CLEMSON — When N.C. State took an 11-point second-quarter lead over Clemson here Saturday, a slight hush fell over Memorial Stadium.
Those who were worried about the Tigers’ chances at that point obviously hadn’t watched much Clemson football over the past two years.
And that feeling certainly didn’t extend to Clemson’s sideline.
“Coach ( Chad Morris) was like, don’t go out there and start pressing, go out there and play the game, things will work out,” said junior quarterback Tajh Boyd. “When you’re in a situation like that, especially being the quarterback, you have to make sure you’re poised, that you’re confident.”
The Tigers’ offense had poise – and points in bunches followed.
Chad Morris’ offense churned out a 42-0 run spanning from the first to third quarters, fueling a wild, point-filled November afternoon in Death Valley.
The No.11 Tigers outlasted N.C. State 62-48, putting together one of the most prolific offensive days in program history. The two teams put up the highest combined point total in CU history, and Clemson scored its most points against an ACC foe since 1981’s 82-24 win over Wake Forest. The Tigers rolled up 754 yards of total offense, two yards shy of the mark set that day.
“That’s why coach trusts us so much on offense,” Boyd said. “We’re maturing in so many ways. One of the ways we’ve matured is coming through adversity. We had a lot of situations last year, we were fortunate not to have them this year, but we were able to respond pretty effectively.”
Clemson improved to 10-1, 7-1 in ACC play, and finished in a tie for the ACC Atlantic Division title. The Tigers also kept their hopes of an at-large BCS bid alive entering next week’s rivalry showdown against South Carolina.
Florida State advanced to the ACC title game earlier Saturday with a win over Maryland by virtue of its 49-37 win over the Tigers earlier this season.
It is Clemson’s first 10-win regular season since the 1981 national title season, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney credited his senior class, led by defensive end Malliciah Goodman, safety Jonathan Meeks and linebacker Corico Wright.
“They really knocked the lid off for this program,” Swinney said. “There was a certain level we’d achieve and couldn’t seem to get beyond – it’s almost like this was as good as it could be. It became our mentality. Those players changed our mentality.”
The teams combined for the highest single-game yardage total in Clemson history with 1,348. N.C. State’s Mike Glennon threw for 493 yards and five touchdowns, pushing an improving defense back a step or two.
Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd set Clemson and ACC records by accounting for eight touchdowns – five passing and three receiving. He also set a CU single-game record for total offense with 529 yards, passing Woody Dantzler’s mark of 517 set in 2001 against the Wolfpack.
Boyd also set a career high with 103 yards rushing on 18 carries. He is 20 pounds lighter than last November – Swinney said he weighed in at 219 this week – which makes a difference.
“His overall commitment through the course of the season has been tremendous,” Swinney said. “It’s made a difference for him. He’s been on a mission. I don’t think anybody’s playing better than Tajh Boyd right now.”
Clemson held a 41-24 halftime lead following 30 minutes marked by big plays and wild momentum swings.
The Tigers bolted to a 13-0 lead midway through the first quarter, but N.C. State erased that with two big plays – Tobias Palmer caught touchdown passes of 77 and 49 yards.
Two plays, 22 seconds, 126 yards and a 14-13 N.C. State lead.
Clemson pinned State inside its own 20, but Glennon responded again, leading a crisp nine-play, 81-yard drive that finished with an 18-yard touchdown to Rashard Smith in the back of the end zone.
The Wolfpack led 21-13, and a formerly raucous Death Valley was stunned.
Following a Boyd interception and 34-yard return, Nikilas Sade tacked on a 32-yard field goal, giving State a 24-13 lead – Clemson’s largest deficit since a 49-37 loss to Florida State.
No problem for a Clemson offense built for speed.
A ground-based drive built around Andre Ellington and Rod McDowell finished with Boyd’s seven-yard touchdown toss to Brandon Ford, cutting the deficit to 24-19 following a failed two-point try.
N.C. State’s greed further tilted momentum. State went for it on fourth and 1 from the 41,but Tony Creecy was stopped by a host of Tiger linemen led by Josh Watson.
Four plays later, Clemson was back in the end zone; Sammy Watkins turned a third-and-2 screen into a 27-yard touchdown, and a two-point toss to Ford gave CU a 27-24 lead with 10:28 left in the half.
With under four minutes left in the quarter, State drove inside the Clemson 10, but safety Rashard Hall picked off a Glennon fade in the right corner of the end zone.
Boyd extended the ensuing drive with a 13-yard third-down toss to Hopkins, then applied the dagger one play later. With Hopkins in single coverage against David Amerson, Boyd threw a perfect strike down the right sideline, which Hopkins hauled in for a 62-yard touchdown – breaking Clemson’s career all-time receiving yardage record.
On the next drive, Goodman stripped Glennon, and sophomore end Corey Crawford recovered at the State 32. Boyd finished the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 41-24.
“No panic at all,” senior center Dalton Freeman said. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of. That’s the thing. Last year we didn’t handle adversity very well. We were very immature. And the things we were able to accomplish this year have been huge.”
Clemson added a pair of third-quarter touchdowns – a 40-yard strike to Martavis Bryant and a nine-yard Boyd touchdown run – pushing the margin to 55-24 with 4:13 left in the quarter.
Death Valley exhaled – well, a little – and the peeking ahead to next week began.
“We haven’t beaten them in three years,” Boyd said of the Gamecocks. “It’s one of those deals where it has to happen.”