CLEMSON — There have been some dark moments for Clemson cornerbacks Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson, which is what made a sunny Saturday at Memorial Stadium so gratifying.
Jenkins and Robinson put their names in the Tigers’ record book, becoming the first duo in school history to return interceptions for touchdowns in No. 4-ranked Clemson’s 52-13 romp over visiting South Carolina State, a win far more relaxing than taxing in front of an announced attendance of 81,428 fans at Death Valley.
Certainly, junior quarterback Cole Stoudt jumped off the stat sheet with his own school record, completing 19 of 20 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
With a completion rate of 95 percent, Stoudt surpassed Woody Dantzler for the most accurate passing game ever by a Clemson player — and Dantzler had a front-row seat, serving as an honorary gameday captain along with Dexter Davis.
Stoudt got to strut his stuff with a comfortable lead, which was earned by the defensive prowess of Clemson’s much-maligned secondary, lately ravaged by injury.
Jenkins redshirted the 2012 season recovering from hernia surgery, and missed the majority of fall camp dealing with, as head coach Dabo Swinney termed it, “arthritis in his butt.” Healthy enough to suit up in the opener vs. Georgia, Jenkins separated his shoulder on his fifth snap of action.
“We’ve been thinking, shoot, this might get to the point where he can’t play anymore,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “That’ll get you healthy in a hurry.”
Jenkins looked spry when he jumped a first-quarter route, aided by D.J. Reader rushing on a zone blitz. He zipped through an obstacle course of bodies, trekking 52 yards to the end zone to score on the first interception of his three-year career.
“I’ve been facing a lot of adversity,” Jenkins said. “I’m still working to where I need to be, but it was a great feeling, knowing I reached a checkpoint.”
Then three drives later, with the Tigers still leading 17-0 upon Jenkins’ score, linebacker Quandon Christian tipped a Richard Cue pass. Robinson gobbled it up, scoring from 35 yards out for Clemson’s unprecedented feat of two pick-sixes on one day.
“It’s definitely a great feeling, especially to share it with someone like Martin,” said Robinson, who had a concussion early in fall camp. “Me and him have a really close relationship. So to do that in front of Clemson fans, at a great program like this, it’s definitely a great feeling.”
Swinney said he “couldn’t be happier for both those guys,” and was particularly eloquent when addressing Jenkins’ struggles. The Tigers, plagued with a lack of depth beyond Jenkins, Robinson, Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland due to injuries and inexperience, needed Jenkins to be ready and able.
“It’s great to see a guy get rewarded for perseverance, patience and toughness,” Swinney said. “Keep getting knocked down, you keep getting up. Really happy for Martin. Hopefully we continue to keep him on the field, because you see his explosiveness when he’s on the field, and he’s a very tough competitor.”
On offense, Clemson was quietly spectacular. Stoudt doesn’t figure to see much meaningful playing time presuming starter Tajh Boyd (14-for-23, 169 yards and a 1-yard rushing touchdown in limited time) stays upright.
But to Swinney and Boyd, Stoudt’s overqualified to hold a clipboard.
“I think Cole could be a starter any place in the ACC,” Boyd said. “He went out there and proved that today with a stellar performance.”
Added Swinney, “Cole’s got a chance to play on the next level because he’s been able to put some good film together, he’s 6-4 and runs better than you think, and can throw the ball all over the field. It’s a great luxury having a guy like him just sitting there ready to go.”
Stoudt sheepishly admitted he’s never been that accurate at any time in his years of playing football.
“We’ve been doing those plays all year. We’ve been working together, we all get in a rhythm,” Stoudt said. “When you’re in a groove out there, it just kind of comes together. It was fun.”
All the South Carolina State (0-2) scoring came on two long completions to receiver Tyler McDonald (Stratford), a medley of poor tackling and coverage. Those 63- and 51-yard gains on just two plays comprised 47 percent of the Bulldogs’ offense, which averaged just 1.9 yards per carry and completed 10 of 22 passing attempts.
Clemson redshirt freshman Germone Hopper, in just his second career game, led the Tigers (2-0) with six receptions for 66 yards and two touchdowns, both from Stoudt.
“He said, since we’re second-team, let’s hook up for our first touchdown today, and that’s exactly what we did,” Hopper said. “There’s a lot of chemistry between me and Cole from practice.”
Former walk-on C.J. Davidson led the Clemson rushers with 63 yards on 13 carries, and D.J. Howard added a 19-yard touchdown.
The Tigers open ACC play on Sept. 19 with a trip to North Carolina State.