DURHAM, N.C. — The question was half-joking, but the answer was serious.
Following No.10 Clemson’s 56-20 demolition of Duke Saturday night, a reporter asked junior quarterback Tajh Boyd if he was upset about missing the program’s single-game total offense record.
The Tigers had a fantastic night, scoring on their first five possessions and rolling up 718 yards of total offense, 37 behind the all-time record set in an 82-24 win over Wake Forest in 1981.
“I was disappointed,” Boyd said.
That’s Chad Morris’ mindset at work. A terrific night – a night that could’ve been even better if Morris hadn’t taken his foot off the gas in the fourth quarter – brought reason, although slight, for disappointment.
Morris is always pushing the Tigers’ offense for more, a feeling that permeates throughout the roster as Dabo Swinney’s fourth full season at the program’s helm hits the homestretch. Clemson is a top-10 team, 8-1 overall, 5-1 in ACC play with a regular season-ending three-game homestand against Maryland, N.C. State and South Carolina ahead.
This team is taking care of business in impressive fashion, and November looks far different than the disaster that unfolded a year ago. Here are five things we learned from Clemson 56, Duke 20:
1. The mindset is right: Over the past few years, national pundits have coined a term called “Clemsoning”: i.e., losing a game to an inferior opponent at the worst possible time. Tommy Bowden made it an art form, and Swinney made contributions as well, like 2009’s loss at Maryland and last November’s whipping at N.C. State’s hands.
Clemsoning has yet to make an appearance this fall. Following at times-dicey wins over Boston College and Georgia Tech (by an average of 15 points), Clemson whipped Virginia Tech by three touchdowns despite its worst offensive day of Morris’ tenure, belted Wake Forest by 29 and sliced and diced the bowl-eligible Blue Devils. Swinney talks about “playing to a standard,” and right now, that standard is high.
2. Watch DeAndre Hopkins while you can: In the fourth quarter, a group of fans chanted “One more year!” at junior wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had four catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns (five, 45 and 58 yards). He set Clemson’s career touchdown record (with 22), the single-season touchdown mark (with 13) and now has 62 receptions for 1,037 yards on the season. And he made it look easy against the Blue Devils’ secondary.
Hopkins has excellent speed, athleticism and hands, and he has little left to prove; with 82 yards against Maryland, he’ll pass his late uncle Terry Smith and Aaron Kelly for Clemson’s career receiving yardage mark. He’d be a likely early-round pick in next April’s NFL draft, and it’s hard to imagine him passing that up. With three more home games left, advice to Clemson fans: savor the “Nuuuuk” chants while you can.
3. The run game is just fine: Clemson piled up 300 passing and rushing yards in a single game for the second time in program history: the first was in 2007 against Central Michigan. The ground game flourished even without senior tailback Andre Ellington, who tweaked a hamstring on a game-opening 26-yard run and didn’t return. Backups Rod McDowell and D.J. Howard combined for 148 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, and Boyd had 72 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Even little-used freshman Zac Brooks got in on the fun with 12 carries for a career-best 67 yards. An offensive line that struggled at times against Wake Forest was physical and mashing following a Morris challenge
4. The defense continues to make progress: Following solid games against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, Duke’s spread passing attack was expected to provide the biggest challenge yet for an improving defense and beat-up secondary. Senior Sean Renfree completed 23 of 39 passes for 240 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown to Jamison Crowder, who toasted senior corner Xavier Brewer on a post route. But the Blue Devils scored only three points in the second half, and Clemson got sacks from sophomores Grady Jarrett, Tavaris Barnes, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. They aren’t world-beaters yet, but Brent Venables’ first season has shown marked improvement.
5. This offense will be record-breaking: Saturday marked Clemson’s eighth consecutive game scoring at least 37 points, an ACC record. The Tigers are averaging 42.7 points per game, which would be a program record; they averaged 37 per game back in 1900. At this point, it’s easier to say which records they aren’t on pace to break as the ones that they are. They’re set to break records in plays, points, total offense, touchdowns, third-down conversion, first downs, completion percentage, pass efficiency, passing yards and touchdown passes per game. Morris’ $1.3 million annual salary – the nation’s top assistant contract – looks like a bargain. Boyd is spreading the ball around, it is clicking on all cylinders and it only appears to be getting better.