SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The opponent threw some smack talk toward Clemson during the week and aggressive blitzes at the Tigers on gameday.
Playing like a team deserving of the No. 3 national ranking, Clemson overpowered Syracuse, 49-14, on the greatest passing day in school history Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
“When you pressure as much as you pressure, you have to be weak somewhere, and you become weak on the back end,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said of Syracuse. “What they showed tonight is exactly what we’ve seen.”
That’s how fifth-year senior quarterback Tajh Boyd set a school record with 455 passing yards, all in three quarters of play. That’s how Boyd averaged 16.9 yards per pass attempt, while Syracuse starter Terrel Hunt had 52 passing yards total, after Syracuse tailback Jerome Smith tweeted he’d “take my #10 in orange against theirs.”
That’s how Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) broke loose for 439 yards and 20 first downs before halftime, as opposed to Syracuse’s 139 yards and four first downs, and the Tigers led 35-7 at the break.
“I’ve got guys out here who can flat-out go get it at every position,” Boyd said. “Running backs, receivers and tight ends: I got some of the best skill guys in the country, and I like to consider myself one of the best target men.”
The Orange mounted some momentum to open the second half, particularly when running back Prince-Tyson Gulley scored from 28 yards out on the first drive.
Clemson only gained six yards on its first three possessions of the third quarter, with no first downs and one Boyd interception. But Syracuse couldn’t capitalize on consecutive red-zone opportunities, missing a field goal and failing to convert on a fourth-down play.
“That’s not an easy position to be in,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “You hate that we got there in the first place, but loved how we responded. That’ll help us down the road. That really creates a sense of belief.”
Boyd and Sammy Watkins each were dealing with minor injuries. Boyd bruised his left thumb on a third-quarter sack by Marquis Spruill, and Watkins had his hip banged up, thus missing most the second and third quarters and letting younger receivers Germone Hopper and Mike Williams get more playing time.
Late in the third quarter, though, Syracuse had built some momentum amidst the Tigers’ stalling offense. So Boyd stayed in the game, Watkins returned to action, and Morris summoned Clemson’s favorite play.
Throw it to Sammy.
Boyd heaved a bomb down the left sideline, Watkins cradled it and went 91 yards to silence most the 48,961 fans in the Loud House (except for the few thousand Clemson fans in the northwest corner of the bleachers.)
It’s the second-longest offensive play in school history, surpassed only by Mark Feller’s 97-yard pass to Craig Brantley against Virginia on Nov. 16, 1974.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Watkins said. “Coach dialed it up, called the play, and I knew the DB was going to try to cover both of us, and Tajh threw a great pass out there.”
The blitz did hit home sometimes: Boyd was sacked four times and threw his first two interceptions this season, snapping a streak of 187 consecutive passes without a pick. But when he had time to operate, he found wide-open teammates to finish 20 for 27 with five TDs. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
“What can you say about our quarterback? He’s something special,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Teddy Bridgewater brought his top 10 team in here and couldn’t get it done, Geno (Smith) brought his top 10 team in here and couldn’t get it done, but Tajh Boyd did.”
To be sure, Louisville and West Virginia were each No. 11 during losses at the Carrier Dome the past two seasons. But Syracuse (2-3, 0-1), unsuccessful in its first-ever conference game as an ACC member, had its six-game home winning streak snapped.
The Tigers return to Memorial Stadium for a two-game homestand, starting Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Boston College (3-2, 1-1), a Saturday winner over Army. No. 8 Florida State (5-0, 3-0), which thwarted Maryland, 63-0, heads to Death Valley on Oct. 19.