SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Syracuse had some flickering hopes in the third quarter – thanks to a sluggish second-half Tiger offense and an Orange touchdown – they had drawn within three possessions for the first time since mid-second quarter.
Watkins had actually sat much of the game with a hip injury, but the Tigers needed a spark, and play two of the Tigers’ fourth drive of the half, Boyd just threw the ball up.
“Tajh threw a wonderful ball. I had to run fast to get it. He really stressed me there,” Watkins said with a smile.
91 yards and a slew of Orange defenders left in the dust later, it was the second-longest play from scrimmage in Clemson history, giving the Tigers a game-clinching 42-14 advantage with under a minute left in the third quarter.
“We were trying to hold (Watkins) as much we could,” Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We felt like we had control of the game in the second quarter. They come out and get a couple stops and a score. We got to reload again.
“He was ready to go. That was a heck of a throw and he went and got it. That’s what great players do – they perform.”
Sammy returns with big play
On the play, Boyd broke his own Clemson single-game passing record (455), while tying his passing touchdown mark (5). Watkins posted his 10th career 100-yard receiving game – and his first back-to-back since mid-2011 (BC and Maryland).
PRESSURE V. PRESSURE
Both Clemson and Syracuse came in ranked in the top-25 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss defensively. They lived up to the reputation in the Carrier Dome Saturday.
Combined, they posted eight sacks and 21 tackles for loss.
The Tigers held the edge in TFLs, 13 to 9, while both teams hit the four sack mark.
Swinney credited an improved secondary for the Tigers’ high-pressure performance.
“They had only given up four sacks all year. Their style of play, the ball comes out quick,” he said. “The sacks that came today were a reflection of our coverage. They have a quick game and a lot of throws in rhythm, but we made them hold the ball a little bit because of our coverage.
“I can’t say enough about the job our secondary did tonight.”
With two sacks by himself, junior end Vic Beasley equaled his 2012 sack total of eight, while also compiling two more tackles for loss (10 total this season, which leads the team).
“He impacts the game with his speed and ability to chase people down,” Swinney said. “He made some nice tackles for us. He’s a very smart football player and plays hard.”
With a comfortable 35-7 lead and five yards to the goalline, Swinney opted to go for six points on fourth down, with time ticking on the end of the first half.
His quarterback never really had a chance on the play, taking a five-yard sack.
Directly afterward, ESPN cameras caught an obviously irate Syracuse coach Scott Shafer about the fourth down try, who pointed across the field and yelled a pair of expletives with “Dabo” unmistakably mouthed in the middle of it.
Time passed and the postgame handshake was cordial, which led to some surprise on Swinney’s part upon hearing of the midgame event.
“Really? Are we supposed to take a knee?” Swinney asked with an incredulous look on his face. “(At that point), we’ve got a lot of football left, anything can happen…There’s nothing less important than the score at halftime. The game is never over until the last second ticks so I’m not taking knees in the second quarter.”
Shafer was apologetic postgame.
"Anybody that knows me knows I'm extremely emotional — sometimes over the top,” Shafer told the Syracuse media. “I said a few things out there today that I feel bad about. I really do…I'm an adult now and I need to constrain myself a little bit better.
Clemson’s senior quarterback Boyd and Syracuse’s sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt came into Saturday’s matchup without an interception in previous 207 pass attempts combined.
In 51 attempts before the orange-clad assembled in the Carrier Dome, they totaled five.
A throw that sailed on Boyd in the second quarter stopped his school-record pick-less streak at 187, while his next streak lasted only 12 passes mid-third quarter.
The nation’s completion percentage leader coming in (93.5) – one junior Clemson backup quarterback Cole Stoudt – fired as many incompletions as he had all season (2) on a fourth quarter drive. Reserve Orange quarterback Drew Allen then upped the total to six combined picks on the day.
Two Tigers were hurt on punt coverage duties, in starting safety Travis Blanks (PCL) and reserve linebacker Ben Boulware (hyperextended knee). Swinney said both were not serious postgame.
Rounding out the group, left guard Kalon Davis sustained a minor groin injury and Boyd played through a bruised thumb.
TIGERS HOLD ‘CUSE START
In home games this season, Syracuse had scored 12-of-16 first half possessions, posting nearly 40 points per game, but that run of luck met an improved Tiger “D.”
Clemson held them to one score in 10 possessions in the first and second quarters, and outside of that one score (a 66-yard Jerome Smith touchdown run), they averaged 2.4 yards per play.
The Tiger offense did their job on the other side, posting nine yards per play, 439 yards and 35 points.
“When you go out on the road in an environment like this, you got to take the crowd out early,” said Boyd, of a crowd that was just short of a sellout (48,961). “External factors shouldn’t affect you on the field, but in either case, it can get you at some point.”