DURHAM, N.C. — DeAndre Hopkins is having a special season, and it only got better in the first 15 minutes of Clemson-Duke Saturday night.
In a span of 7:47, Hopkins caught three touchdown passes, setting or tying a number of Clemson single-game and season records.
In the first quarter, he hauled in touchdown passes of five, 45 and 58 yards. That tied CU’s record for most touchdowns in a quarter and game, both set earlier this season against Ball State.
The third touchdown, his 13th of the season, set Clemson’s single-season receiving score record, breaking the mark set by teammate Sammy Watkins a year ago. He also became Clemson’s all-time receiving touchdowns leader with 21.
With four receptions for 128 yards, he also passed 1,000 receiving yards for the season and moved into third place on Clemson’s all-time receiving yardage list, passing Perry Tuttle. Next up is his late uncle, Terry Smith, who had 2,681 yards from 1990-93.
Perhaps the only surprise is that Hopkins continues to receive man coverage.
“I might be man, Sammy might be zone one play or I might be zone and Sammy might be man,” he said. “You can’t do all those things and focus. There are only so many guys you can focus on. I’m kind of surprised but I’m enjoying it.”
Ellington, Ford leave: Two key pieces of Clemson’s offense left the game with lower-body injuries. Senior tailback Andre Ellington broke off a 26-yard run on the first offensive play, but didn’t return after suffering what was called a hamstring cramp. He entered as the ACC’s No.2 rusher, averaging 94.5 yards per game. Senior tight end Brandon Ford left the field on a golf cart midway through the second quarter with what was termed an abdominal injury. He entered with five touchdowns among 22 receptions this season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said afterward that neither injury was believed to be serious.
Stewart starts: Sophomore and former walk-on cornerback Dante Stewart got his first career start Saturday thanks to three teammates’ mistake. Junior Bashaud Breeland, sophomore Garry Peters and freshman Cortez Davis sat, sat part of the first drive after being late to a team meeting this week. All three were riding in the same car together.
That secondary has been shaky, and Duke senior quarterback Sean Renfree exposed it midway through the quarter with a 77-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder, who beat senior cornerback Xavier Brewer on a post route. It was Duke’s longest offensive play this season, and the longest play Clemson has yielded this season.
A week ago, sophomore wideout Sammy Watkins suffered the same punishment after arriving three minutes late to a meeting.
Stewart, a Swansea native, was coming off the most extensive action of his career with 21 snaps and a tackle at Wake Forest.
“I was really disappointed in the first half with the two big plays,” Swinney said. “Just really poor cover and technique right there, but they came back in the second half and held them to three points. This is an offense that can really score on people.
“The thing I’m most pleased about is the four sacks. We’re generating a lot more pressure. Guys are winning matchups and it’s different guys, Vic Beasley and Josh Watson and Tavaris Barnes.”
Iron man: Clemson senior center Dalton Freeman started his 45th consecutive game Saturday, and is on pace to at least tie former offensive tackle Landon Walker for the longest consecutive start streak in program history, with three regular-season games and a bowl game remaining. Freeman went over 3,000 career snaps and should catch Walker for the all-time lead by season’s end; Walker had 3,131 from 2008-11.
“It looked like everyone on the line had a strong game,” Freeman said. “It was good to see our backups perform so well.”
Butler contributing: Westside graduate and Anderson native Lee Butler is enjoying a delayed – but successful – final season of college football for Duke. He intercepted Tajh Boyd’s Hail Mary pass on the final play of the first half.
Butler suffered a season-ending leg injury four games into what was expected to be his senior season last fall, but received an NCAA injury hardship waiver, allowing him to enjoy a redshirt senior year this fall. Entering Saturday, he had started eight of nine games at cornerback, making 27 tackles with four pass breakups. He had also returned 22 kicks and punts for a total of 392 yards, with the highlight a 65-yard punt return score.
Political football: If you were looking for the result of Saturday’s game as a harbinger of Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election, keep looking. Over the last 116 years, Clemson’s pre-election results have been a blank slate. The Tigers have won their last game before the election 18 times. Democrats won the ensuing election nine times, and Republicans won nine times. Clemson is also 8-6-2 following a Republican win and 6-7 following a Democratic win. Entering Saturday, the Tigers were 13-3 in the Saturday prior to the election.