CLEMSON — In a season of firsts, during an evening of firsts, one first stood out for its culture-shifting significance.
By defeating N.C. State, 62-48, in a record-setting performance Saturday — a game featuring the most combined points and yards in program history — No. 11 Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) completed its first ACC regular season this century without a slip-up.
This fall there was no head-scratching loss to an ACC opponent Clemson was expected to defeat.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made the argument all season the culture has changed at Clemson. “Playing to a standard” have probably been the most spoken words in the West Zone. And to make sure the philosophy was hammered home one more time, Swinney flew in Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to speak with the team Saturday morning.
The scoreboard and record book show mindsets and focus have changed. For the first time since 1981, Clemson has reached double-digit victories in the regular season.
No player has been as consistent as Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who threw for 426 yards and five touchdowns and added 103 yards and three rushing touchdowns on the ground versus N.C. State (6-5, 3-4).
“I guess we didn’t pull another Clemson,” Boyd said. “It’s one of those deals where we have matured as a program, matured as a team. We’ve learned how to win, how to accept success and failure.”
Clemson has shredded the spread this season, going 8-2 against odds maker’s betting lines (there was no line on the Furman game). Clemson’s only loss was to a top-five Florida State team on the road.
Even with South Carolina up next, which has distracted before (see: last season’s loss at N.C. State), Clemson again played with offensive precision, totaling at least 35 points in the first half for a program record fourth straight week.
Even with Florida State defeating Maryland earlier in the day to secure a berth over Clemson in ACC title game, Clemson did not let it serve as a distraction as it totaled a program record with 102 plays for 754 yards.
Even offensive coordinator Chad Morris, ever the perfectionist, could find little to fault.
“For the most part, we are capitalizing on every opportunity we get,” Morris said.
Morris praised the offensive line which didn’t allow a sack to a talented N.C. State defensive front, which entered leading the ACC with 30 sacks. Clemson allowed six sacks to N.C. State last season.
But masked by the offensive success was another poor defensive effort.
N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon showed off his NFL-caliber arm strength and accuracy throwing for three first-quarter touchdowns, and 327 first-half yards, to stake N.C. State to a 24-13 lead in the second quarter.
N.C. State produced a 400-yard passer in Glennon, 493 yards, a 100-yard rusher (Shadrach Thornton) and two 100-yard receivers (Tobias Parker and Mario Carter).
Clemson defensive backs were simply out of position on two first-quarter touchdown passes.
“I have perspective. It’s incredibly disappointing,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I can’t give the opponent credit … when we are not where we are supposed to be.”
But Clemson’s offense provided a bailout with 42 unanswered points.
“No one ever flinched, ever blinked,” Morris said. “It was we got this.”
In what was hardly a first this season, the offense delivered, shredding point spreads and records en route to a changing of culture the program has sought for so long.