CLEMSON -- Each Friday morning this summer, long before No. 21 Clemson capped a 35-30 victory over No. 11 Florida State in Saturday's twilight, Tajh Boyd met with teammates for voluntary workouts. They began in the 5:30 a.m. darkness with sprints on the practice fields, running 14 in succession, and at the end of each run they announced an opponent's name and updated a perfect record.
"Troy, 1-0 ... Wofford, 2-0 … Auburn, 3-0 ... Florida State, 4-0," they shouted. It was perhaps the first time anyone spoke of Clemson defeating preseason ACC favorite Florida State to move to 4-0, 1-0 in the league.
But Clemson is still perfect at the close of September. The Tigers have defeated two straight ranked teams for the first time since 2005, last week beating defending national champion Auburn, and on Saturday downing an injury-laden Florida State team some analysts tabbed as a BCS title contender.
In what many believe is a two-team race for the Atlantic Division title between Florida State and Clemson, the Tigers now have an early edge as they prepare for their next daunting test: a trip to No. 13 Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"There's no room for complacency," Boyd said. "As a team we do have that accountability and credibility."
Boyd said the players always believed, but even offensive coordinator Chad Morris admitted after Saturday's game that his offense is ahead of where he thought it would be. Clemson totaled 455 yards against a Florida State defense that had allowed 195 yards per game.
Morris was asked how much of the offensive success is his scheme and how much of it is elite talent like Boyd and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins, who finished with eight catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Boyd topped 300 yards passing (344) for the second consecutive week and owns a 13-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"It's about guys buying in to what we're doing," Morris said. "There's nothing more common in this world than unsuccessful people with talent."
Boyd said he has improved by buying into the scheme and learning to move on after a poor play.
On a passing play in the second quarter, Boyd avoided rare Florida State pressure but stumbled trying to throw the ball away, resulting in an interception returned for a touchdown and cutting Clemson's lead to 21-17 early in the third quarter.
"I'm clumsy. I'm goofy," Boyd said. "That was a blooper, an ESPN not-top 10 play for sure. … Everything is fine when it's easy. When you start to get down, that's where you see yourself grow up."
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the defense also grew up Saturday.
Clemson entered ranked 110th in the country in rush defense, allowing 224 yards per game. Clemson held Florida State to 29 rushing yards, and finally stopped FSU freshman quarterback Clint Trickett, who threw for 336 yards, when Rennie Moore sacked him on a fourth-down play to end the game.
"We have bigger goals than 4-0," Swinney said. "These guys are confident … They believe."