By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — Despite throwing two interceptions, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had a record day, throwing for 397 yards and two touchdowns, while for the second week in a row DeAndre Hopkins was his main target as the 15th-ranked Tigers beat Georgia Tech 47-31 Saturday in Death Valley.
Boyd connected to Hopkins seven times for 173 yards, but it was the duo’s 38-yard touchdown connection with 10:29 left in the game that finally broke the Yellow Jackets spirits.
“I wish I would have got it to him a little more,” Boyd said afterwards.
Boyd had issues getting the ball to a lot of people early as he struggled to hit open targets, including one to Hopkins in the first quarter where the 6-foot-2 wideout was wide open in the back of the end zone. Boyd threw the ball behind him, though and the Tigers settled for a 23-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal which gave them a 10-7 lead at the time.
“I came out a little too hyped,” Boyd said. “I was missing a couple of easy throws.”
But Boyd eventually settled down and once he did, the Clemson offense got going. The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 ACC) racked up 601 total yards while running a season-high 93 plays. Boyd totaled a career-high 460 of those yards and his touchdown pass to Hopkins just before the end of the first half gave him the confidence he needed to fuel things in the second half.
“We all expect Tajh to complete every pass he throws and I’m as guilty as anybody, but he is human and I think he showed that today,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “At times, he was not on. He wasn’t early on, and I just needed to give him some passes he could complete. You know he hit some that are confidence builders.”
The 58-yard pass to Hopkins was just the thing the doctor ordered.
On second down-and-six from his own 42, Boyd scrambled to his right where he found no one and quickly went back to his left where it looked as if he might scramble for a first down. But at the last second, just before crossing the line of scrimmage, he spotted Hopkins wide open down the far sideline.
Hopkins hauled in the pass around the 30 and then out ran the Tech secondary to the end zone to give the Tigers the 27-21 lead with 3:40 remaining in the first half.
“When you’re a great receiver and you fight for the ball, it’s funny how the ball just comes to you,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said about Hopkins. “DeAndre made huge play after huge play. He turned plays that didn’t look like they were going anywhere and turned them into big gains for the team.”
Hopkins was also credited with a successful two-point conversion after he threw a pass to Boyd for the conversion following the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. On the play, running back Andre Ellington took a direct snap then flipped the ball to Hopkins, who threw it to a wide open Boyd to put the Tigers up 38-31 with 10:29 to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tech’s Chris Milton fumbled the ball and then slipped down at its own two-yard line while trying to recover it. Two plays later, Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey tackled Tech running back Orwin Smith in the end zone to give the Tigers a nine-point lead.
“That was a huge momentum play, and that turned out to be a big factor in the game,” Shuey said.
Clemson’s Roderick McDowell had an insurance touchdown with 50 seconds left in the game to seal the Tigers 10th straight home victory. That score capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive that took 5:26 off the clock.
“This was a huge win. It was a momentum win,” Swinney said. “It was a complete game and we won every quarter, especially the fourth quarter. The second half was a thing of beauty. I’m proud of the team. They keep improving every week.”
And it all started when Boyd got going.
“This wasn’t a redemption game, but it was one of those games were we owed it (to the fans),” Boyd said. “It was great. The crowd was electric. We did what we were supposed to do. We got a win at home.”