CLEMSON – "Playing to a standard,” as was oft-repeated all week, was accomplished; and it came with the bonus of developing some depth for the No. 4 Tigers Saturday in Death Valley.
In the process, Clemson (2-0) breezed to a 52-13 victory over FCS-level S.C. State.
“Today was a great day to develop the entire team," Tigers' coach Dabo Swinney said. "I thought we had good focus where everyone played well and did their job.
"I thought the second group was ready. I told them no matter what, they’d be going in the third series…and they responded. They were able to flex their muscles and show the depth we have.
Morris a fan of Tigers' schedule
“Overall, we took care of business and outside of two plays, we had a very good defensive and special teams performance.”
Clemson played 82 players in all, shuffling the offensive line early and often in the first half.
It was slow-going at the start.
For example: On the Tigers' second drive, senior tailback Rod McDowell was stuffed on fourth-and-short, which was the first time since November 10, 2012, versus Maryland that Clemson was held without a score in the red zone, breaking up a 17-straight run.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd also was unable to stretch his streak of games with a touchdown pass to 18 games, after exiting, as planned, after two quarters of action.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson’s defense allowed its second and third touchdowns of 50 or more yards.
But that’s about as negative as a 39-point victory gets.
Clemson's defense was suffocating for much of the matchup.
The Tigers forced three turnovers, and also forged a first in Clemson football history with not one but two interceptions returned for scores – first by junior cornerback Martin Jenkins (52 yards) and then senior cornerback Darius Robinson (35 yards) – in the first half.
“Those two plays in particular are great considering what those guys have been through,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, referring to the significant time missed by both played last year, during fall camp, and then in the Georgia matchup last week. “That was great to see them have success. That’ll get you healthy in a hurry.”
Jenkins said the Tigers had a feeling this would be the breakout performance, both for the Tigers, overall, and for the defense.
“For some strange reason we were both up at 3 or 4 in the morning and (Robinson) sent me a really long text about the game (today),” Jenkins said. “It just really stood out that when we came out here today we just knew were going to have a good game."
S.C. State was held to 11 first downs and crossed into Clemson territory on just one drive. The Bulldogs were held to six plays or less on 15 of their 17 possessions.
Led by sophomore linebacker Kellen Jones’ two tackles for loss, the Tigers stopped S.C. State behind the line of scrimmage 12 times and had three sacks.
“We kind of set the tone, but as a defense we have to,” Jenkins said. “That’s how I feel. We have an amazing offense – they might not make every play or score every touchdown, but they were fighting. They didn’t give up, so we didn’t give up.”
The Tigers' standout passer?
None other than junior Cole Stoudt, who set a Clemson record for completion percentage (.950) by connecting on 19-of-20 passes.
Stoudt entered the game in the second quarter after Boyd took an awkward hit. He completed his first seven passes, and then connected with redshirt freshman receiver Germone Hopper for touchdowns of 17 and 26 yards. He capped his first drive by finding junior receiver Charone Peake in the end zone on a three-yard pass.
It was the Dublin, Ohio native’s first multi-score game.
“It was a really great performance,” Boyd said, standing a foot apart from Stoudt in a joint postgame interview. “I was excited to see him play. Like I had said before, people had asked me about Cole and I won’t retract my statement – Cole could start for any team in the ACC.
“He went out there and proved it today with a stellar performance.”
Boyd was a respectable 14-of-23 passing for 169 yards and also rushed for a touchdown. He has scored at least one touchdown in 18 consecutive games.
After a tough week one, junior receiver and T.L. Hanna product Martavis Bryant was in the Tigers' game plan from the start.
Bryant had a couple key drops in the Georgia game, but on the first play, Boyd hit with the 6-5 200-pound speedster for his first 2013 catch. He caught three more passes, and finished the day as Clemson’s leading receiver with 87 yards.
His opposite number, senior S.C. State receiver Tyler McDonald, poked holes in the Tiger defense for 63 and 51 yard touchdown receptions and finished with a game-high 138 yards. All of three of his touchdowns this season are of 50-plus yards, and he holds a 30.3 yards per catch average (eight receptions).
Hopper led all Tiger receivers with six receptions – including his first-ever grab - for 66 yards total.
Hopper was told by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris that he had to pick it up after a lackluster spring, His work finally paid off on the field, after he sat out last season as a redshirt.
Early substitutions were part of the game plan
“I just had to do a great job of stepping up,” said Hopper. “Coach told me that I was going to be a big part of the offense this year and being that my redshirt year is over, I have to step up and that’s exactly what I did.”
Neither side had much success in the running game, but Daniel product C.J. Davidson was out front for the Tigers, going 63 yards on 13 carries.
With two weeks of tape now to break down, Clemson gets next week off before the Thursday road ACC opener at N.C. State on Sept. 19.
“I love our schedule,” said Clemson's Morris. "It gives us an opportunity to reevaluate what we’re good at and what we’re not good at, and hit them head on.”
Clemson improved its perfect record against the lower division to 27-0, and 2-0 mark versus S.C. State.
Totaling 512 yards of offense, the Tigers improved to 65-0-1 all-time when reaching the 500-yard benchmark.