No. 18 Clemson emphatically rejects upset bid
WINSTON-SALEM, NC — Wake Forest was a dangerous opponent playing host to nationally ranked Clemson on Thursday night at BB&T Field. History will back that up.
It's just that the Tigers didn't care much about history and allowed their talent to make a mockery of any suggestion an upset was possible. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and company weren't about to feed the Clemson naysayers expecting a classic Clemson meltdown in a game it should win. It seemingly happens every season and has become synonymous with the program.
So all No. 18 Clemson did was rout Wake Forest 42-13, carving out the Demon Deacons' heart with a 28-point second quarter that looked more like a scripted walk-through than a competitive major college football game.
The video-game numbers put up by its biggest stars indicate the Tigers were completely dialed in.
Wide receiver Watkins had three receptions of 50 or more yards in the first 25 minutes of the contest and set a career-high of 177 yards receiving with four minutes left before halftime. He finished with 202 yards, which was good for a Clemson single-game record.
Boyd, who completed 27-of-38 pass attempts, tied a career-high with five touchdowns passes — all before the intermission. He also set a Clemson record with 428 passing yards. It was sheer dominance, and it was the junior quarterback and his teammates taking it up a notch.
"Tajh was just lights out," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He got a little bit sloppy in the third quarter, but really just lights out."
Clemson (7-1, 4-1 ACC) entered this affair fighting against history. It was 1-9 on Thursday nights taking on a Wake program that was 4-0 in such games. In fact, the Tigers lost here four years ago and saw its coach at the time, Tommy Bowden, fired three days later, replaced by Swinney.
In addition, Clemson's propensity for stepping in quicksand at least once a season loomed over this team as if it was its destiny, as it hadn't happened yet this season. It did a year ago when an NC State team hanging on to its season by a thread crushed the Tigers 37-13 in Raleigh, NC. This year's Tigers weren't concerned about that game or their reputation for stumbling, though. It's in the past, and their mission is the moment at hand.
"The main thing about us is to keep continuing to do what we can control," Boyd said. "What happened in the past and what's going to happen in the future, we can't control that, all we can do is play for the now moment and keep working."
Clemson's maligned defense turned in one of its top performances of the season. But Tiger Nation had to be even more pleased with the play of Boyd.
Virginia Tech held the Tigers to 295 total yards last week, though Clemson still won 38-17. The Tigers are an offensive team, so they needed without question to get their offensive mojo back.
They did that after a couple of sluggish possessions. The trigger was when Boyd converted a third-and-two on the third series. It gave Clemson a juice injection, and a play later, he found Watkins for 57 yards that set up a 9-yard touchdown reception by Brandon Ford three plays later.
The Tigers didn't let up in the second quarter, with Watkins scoring on a 61-yard catch and run to start the period, and by halftime Clemson had 343 yards to Wake's 105 and led 35-7. The end-game difference was 534-290. So much for the so-called slump.
"We expect to execute every time we get the ball, so when we don't do it, it's sometimes kind of frustrating and sometimes kind of disappointing," Boyd said. "But all you can do is keep working, keep pushing, and those guys do a great job of responding to adverse situations."
Clemson returns home for its final three games, thus it will avoid one of those road missteps this season. But Maryland and its strong and consistent defense, always dangerous NC State and hated rival South Carolina are on tap.
Avoiding a snafu and closing out that group might be enough to get the Tigers into a BCS bowl even if Florida State takes the Atlantic Division. If FSU stumbles, say, at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night in two weeks, the door would open for the Tigers to play for a second consecutive ACC championship.
If Thursday's game is any indication, the Tigers just might be headed for another major bowl appearance.