CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – While Sammy Watkins watched from a couch somewhere in Clemson, DeAndre Hopkins picked up his star teammate’s slack with a performance to remember.
Hopkins caught 11 passes for a Clemson single-game record 197 yards and a touchdown, leading No.17 Clemson to a 45-31 win over Boston College Saturday at Alumni Stadium.
The Tigers improved to 4-1, 1-1 ACC and needed every one of Hopkins’ catches thanks to another uneven defensive effort. The Eagles fell to 1-3, 0-2 ACC.
“Nuk’s always there, always there,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s the most dependable guy we have on this team. He’s been here going-on three years and has made clutch play after clutch play. It’s like, ‘He had 197 yards? No big deal. He makes it look so easy.”
Clemson will return home to face struggling Georgia Tech –fresh off a 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee – in next Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game. It will do so on a high after leaving last week’s disappointing defeat at No.4 Florida State behind.
“It was a difficult challenge for us,” Swinney said. “This is a tough place for Clemson to win, it’s only our second time ever here. I’m proud of our guys for bouncing back off an emotional loss. They were ready to play, and I’m proud of how they handled adversity late in the game.”
Tajh Boyd completed 28 of 38 passes for 367 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Watkins missed the game with an abdominal virus; he has played only two games this season after beginning the year with a two-game suspension. In the opener against Auburn, Hopkins set a program single-game record with 13 catches.
Hopkins said his mindset was the same with or without Watkins; get open and make plays.
“It’s just a goal on my list that I have,” he said of the new record. “I feel like I’ve got to give thanks to coach (Chad) Morris for calling plays, putting the ball in my hands and giving me a chance to make plays and set records.”
With Watkins’ spectacular playmaking ability, Hopkins – who rarely speaks with reporters – can get lost in the shuffle. Performances like Saturday’s should change that.
“He gets overlooked so much but I feel like he’s making a splash,” Boyd said. “He had 11 receptions for 197 yards. I don’t think any receiver in the country had that today. He’s a great receiver and I love playing with him.”
Clemson took a 24-21 lead into halftime following a back-and-forth first half.
Boyd’s six-yard touchdown run gave the Tigers a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter, and his 15-yard touchdown toss to Sam Cooper extended the lead to 10 points one play into the second quarter.
On the following drive, Clemson stuffed Boston College on fourth and one at its own 48, with Tig Willard knifing through traffic for a huge stop.
Clemson was poised to choke BC’s momentum away, but instead handed it right back.
On the first play of the drive, Andre Ellington and Rod McDowell executed a double back pass to Boyd, who threw for a streaking Hopkins downfield.
The throw was well short, and Sean Sylvia intercepted easily.
The Eagles faced a third and 8 at their own 10, but Chase Rettig connected with Spiffy Evans for a 26-yard gain.
On the very next play, corner Bashaud Breeland fell down, allowing Alex Amidon’s 49-yard gain to the Clemson 17.
Rettig flashed the dagger in the 92-yard drive, finding Jonathan Coleman streaking up the middle of the end zone on third and goal from the Clemson 3. Suddenly, the Eagles were right back in the game, trailing 17-14.
“We can’t put the team in a situation like that,” Boyd said of his trick-play pick. “Especially in an away game where the momentum shifts.”
Two more big plays plagued the Tigers on the next drive; a 28-yard wide receiver throwback, and Amidon’s 31-yard dash on fourth and 1 from the Clemson 31, which featured a Breeland missed tackle and a poor angle from safety Jonathan Meeks.
Boston College took a 21-17 lead with 4:12 left in the half.
Clemson responded with a grinding 13-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by Ellington’s third-down conversion right up the middle from the BC 37. Boyd found senior tight end Brandon Ford for his fourth touchdown in the last three games, a 14-yard connection that saw Ford drag his right foot along the right corner of the end zone.
That gave the Tigers a 24-21 lead with 23 seconds left in the half.
“That was a crucial drive,” Boyd said.
They built on that momentum in the third quarter, holding BC to a three-and-out on the opening drive and putting together an eight-play, 57-yard drive of their own, capped by Rod McDowell’s 16-yard scoring run. Following Rashard Hall’s interception of Rettig late in the third quarter, Ellington plunged over the top for a one-yard score and a 38-21 lead.
The Eagles never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way, with Boyd’s 36-yard scoring strike to Hopkins with 14 minutes left the capper.
Boston College converted just three of 10 third downs after halftime, and though defensive coordinator Brent Venables said he was “embarrassed” by his unit’s effort, Swinney praised its second-half performance.
“I can’t say enough about the defense down the stretch,” he said. “They were huge.”