kourtnei Brown can still be a difference-maker: When the senior defensive end signed with Clemson, he was considered among the nation’s top 20 defensive end prospects. He hasn’t come close to living up to that hype, taking a mid-career redshirt and serving as Malliciah Goodman’s backup this season. But he had an outstanding game Saturday, taking a fumble and interception in for touchdowns. Although stats have only been kept since 2000, he is believed to be the third FBS player and first ACC player ever to accomplish the feat. He won’t be a starter, but he can still have an impact on the Tigers’ defensive line down the stretch.
4. The secondary still needs work: While Clemson intercepted North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner three times, he had several big plays against the Tigers’ secondary. Midway through the first quarter, he split the safeties (with Carlton Lewis looking particularly confused) and found Jheranie Boyd wide-open for an easy 33-yard score. Late in the half, Boyd beat cornerback Coty Sensabaugh for a 58-yard touchdown, although Sensabaugh didn’t get any support on the play. “Chunk” plays have been a rather consistent bugaboo for this defense, and they were again Saturday.
5. This group can’t afford injuries: Clemson has been very healthy this season, and it’s hard to underestimate just how important that is. Up 59-24 in the fourth quarter, Dabo Swinney emptied the bench, and the results weren’t pretty. Freshman tailback Mike Bellamy probably did little to get himself out of the coaches’ doghouse, fumbling at his own 12. Carolina cashed it in for a score. And following a short Clemson drive, the Tigers gave up a 52-yard gain to T.J. Thorpe, setting up another UNC score. Afterwards, Swinney spoke about the need for backups to meet the standards the starters set. If there are injuries at defensive tackle or in the secondary, particularly, it’ll be troubling.