CLEMSON — It wasn’t so long ago when Clemson was the toast of the town, the title contender, one of the most talked-about teams in college football, and it all fell apart.
Statistics: 380 total yards, 4 total touchdowns, became Clemson’s all-time leader in overall offense (9,971 yards) and has thrown 166 passes without an interception
When the Tigers opened 8-0 and rose to the No. 5 ranking with a bunch of whippersnappers in 2011, the good times didn’t last; an ACC championship is in the trophy case, but four of six losses finished the year.
BY THE NUMBERS
2:50. The longest elapsed time of any of Clemson’s five first-half touchdown drives.
66-0-1. Clemson’s record when amassing at least 500 yards; it tallied a season-high 573 yards Saturday, while allowing 222 to Wake Forest.
102. Tajh Boyd’s career touchdown total (passing plus rushing), placing him behind only N.C. State’s Philip Rivers (112 TD) in ACC history
67. Adam Humphries’ receiving yardage, a career high for the junior.
29, 31. Backup quarterback Cole Stoudt’s completions and attempts this season.
“It was almost like your first trip to Disney World,” head coach Dabo Swinney remembered. “You walk around and go, ‘Wow, this is really cool, wow.’ We kind of lost our focus.”
On days like Saturday, when the third-ranked Tigers are four-touchdown favorites over bottom-feeders, Swinney no longer worries about a loss of focus.
Demonstrating the ultimate spread attack with seven different touchdown owners, Clemson’s offense awoke from its comparative slumber, commemorating Homecoming weekend by flooding overmatched Wake Forest 56-7 Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) led 46 seconds after kickoff, and never looked back.
“I like our experience. I like the makeup of our team,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a really good group that’s been around here for awhile that’s not overwhelmed, or caught up in whatever somebody’s ranking us, or people talking about you on ESPN.
“I just think they’re very dialed in, and I think they get it. … It’s one good thing to have good leadership; it’s another thing when your leadership is very experienced. That’s what I like about this team more than anything.”
Of the seven Tigers who scored touchdowns in the first three quarters Saturday, three of them had never punctured the end zone in college: former walk-on tailback CJ Davidson, who scored twice, and freshmen Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett.
“I had a lot of touchdowns in my (high school) career,” Williams said, “but that first Clemson touchdown was great.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd ran one in, wide receiver Sammy Watkins opened the scoring, D.J. Howard went the distance on a 75-yard swing pass and Zac Brooks added his first rushing score of the year.
“We don’t want just one guy to go out there and score many touchdowns,” Boyd said. “We try to make sure everybody eats a piece of the pie. It’s great for those (younger) guys; they’re the future of the program.”
Boyd previously felt he was personally out of rhythm since he played sparingly Sept. 7 against South Carolina State and waited 12 days before his next game, a slugfest at North Carolina State.
On the third play of the game, Boyd pump-faked and lofted the deep ball to his favorite target. Watkins shrugged off Wake Forest cornerback Merrill Noel, who was called for pass interference, but the penalty was declined when Watkins hauled it in and went 64 yards to set the tone for the afternoon.
“We knew their cornerbacks like to bite on certain things, and he bit on it,” Watkins said. “You’ve got to play through those types of plays; that’s what great players do, and I just continued through the play and Tajh made a great pass.”
Boyd completed 17-of-24 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns, rushing 17 times for 69 yards and another score. He became Clemson’s all-time total offense leader — he’s got 9,971 yards in his career — and has thrown 166 consecutive passes without an interception, edging ahead of Cullen Harper’s school record.
Even with two of its key offensive weapons severely limited, Clemson assaulted a respectable Wake Forest defense. Tailback Roderick McDowell left in the first quarter with a right ankle injury and receiver Martavis Bryant was suspended for the first half after making a throat-slashing gesture in the Tigers’ previous game at North Carolina State.
The Demon Deacons (2-3, 0-2) had allowed seven touchdowns in their first four games; the Tigers scored eight in 60 minutes, including six touchdowns on all six red-zone opportunities. Wake Forest had allowed an average of 311 yards per game entering Saturday; Clemson posted 361 yards by halftime, and 573 for the day.
“Clemson just made good plays,” Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe said. “The pace of the game was very fast and … the thing is, you can play fundamentally sound football and still give up a lot of points against a team like Clemson.”
Wake Forest, which used three different quarterbacks, went 2-for-14 on third downs, and only avoided the shutout with a 10-yard reception by Sherman Ragland III late in the first quarter. The Tigers reeled off the game’s last 35 points.
After getting gashed by Todd Gurley and company in the Georgia opener, Clemson’s run defense has stifled its past two visitors. S.C. State averaged 1.9 yards per rush three weeks ago, and so did Wake Forest on Saturday: 31 carries, 60 yards.
“They like to play as a group,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We’ve got good chemistry, guys trust each other, they hold each other accountable, and guys aren’t trying to do too much most of the time.”
Demon Deacons possession receiver Michael Campanaro got loose for seven catches and 75 yards. Starting quarterback Tanner Price was 14-of-22 for 125 yards, but was sacked three times and yanked for backups Tyler Cameron and Patrick Thompson.
“This is a year that we wanted to get better,” junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland said. “We’re accustomed to the system now. We just want to go out there and play fast.”
Leaving September unblemished, the Tigers hit the road next Saturday to face Syracuse (2-2), which was idle this weekend, in the Orange’s first-ever ACC conference game.
“Hey, we ask for Solid Orange, right?” Boyd said. “We’re going to get it when we go up there, for sure.”