CLEMSON — DeAndre Hopkins became Clemson’s all-time career receiving yards leader Saturday with a little flair – and an interesting parallel.
Late in the second quarter, the Tigers’ junior receiver lined up in single coverage against N.C. State All-America cornerback David Amerson – a rarity given the Wolfpack’s plan to limit deep throws.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd took full advantage, lofting a perfect toss to Hopkins, who hauled it in for a 62-yard touchdown.
On the play, Hopkins set the career receiving yardage record, passing Aaron Kelly, who had 2,733 yards from 2005-08.
Last week, he passed his uncle, the late Terry Smith, who had 2,681 yards from 1990-93. Smith set the record in 1993 on a 73-yard touchdown pass.
“I didn’t even know I broke the record,” Hopkins said. “I guess it was big the way I did it, with the touchdown. I couldn’t ask for a better way to do it.
“(Amerson) is a good player. He’s going to have a good future after college, and that’s one of my friends off the field. He’s a good guy. It was fun to compete against him.”
Freeman becomes all-time snaps leader: Late in the first quarter, Clemson senior center Dalton Freeman set an impressive longevity record. With his 26th snap of the game, Freeman became the program’s all-time snaps leader, passing former right tackle Landon Walker, who had 3,131 from 2008-11.
Freeman entered the lineup midway through the 2009 season and has now started 47 consecutive games. With two more starts, he’ll tie Walker’s program record for most career games started.
“I’m very humbled,” Freeman said. “I give God all the credit for keeping me in there, I’m very blessed. We’ve got a great staff who does a good job keeping us ready.”
Keeping Tajh clean: Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd set a Clemson single-game record with 529 yards of total offense, and his eight touchdowns (five passing, three rushing) set a Clemson record. He did it without being sacked once, the second straight week Clemson has accomplished that feat. Both came against teams – N.C. State and Maryland – that entered leading the ACC in sacks.
“Them boys up front and coach Robbie Caldwell are getting it done,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I could not be more pleased with the effort put forth.”
Watkins moves up: Sophomore receiver Sammy Watkins has been somewhat overshadowed by junior DeAndre Hopkins’ success this season, but he came through in a big way Saturday. With the Wolfpack defense limiting deep passes, Watkins was open time and again in the short flat. Midway through the second quarter, he took a five-yard out 27 yards for the go-ahead score. He had 11 receptions for 110 yards in the first half alone. The score was the 15th of his career, tying Terry Smith for eighth place on Clemson’s all-time receiving touchdown list.
Surprise visitor: Swinney brought in a pair of special guests Saturday – NFL All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller. Sophomore defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is Lewis’ nephew.
“(Lewis) spoke to our team for about 20 minutes and just did an incredible job,” Swinney said. “Just incredible the words he had for our players.”
Spiller led Tiger Walk and received a huge ovation when he was introduced in the first quarter.
“We were sitting together (on the team bus), and about the time we hit campus and were coming in on Cherry,” Swinney said of Spiller, “This is a guy leading the NFL in yards per carry. He leaned over to me, and said, ‘This is what you miss right here.’ That’s a complement to our fans and Clemson as a whole.”
Ford gets loose: Senior tight end Brandon Ford tied Dwayne Allen’s single-season tight end record with his eighth touchdown of the season, a 69-yard dash down the right sideline. He finished by diving for the right end zone pylon, smacking it with the ball as he fell down.
“At first, I didn’t think there was anyone chasing me, because every time I looked, it looked like I was pulling away,” Ford said. “When I slowed down at about the 20 yard line, I saw one guy. I was thinking, ‘Oh, no – am I going to have to dive for it, because he had a good angle. I was determined to score because I got this far. I was not going to let them call me out. I just made sure I got in.”
Senior moment: Saturday was the senior class’ 23rd regular-season ACC win. That’s the most in program history.
“What they’ve been able to do in four years,” Swinney said, “is transform us and make us relevant again.”