CLEMSON — Tajh Boyd didn't blink.
Not when No. 11 Clemson gave up 24 unanswered points to N.C. State on Saturday before a suddenly silent crowd of 76,000 at Death Valley; not when asked after a 62-48 victory if all the Tigers' glitzy numbers deflate without success next week.
“We haven't beaten this team in the last three years,” Clemson's record-breaking quarterback said of arch-rival South Carolina, due in town Saturday night. “It's one of those things where I think it's a must-win situation.”
There is a lot to like about the 10-1 Tigers.
But little to love if they don't get to 11-1 by snapping a rare three-game series skid against the Gamecocks.
Clemson looks Sugar Bowl-good on paper.
Gobs of points every Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Stars at every skill position.
But, quick, name the best win.
Clemson, with a loss to the No. 12 Gamecocks and a Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory would be one of the most heartbroken 11-win teams in college football history.
It's hard for a team to work its way into this paradoxical hybrid of BCS bowl contender/desperation mode. Such is the fragility of a glossy record without a win over a ranked team.
But the momentum surges in the N.C. State game showed how alternately powerful and vulnerable Clemson rolls.
South Carolina is way better than a Wolfpack team that opened with a loss to Tennessee, and a few weeks ago suffered a 33-6 loss to Virginia.
But N.C. State (6-5) did manage to defeat No. 10 Florida State and got Clemson's attention with a 24-13 lead in the second quarter.
“It's the first time we've faced adversity in a while and I think it speaks a lot about this team and the character,” Clemson center Dalton Freeman said. “I was pleased. I mean, we needed it. It was really good for us to face some adversity and overcome it.”
The Tigers are better than at this time last season, or than earlier this season.
Boyd has become a polished running threat, fresh from his first 100-yard performance.
“A hundred yards rushing is probably my most proud moment,” Boyd said with a grin. “I've been wanting to get that for a while.”
Boyd was not sacked.
“Last week, Maryland was leading the league in sacks and we didn't give up any sacks,” Freeman said. “This week, N.C. State was leading the league in sacks, and we didn't give up any sacks. I'm very proud of all the guys.”
Nice trend going into a game against The Jadeveon Clowney Show.
Ford and Beasley
Hanahan's Brandon Ford (two more touchdowns) has established himself as one of the top tight ends in college football.
The pass rush doesn't kick in until Clemson's offense makes foes one-dimensional, but sophomore defensive end Vic Beasley had three sacks against N.C. State (the Tigers had three sacks or less in eight games this season). Beasley leads the Tigers with eight sacks this season.
Now if Clemson can shore up special teams defense that allowed N.C. State's Tobias Palmer 277 kickoff yards.
Gamecock kick returners reportedly offered to run all the way to Clemson late Saturday night.
Ten wins, a 62-point game and still suspect until officially Sugar Bowl worthy.
“We just want to see if we can get this BCS bid,” Ford said. “But we have to take care of next week.”
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com or on Twitter @sapakoff